Canada’s top biathlon athletes got their first look at the 2010 venue last week as the Whistler Olympic Park hosted the Canadian Biathlon Championships.
Biathlon has not been Canada’s strongest sport recently, with seven athletes qualifying for the 2007 Olympic Winter Games and none of them breaking the top-25 in individual events. However, with more money available for training, a program to develop new waxes, more time practicing at the 2010 Olympic venue, and guaranteed spots in every event as the host nation, Biathlon Canada has been using its time wisely.
At the recent nationals, members of the Canadian team were solid in every event against racers from every province and the U.S.
Racing got underway on March 27 with individual competitions.
In the men’s 20 km individual competition, Tim Burke from the U.S. won the race in 50 minutes, 44.7 seconds, with Robin Clegg coming in second at 52:02.7 for Canada. Both were evenly matched, with Clegg missing three shots and Burke just two to explain the gap.
“I think things went very well today, and it feels good to get this first competition under my belt at the new venue,” Clegg said. His top result this year was an eighth place finish in a World Cup.
“For years my biggest goal was to break the top-10 and to do it just means so much to me,” said the 30-year-old veteran, who raced in the 2002 and 2006 Olympic Winter Games.
“The second half of the season I was pretty sick, which forced me to come home. I’ve been training in Canada ever since, and I’m happy I did well today with all that training.”
Brendan Green of the Northwest Territories was third.
In the women’s 15 km competition, Manitoba’s Megan Imrie and Alberta’s Sandra Keith finished first and second, ahead of three top American competitors. Imrie’s time was 48:48.2 with one penalty lap, while Keith was in at 49:56 with two laps.
For Imrie, who only missed one of 20 shots at the rifle range, the win reflects her recent growth as an athlete.
“I absolutely love the new venue, and it suits me perfectly because it is made more for gliders than climbers,” she said. “I think getting on the venue early will help prepare us for the changing weather and snow conditions.”
Imrie is in her rookie season with the team, and qualified for the World Championships Team.
In the 12.5 km junior women’s race, B.C.’s Megan Tandy finished first.
In the men’s 10 km sprint competition on March 29, Quebec’s Jean Leguellec had a strong performance on his skis to edge out American Tim Burke for the top spot by 27.6 seconds. Robin Clegg finished just 0.2 seconds back of Burke.
Leguellec, who has been representing Canada internationally this year, was happy with his race.
“The skiing went very well for me,” he said. “I struggled a bit shooting standing, but managed to come in for a very strong finish.
In the women’s 7.5 km sprint, Canada Zina Kocher — the top Canadian in the 2006 Olympic Winter Games — placed first, followed by Claude Godbout of Quebec and American Sara Studebaker.
Godbout was the better shot at the range, but Kocher was stronger on her skis and still finished with a 38.3 second gap despite missing three shots.
“I was feeling really strong and able to attack the course well today,” said Kocher, who last season was the first Canadian to win a World Cup medal in a decade. “I really like the flow of the course and it really demands a lot.”
The final competition was the team 3x6 km relay on March 30.
The American team of Tim Burke, Haley Jonson and Jeremy Teela placed first with a combined 48:53.2, followed by the Quebec first team of Francois Leboueuf, Claude Godbout and Jean Languellec in 49:01.7 who were perfect at the rifle range. The second U.S. team placed third.