Not since the days of Myriam Bedard has Canada had anything major to celebrate in the sport of biathlon.
But while the team showed signs of promise at the international level with the odd top 10 and more consistent performances, even Jean-Philippe Le Guellec was stunned by his gold medal in the men's 10K sprint at Ostersund, Sweden this past weekend. Le Guellec is the first Canadian male to ever stand on a World Cup podium.
"It is a huge, huge day," said Le Guellec. "I'm still surprised this actually happened. I'm definitely happy. It is just crazy.
"My coach said to me the day you'll be on the podium is the day you'll expect it the least. Just go out there and do what you do — ski smooth, stay relaxed and shoot every target one a time. That is exactly what I did today. The first lap I started to tense up a bit, but I told myself to just have fun, be relaxed and stay smooth. Those were the key words for the whole race. It finally happened and hopefully this is momentum for the rest of the season."
Le Guellec finished his race in 25:10.4 without missing a single shot. In sprint, athletes make three laps of the course with two visits to the shooting range, shooting once while prone and once while standing. For every missed shot, skiers have to make one lap of the 150-metre penalty loop.
France's Alexis Boeuf was second with one penalty to place 18.1 seconds back, while Austria's Christoph Sumann also had one penalty and finished 24.8 seconds back of the Quebec skier.
Because of the format and the interval starts, it's difficult to know where you're sitting in the standings at any given time. Le Guellec had no idea how well he was doing until after his second visit to the range.
"I was just trying to stay focused on skiing, and stay relaxed. Until the last split, the coaches just kept saying that I was doing good. So I was a bit surprised when they told me on the last lap that I was first."
Le Guellec, 27, has been to the Olympics twice, and in 2009 posted a career-best seventh place result on the World Cup. He had two eighth place finishes in the 2012 season as well. But his best overall performance was at the Olympics in 2010 when he placed top-15 in all four events, including a sixth place result in the sprint.
Despite being close so many times, Le Guellec never gave up. "(A podium) has been an objective ever since the Olympics, so for it to finally happen is overwhelming and I am definitely happy."
Biathlon's prospects were considered so low by Own the Podium, Canada's high performance sport funding program, that they qualified for the second smallest amount this season — just $200,000. Only ski jumping received less.
The other Canadians in the 7.5K race were Scott Perras and Nathan Smith, who placed 45th and 61st respectively.
In the women's sprint, Alberta's Zina Kocher posted a solid 10th place result, while Rosanna Crawford and Megan Imrie were 54th and 79th. The win went to Tora Berger of Norway, followed by Olena Pidhrushna of the Ukraine and Olga Vilukhina of Russia.
The team also raced in the pursuit event the following day. Le Guellec led the Canadians once again, placing 16th overall in the men's 12.5km race after missing three shots in four visits to the range — including two on his final lap. Without the extra 300 metres on the penalty track, he likely would have broken the top 10 once again.
Martin Fourcade of France was first, followed by Andreas Birnbacher of Germany and Anton Shipulin of Russia.
In the women's 10km pursuit race, Kocher was 37th to lead Canada after having a tough day at the range (six missed shots in four stops at the range). Tora Berger won her third straight race, followed by Darya Domracheva of Belarus and Andrea Henkel of Germany.