Despite the sunny skies and high temperatures, Whistler Olympic Park played host to a series of typically snow-dependent biathlon races over the weekend (Aug. 26 and 27).
The events were part of the third annual BC Summer Biathlon Championships, hosted by the Whistler Biathlon Society to cap off a two-week joint training camp. The races followed the standard biathlon model, including several loops of a cross-country ski track and target shooting, aside from one small difference: without any snow to ski on, the athletes instead competed on roller skis.
“It’s really similar to winter — the shooting is the same, the techniques are the same; they just have to be much more focused on their skis and aware of their terrain and surroundings. The risks of falling are of course much higher when you’re skiing on pavement than when you’re skiing on some nice snow,” said Clay Whitman, president of the Whistler Biathlon Society.
The event has grown significantly since it was created, Whitman added. “It’s grown in numbers, but more importantly in terms of the quality of athletes that are participating,” he said. “We’ve gone from a local club event to having pretty much all of the best biathletes who are training full-time, year-round, in B.C. here participating.”
Competitors included members of the Whistler Nordic Development Centre, the provincial biathlon team, local club athletes and even a member of the Swiss junior national team, Robin Favre.
The championships also served as an ideal opportunity for the up-and-coming athletes to assess their progression ahead of the upcoming season.
“The purpose of the event is really to give them an early season competitive opportunity to see how their summer training has been going, how they’re doing shooting-wise in a race and to give them some experience with shooting at a race pace before the season starts,” Whitman said. “It’s a good way for the athletes to compare themselves to their peers and other people in the province. It’s the whole B.C. team coming out, so these guys and girls will be competing against each other all year. It’s a good motivator for them to see where they’re at and what they need to work on.”
Whistler biathlete Benita Peiffer agreed it’s important to gain competition experience before the regular season starts. “Otherwise, when you go into races, you’re not going to be ready,” she said. “You have to deal with nerves. When I’m training, I don’t get the same nerves as I do if I was racing. And the pressure is something in biathlon that you really need to focus on because it’s all in your head. If you’re not 100 per cent focused, you can’t shoot.”
Peiffer was no doubt one athlete that many would have been comparing themselves against at the summer championships. The Whistler Nordic Development Centre athlete won both of her events over the weekend — 10 kilometre individual race and 6 km sprint — in the youth women’s category. “I wasn’t really expecting great results, just because I haven’t been shooting a lot. The past week and a half of shooting hasn’t been the best for me since I’ve kind of been getting back into it, so I’m super happy with my results,” she said.
The resort is a growing hub for elite biathletes like Peiffer, following the creation of the high-performance Whistler Nordic Development Centre, operated by Whistler Sport Legacies, two years ago. It currently houses eight athletes.
“We didn’t have a high-performance centre at all, and in two years it’s gone from zero to eight athletes, living and training full time,” Whitman explained. “We can really see that it’s becoming popular here in Whistler. We’ve got a great facility and location, and a great coach. You can really tell that the number of biathletes, but more importantly the commitment level and performance level, has really increased as this training centre is taking off.”
For those interested in giving the traditional winter form of the sport a try, fall biathlon programs will be kicking off in the coming months.