Welcome to my Blog!

Welcome! My name is Michael Somppi. I am a competitive cross-country skier and a member of Thunder Bay's National Development Centre. I developed this blog so sponsors, family, friends and fans can keep up to date with my life as a full-time athlete. You can expect regular blog posts about racing, training, and life in general. Check out other sections of my blog by clicking on the tabs above.

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Canmore Super Camp

Quick update on ski life: I’m through 5 weeks of quality training and all is peachy.  I’m making gains each week and the body is responding well.  Right now I’m in Canmore in the middle of “Super Camp” with the vast majority of Canada’s top skiers.  The National Team, all three development centres and a few other top athletes have joined forces to align our training methods and improve our nation’s skiing success.  Here’s a few photos from our adventure workout of the training camp, a planned 3 hour high altitude run at Sunshine which turned into a 4.5 hour epic when we took a wrong turn, lost the trail and bushwhacked in the mountains for well over an hour.  Good times!

Above: Andy leading the group through the Sunshine meadows on a beauty day!
Below: Evan and crew running high in the alpine. 

Above: Ridge running is my fav!!!
Above: Kevin "Woodland" Sandau making the most of the bushwhacking experience.
Below: The crew lost and bushwhacking it up some random mountain.

Saturday, 6 June 2015

Down, but Not Out

Life sure knows how to throw some good punches.  I’ve definitely taken my share over the years as a competitive skier and I’ve always got back up on my feet before the bell tolls and the ref counts me out.  This time was maybe the closest I’ve come to staying down.  I staggered and almost threw in the towel.

"My Dad always said, 'Champ, the measure of a man is not how often he is knocked down, but how quickly he gets up.'" - Joe Biden
The punch that dealt such a heavy blow was being cut from the National Ski Team after my best racing season to date.  I remember when I was in my younger years and struggled with Ontario funding because for a few years in a row I would have qualified based off the previous year’s funding criteria, but they would change the criteria and I would miss qualifying by the new standards.  I was frustrated because I needed the financial support and it felt unfair that the criteria would change so abruptly.  Now I’m in essentially the same boat on a bigger scale.

If I was going to be cut from the National Ski Team, I thought for sure last year was the year.  I did not have a good season.  I was inconsistent due to fatigue, I didn’t have any International racing breakthroughs, in fact I was sick for most of the International racing opportunities I had, I won a bronze medal at National Championships and finished 3rd on the NorAm circuit; nothing too special, no major improvement from the previous season.  And yet I was renamed to the National Ski Team.

This year I was the top Canadian in 4 of 5 early season distance races, won two NorAm sprint races (I had never even been on a sprint podium before), consistency was good as my worst result in a NorAm distance race was 4th place, I won 3 gold medals at National Championships and the aggregate title (beating a World Cup team member head to head in the process), and won the NorAm circuit by a sizeable margin with 12 podiums.  I also had a solid International result in a Scandinavian Cup 30km where I finished 21st, just over 2 minutes behind in a very competitive field where the top three Norwegian skiers combined for multiple top 12 finishes on the World Cup.

I was confident I would be renamed to the National Team.  However, just like the Ontario funding criteria changes, the National Ski Team changed tactics and decided to ONLY look at World Cup results this year of which I competed in a whopping total of 3 races.  Unfortunately my World Cup performances were only mediocre and I did not make the top 30 necessary to meet the standard.  It’s a little strange because of the 3 World Cups I did compete in; Alex and Emily were the only Canadians to finish in the top 30.

I also find it hard to comprehend why the National Team would choose to stop supporting me when I have start rights for the entire first period of World Cups as NorAm leader.  It’s the best World Cup opportunity I have ever had and the first time in my career I have qualified to race World Cups well in advance so I can tailor my training specifically towards performing on the World Cup.  In the past I have always had to duke it out on the NorAm to qualify, then fly straight over to Europe and race.  It’s like they said, “hey, we have this athlete who was the best domestic skier in the country, earned start rights to the world cup, is ready to work hard within the system we’ve created to try to make it, but… we don’t really think he can do it so why bother supporting him anymore?  We helped him out this far, let’s see if he can do the last step on his own.”

It’s an obstacle I did not anticipate.  I didn’t know how to react when I got the phone call.  My excitement for skiing after Nationals success came crashing down.  I felt defeated, helpless, and a whole host of emotions.  I needed time away from the sport to reevaluate my life and see if I still wanted it.  If I still wanted to chase my athletic dreams.

Ultimately I am doing this for me.  I want to be successful for my girlfriend, my family, my ski club, my coaches (past and present), the Thunder Bay ski community, and the Canadian ski community.  I am blessed to have had so much support over the years from so many people and I want to be successful for each and every one of them, to show that their efforts were not wasted.  But I can’t carry everyone on my shoulders.  I have to do it for me and that’s what I needed to be sure of.  Do I still want this?

The answer is yes.  I asked myself the same question after my difficult season two years ago.  I decided I wasn’t going to go out of the sport like that, on a low.  I wanted to prove to myself I was better than that.  I did last year.  I am satisfied to have conquered the domestic circuit.  Now I have to see it through.  I earned the starts and now it’s time to truly see whether I have what it takes to make it on the World Cup circuit.

The challenge is made that much bigger by losing my National Team status, but fortunately I have an amazing fallback option.  I moved home and rejoined the National Development Centre in Thunder Bay.  My coach is a long-time friend and advisor, my teammates are supportive, motivated and eager to improve, and the team’s technical and health support is the best in the country.  The real impediment I’m facing right now is financial.  In losing my National Team status, I also lost my funding, $18,000 of Sport Canada carding and $7500 of Ontario carding gone.  To minimize my expenses I moved home (thanks Mom!), but I’m still well short of what I need to pay for this year’s training and racing expenses.

