Although Whistler is no stranger to hosting high-level sporting events, it’s been awhile since Canada’s best biathletes battled for a major title at Whistler Olympic Park.
That’s set to change next year, following the Whistler Biathlon Society’s announcement last week that it has been selected to host the 2019 North American and Canadian Biathlon Championships. The event, tentatively scheduled for March 19 to 24, 2019, will feature the best biathletes from across the continent, including national team athletes returning from the World Cup biathlon circuit in Europe.
“It will be six years since we last had nationals, so it’s going to be great to have it back,” said Whistler Biathlon Society president Clayton Whitman. “That was our first time hosting Nationals post-Olympics and it went really well. It just kind of goes east to west, and there’s different places that host across the country so sometimes it takes awhile to come back, but it was a good event in 2013 and biathlon has kind of grown since then, so we’re hoping it’s going to be even bigger this time around, especially locally.”
Of the 150 to 200 athletes aged 15 and up who are expected to compete for national and continental biathlon championship titles in 2019, Whitman estimates about 20 of those will represent the Whistler Biathlon Society.
“They’re pretty excited just to have it close, because it makes it easier for them to attend and less expensive,” he explained. “It gives them a kind of home field advantage too, compared to going somewhere they’ve never skied before. A lot of people, it’ll be their first time at nationals, they’re pretty excited that it’s going to be at home.”
Hosting events like nationals is central to the society’s athlete development model and further contributes to biathlon’s growth in the community, Whitman added.
“Providing opportunities for local athletes to compete against athletes from across the province, and in this case from across North America, gives them competition and it really shows them a pathway that you can go from the club, to the provincial level to the national team and kind of continue on in the sport,” he explained. “Its pretty central to our plan to develop athletes to get them … to training centres, to national teams, by bringing these kinds of high performance events where the younger athletes can see what the older athletes look like, and how they race and how they train, how they perform and hopefully inspire them to stay in the sport.”
Other Sea to Sky athletes looking for a shot at the title will be the small group representing the Whistler Nordic Development Centre — the high-performance program, aimed for biathletes ages 18 to 21, didn’t even exist last time WOP hosted nationals.
“They’re the high-performance local team that we hope will do really well,” Whitman explained. “They just came off a trials event at Whistler Olympic Park where a bunch of them qualified for the national junior team, so they’re our local, really good athletes.”
But athletes aren’t the only locals needed to contribute to the event: hosting nationals requires a team of over 100 volunteers each day. While the Whistler Biathlon Society already boasts a capable and committed group of volunteers, “We’re always looking and welcome more people to join us and share the load,” Whitman said. While experienced volunteers will fill supervisor positions, the majority of volunteers are needed for duties like time and score keeping.
“There’s no better way to take in a biathlon event than to be right there volunteering —helping, supporting the event and having a front-row seat to the athletes as they compete,” Whitman added.