Ski Ski Ski, Breath Breathe Breathe Breathe

A Guide to the Outdoor Olympic Venues, Part One of Two

The key to hitting your mark in ski archery, said Eric, a World Cup contender, is breathing. Coming off the cross-country ski track, he said, a top athlete's heart rate will be as high as 175 beats per minute. There is no way to control that, but a skier can steady himself by using a breathing pattern: Eric said he takes two sharp breaths, and exhales slowly as he pulls his bow back and the arrow shoots. When he did it his arrow hit in almost the exact center of the target.

We were at White Pine Touring, a cross-country ski area in the heart of Park City that doubles as a golf course in the summer. It has miles of winding set track and small ponds, hills and even creeks, and serves as a training ground and calorie-burning spot for local athletes. I was at a great event sponsored by the Utah Winter Games, an annual statewide fun competition for Utahns. Every year before the state games begin the organization holds community days like this one where locals can try out a new sport. So taking a tip from a master, I tried it, too: two sharp breaths, then a long exhale as I released my arrow.

All my arrows missed the target.

That's OK, I suppose: it's my first time ever for ski archery. Just trying the event is fun enough.

Actually, ski archery is not an Olympic event, though it might be in 2006. However, its offspring, the biathlon, is. That event, along with several cross-country ski events, will be held about a half-hour from Park City, at Soldier Hollow in Midway.

World Cup ski archery, said Eric, consists of five four-kilometer cross-country ski laps, each lap interspersed with about 45 seconds at the archery range where skiers shoot four arrows at four 15-centimeter paddle targets. A formula adds the target shooting success with elapsed time on the ski course to determine a winner. Oh-and racers have to carry their bows and arrows with them, on their backs.

Biathlon, which will take place on Monday, Feb. 11, Wednesday, Feb. 13, Saturday the 16th, Monday the 18th, and Wednesday the 20th, combines cross-country skiing with rifle shooting. Don't miss your target, say the judges, since each missed shot becomes a minute penalty added to your ski time. Standard cross-country events (5 kilometers up to 50 km) and the Nordic combined (cross-country skiing and ski jumping) will also be held at Soldier Hollow.

Soldier Hollow, which will be the busiest of all the competition venues, hosting 18 events over 16 days, is a site that was essentially created for the Olympics, though it will remain open after the Games and will likely be one of the most beneficial Olympic projects that locals can utilize. The Olympic race trails now at Soldier Hollow are actually the second set of ski trails designed here; the first system was too tough even for Olympians. Still, say those who have skied it, the new Olympic trail system is among the toughest in the world. Recreational skiers can choose to stick to much more level terrain.

The site, which includes 16 miles of cross country trails, is situated in rolling farmland that is part of Wasatch Mountain State Park, a 22,000 acre preserve set aside in 1961. A sport that will debut here is the sprint, a 1.5 cross-country race oval, the entirety of which can be seen from the stadium.

Soldier Hollow is at a relatively low-elevation for being a ski venue - about 5,600 feet, or close to a mile - and is close to the charming country town of Heber City. A river, the Provo, runs through it, and the skyline is dominated by Mt. Timpanogos, 11,575 feet tall. Also at the site is a 7,000 square foot competition building, a nice day lodge, and a restored barn. The Soldier Hollow Legacy Foundation, a non-profit group, has been charged with operating the site on a self-sustaining basis after the Games, and is concerned primarily with promoting cross-country skiing.

The down home hickness of Heber contrasts sharply with the upscale beauty of Park City, home to the Utah Olympic Park. The park, which is to be the site of the bobsleigh, skeleton, luge and ski jumping competitions, opened in 1992 and was originally developed at a cost of $59 million, which the state paid. This site, too, is open for public use at certain times. (You heard me right - you can hurl yourself off the ski jump or down the bobsled track, if you wish).

Ski jumping is a sport that combines both distance and style. Jumpers start on a very steep, unnervingly narrow track that ends in a lip, hurling them through the air towards their landing. Top jumpers reach 60 miles per hour and fly nearly 400 feet.

Bobsled, luge and skeleton are all similar: they use gravity, a sled with bladed runners, the same track (with different starting points) and run on ice to reach speeds of more than 60 miles per hour. In a luge you lie face up and go feet first. In skeleton, its face down, head first. In bobsled, you sit upright in a bullet-shaped cart; carts can hold two or four. At the Utah Olympic Park the three sports will run on a refrigerated, icy track close to a mile long; when it opened, world-class athletes said the park's sled run was the fastest in the world, with top speeds 15 miles per hour faster than those seen in Nagano.

By the way, the Jamaicans, who produced smiles at the Calgary Olympics, are hoping for another bobsled finish in '02. Rumor has it they've been working out in Evanston, Wyoming.

After finishing my turns at the archery range at White Pine (by the end I was at least hitting the board) I packed up and headed to the base of Park City ski area, where a massive temporary stadium is under construction for giant slalom and snowboarding event spectators. Check back next week, and I'll tell you about the downhill ski events and venues.

And One Other Thing

Though not exactly an Olympic event, alert reader Marye Jane though you might be interested to know about this exhibit at the University of Utah's J. Willard Marriott Library. It's being called the most significant historical exhibit of the coming Games and it's free.The exhibit, called The Nazi Olympics, is a multimedia presentation of the nazification of German sport during the 1936 Berlin Summer games.The exhibition highlights the stories of athletes who boycotted, participated in, or were banned from the Games.

Oh, and one other thing

At the risk of sounding too gossipy, I pass along this bit of news: U.S. women's bobsled pilot Jean Racine dropped her longtime sliding partner and best friend Jen Davidson last week. The two were in a motel room in Alberta when Racine gave Davidson, a Utah native, the news. Racine said she simply needed a faster brakewoman. Davidson and Racine had been media darlings, to say the least, having appeared in credit card commercials and on cereal boxes and they even had a Got Milk campaign. Their place in the women's bobsled event, debuting this year, was widely anticipated. Gea Johnson will take her place.

Jeff's Bio

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