It's been a solid sophomore season for the Whistler Nordic Development Centre.
The centre's roster has expanded from four to 10 full-timers this year but beyond pure volume, the results have come, too, as three biathletes qualified for Canada's World Junior Cup, up from one a year ago. Head coach Etienne Letondeur also brought five athletes for the IBU Junior Cup, which ran last weekend in Czechia.
Angus Tweedie, Ryan Elden and Whistler's Benita Peiffer all will participate in World Juniors while the two other competitors are Gillian Gowling and Larissa Black. Gowling qualified for the first tour in the fall as well.
"We're going beyond our goals. The goal was to qualify one or two athletes for worlds and maybe two to three for the IBU Cup circuit and we did more than that," Letondeur said, adding WNDC athletes are making up half the Canadian contingent in Europe.
The coach was proud to see so many athletes qualify as the European tour was the primarily aim of the campaign.
"They train hard. That was the main goal when we started the program in late April. We wanted to qualify for those races in our sights for a long time," he said. "We put all of our preparation towards that and it went pretty well."
Letondeur kept his expectations for the IBU event tempered, as the biathletes were all racing older athletes in the U20 division. He expects them to put their training into practice while facing some more experienced competitors.
"It's just discovery. They can go and experiment," Letondeur said of the IBU Cup and this weekend's Junior European Open Championships in Slovakia.
Letondeur said while the winter curriculum has stayed similar, pre-season prep got a boost from the Canadian Sport Institute to help the athletes be their fittest when they strapped on their skis. He added that being the second year of the program, the returnees have a better idea of what they're in for.
"This year, we changed a few things in the preparation. We worked a little bit more with CSI Pacific in the summer and in the fall. That was one of the major changes. Other than that, we just continued the progression that we had last year," he said. "Most of the time, when the athletes are coming to a training centre, they're not used to training that much, so the first year is always a bit difficult. The second year, they're a bit more used to it."
Letondeur added the athletes, many of whom are from distant parts of the province, have adjusted well to their new home.
"Most of the time, it's their first time going away from home," he said. "They have to learn how to become adults. It's a big change for them and sometimes, it takes them a little time to figure it out. But this year, athletes did a good job."