Quebec’s Audrey Vaillancourt swept the women’s races at the North American/Canadian Biathlon Championships this week, while fellow World Cup athlete Nathan Smith was one 30-second penalty away from doing the same in the men’s race.
Though relay competitions were set to take place after press time on Wednesday (March 20), national team racer Vaillancourt won all three of her solo events at Whistler Olympic Park during the first week of the Sea to Sky Nordic Festival.
The 21-year-old shot cleanly during Tuesday’s (March 19) 12.5-kilometre mass start race and held off Prince George’s Megan Heinicke by less than a second. It was one of a few good battles between the World Cup teammates during the event, as Heinicke hit the podium three times as well.
During Sunday’s (March 17) 10-km pursuit, the two were neck-and-neck until Heinicke missed all five of her shots on the third of four shooting bouts to fall off the pace, eventually placing third.
“I didn’t know she missed five — I just heard a couple misses and got out as quick as I could,” said Vaillancourt. “It was really exciting, the beginning of the race, and that’s what I love about pursuit — you’re with people all the time.”
Vaillancourt also captured the women’s sprint title on Saturday (March 16) to hold the top seed for the pursuit.
Smith opened the men’s races with a sprint victory and captured another win in Tuesday’s 15-km mass start. The Calgary native had one of his three misses at the range come on his first shooting bout, but quickly collected himself and opened up a big lead on the field.
“I missed that first shot prone and was a little concerned, but after that I felt comfortable and in control,” said Smith. “I know I didn’t win the pursuit race, but I feel like I’m in great shape and accomplished what I came here to do.”
Starting first in Sunday’s 12.5-km pursuit, Smith jumped the start gun and was handed a 30-second penalty. The added time was enough for Calgary’s Kurtis Wentzel to snatch victory away by a seven-second margin.
“I must have started a fraction of a second early,” said Smith. “I found out with 2 ½ km left in the race. I tried my best to make up the time, but it was too late.”
Macx Davies also had a tremendous week by winning all three junior men’s races. The Canmore, Alta., resident was not the cleanest shooter in any of his events, but held impressive gaps over the field in all three victories.
Quebec’s Rose-Marie Cote won the junior women’s sprint and pursuit on the weekend, but was stopped short of a sweep on Tuedsay when Canmore’s Emma Lodge pushed Cote to the silver position in the mass start.
Prince George’s Sarah Beaudry put on a dominating performance throughout the week, winning all three youth women’s races with plenty of time to spare.
“(On Saturday) I had some good shooting and that really helped me out,” said Beaudry, who was also perfect in four bouts at the range in Tuesday’s 10-km individual race.
Canmore’s Aidan Millar won the youth men’s sprint and individual events, but finished behind Ontario’s Brett Davie in the pursuit on Sunday.
Athletes participating during the week lauded the venue and crews who helped keep the trails in good shape, as the event opened with a downpour during sprint races that had competitors soaking wet as they crossed the finish line.
“I haven’t been that wet in a long time,” Smith said of Saturday’s race. “The snow was getting soft pretty easily, but the grooming crew is really well trained on this snow … so the conditions were pretty good.
“I really like (the course) personally,” Smith continued. “It’s pretty rolling, not extremely hilly and that plays to my strength.”
Some athletes like Beaudry are happy to get a chance to knock off a couple of Canadian championships back-to-back, as the Nordic Festival now segues into the Haywood Ski Nationals starting Saturday (March 23).
“I’ll be doing all the cross-country races as well,” said Beaudry.
Full results are posted at www.zone4.ca.
— with files from Justin Brisbane