The good news is I’m back on my feet.  I’m training again, following my passion and pursuing my athletic dreams.  I feel very fortunate to have the support of those close to me to enable me to continue pursuing this path I have chosen.

Above: Packed and ready to return to Thunder Bay.
Below: Camped out in the prairies. Pretty comfy sleeping in the back of a uhaul!

Sunday, 24 May 2015

Continental Skiers of 2015

Thanks FasterSkier for the Honourable Mention and congratulations to Dakota, Rosie and Chelsea on their awesome 2015 seasons!
Check out the link here.

Monday, 20 April 2015

A Toast to the 2014/15 Season

It was one hell of a ride!  The season felt very lengthy from those early season Super Tours that have faded to a distant memory, through the heart of the winter racing across Canada on the NorAm, to a month long European stint and a memorable National Championships in my home town, T Bay!  Let’s count ‘em up: 21 distance races, 10 sprint races, and 1 team sprint.  32 hard, lung-busting efforts.  I’m feeling exhausted thinking about it!

Without question it was the most consistently strong racing season of my life.  Before I begin to rehash any of this I want to thank those who have supported me through it all: my coach, Stefan Kuhn, who was a constant source of cool confidence for me, the Alberta World Cup Academy who provided the support I needed to be successful, my girlfriend and mom for the emotional support I needed to keep me going, and my family as a whole for their unwavering support through all the years of racing.

I’ll pick up where I left off last, NorAm racing.  After Westerns comes Easterns.  It always feels good traveling to Ottawa for racing, I guess it’s because it’s something I’m familiar with.  I kept the ball rolling from my Western’s success and started off with a win in the skate sprint.  I skied a strong 15km skate to grab 2nd place behind my teammate, Kevin.  By Sunday my body was exhausted and unresponsive.  I had done a decent training load leading into the weekend in preparation for some European racing later in the month.  As a result, two races were all I could handle.  I was slow off the start line Sunday and found myself further back in the pack than I’m used to (it was a mass start race).  I pushed myself to ski into a better position before the climbing section, fighting my way up to 2nd place.  The move worked well, as I was able to follow Kevin stride for stride and conserve a little energy, until I caught an edge on a fast downhill and went down.  The entire lead pack blew by me and I panicked.  I charged back up to a few stragglers in the group, but I was gassed.  Thoughts of dropping out fluttered through my head.  I pushed the bad thoughts away, put my head down and battled through it.  In the end I crossed the line in 3rd place.  It may not have been one of my better performances of the season, but it’s one of the ones I’m most proud of.  My body wasn’t there, a high-speed crash set me back, yet I battled through it and finished on the podium.
On my way to a sprint win at Nakkertok (Photo Cred. Fred Webster)
Soon after Easterns I was on a plane to Europe.  My trip took me from Falun, Sweden for some training, to Ostersund, Sweden for a major World Cup weekend, across the Baltic Sea to Latvia and Estonia for Scandinavian Cup racing, and finally to Lahti, Finland for the traditional World Cup weekend.  I managed to stay healthy, aside from one bout of food poisoning, which was a victory in itself.  I didn’t perform well in my first World Cup opportunity in Sweden.  In retrospect, I think a short time trial post-travel could have helped.  My nerves weren’t helping me either.  After that I started to find my groove and had some solid races.  The 30km skate mass start on the Scandinavia Cup was my best with a 21st place finish.  The take home message for me was racing against Norway is really hard and I need to continue to improve my fitness if I want to be finishing in the top 10 in Scandinavian Cups and top 30 in World Cups in the near future.
Working the downhill during World Cup racing in Ostersund, Sweden.
Taking in the sunset in downtown Ostersund.
After a long season racing all over the place it was amazing to fly home and finish the season with National Championships in Thunder Bay.  What an opportunity for all the local athletes!  A humongous thank you to all the volunteers who made this event possible.  Thank you for your tireless hours spent shovelling snow in anticipation of warm spring weather, the investment into a brand new piston bully combined with careful grooming through the wee hours to give us perfect tracks for racing, the professionally executed timing to give athletes quick, accurate results, and the effective organization of the event to keep everything running smoothly.  The Lappe standard was truly upheld and if anything, set to an even higher bar.

I was a little unsure how my body would hold up after the travel back from Europe and all the racing I’d done recently.  One thing I did have going for me was a strong resolve to race hard and give back to the local ski community by winning at home.  My resolve outshone any fatigue for the most part as I collected 3 gold medals and the Senior Men’s aggregate title in what will be a memorable National Championships for me.  Starting the Championships off by winning the team sprint with Andy, putting Lappe Nordic on top at home, was special.  Throwing down a gutsy performance in the 10km to win by a large margin was awesome and completely exhausting.  Mostly, I hope I never forget the feeling of skiing into the finish of the 50km, looking to my right at all the familiar faces cheering, raising my arm in a salute to them and crossing the line victorious.  It is a moment I will cherish for the rest of my life.
Reppin' my old Lappe suit and leading the team sprint with my roommate, Russ, in the draft.
Digging deep in the 10km Skate up the Grunt.
On top with my club teammate, Andy, in second and my AWCA teammate, Kevin, in third.  Awesome day!
Grabbing the classic sprint B-Final win to help secure the leader bib over up-and-coming ski star, Scott Hill.
Out in front off the start of the big 50km race.
Leading after one lap.
Practicing my chugging skills for the after-party.
Setting the pace up the grunt later on in the race.
The moment I've dreamed of and worked so hard to attain.
All smiles on the podium amongst talented Canadian skiers.
My biggest fan and supporter, my mom.
Thanks to all the photographers at Nationals for the great photos!  It was a memorable season and I'm looking forward to what lies ahead for the next winter of racing.