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Locals shine at Whistler Olympic Park

Whistler Nordic Development Centre competitors hit North American Championships podium

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Gillian Gowling worked best in hot pursuit at the Whistler Olympic Park on the weekend.

During the Canadian and North American Biathlon Championships, the Whistler Nordic Development Centre (WNDC) skier earned a second-place finish in the junior women's division in the 10-kilometre pursuit. It was a B.C. sweep of the podium as Emily Dickson took the win while Gowling's teammate, Larissa Black of Squamish, placed third.

"That was a huge highlight," Gowling said. "That race is really about shooting and tactics and this season, I was a little bit sick throughout.

"My skiing wasn't up to the pace of everyone else, but biathlon is two sports. It's skiing and shooting, and I had a good day in the range in the pursuit race, so that helped me achieve a podium."

Gowling's other results were all fifth-place finishes in the sprint, the individual and the mixed relay with teammate Angus Tweedie.

"Everyone is, of course, very good and the competition is very high. I feel like the week had some ups and downs but definitely, the pursuit was the highlight," she said. "I think everyone at the end of the season was pretty tired. It was the last little push until we have a bit of a break."

Being familiar with the venue, Gowling was excited to race such a high-profile event on home turf.

"It's not often that we have competitions here in Whistler, so whenever we do, it's a really big advantage for us," she said. "We can sleep in our own beds and eat the foods that we're accustomed to. There's a lot of people that get to come out and watch us race that don't often see us.

"The atmosphere was really good this past week."

Gowling started the season with events in Switzerland and France, but was sick from the get-go. She recovered from her cold, but upon returning, discovered she had contracted a virus that kept her from returning to Europe as she focused on her recovery. However, she had already qualified for the Canada Winter Games, where Black finished just three seconds ahead of her for gold in the pursuit.

"My goal was to recover for those events, which I was able to, so that for sure was the highlight of my season," she said. "My season definitely did not turn out as I would have liked, but that's sport. I'm happy to be healthy again and to be racing."

Reflecting on her season and what she took from it, Gowling said she learned the importance of staying on an even keel.

"I feel like it's all about sticking to the process. It doesn't matter if you have ups and downs, you can always improve. You just have to stay positive and be patient," she said.

Black, meanwhile, took third-place finishes in the sprint and individual events in addition to the pursuit. She acknowledged that she was anticipating more fatigue than she did after experiencing a tough travel schedule, but got a boost from her return home.

"When you're racing at home, you've always got a little bit of extra energy being in front of all your family and friends," she said. "It's definitely substantial. I love racing at home because people that don't usually get to travel with you, don't usually get to watch you, you really want to try your hardest so they can see the true excitement of biathlon. You want to get good results when your family's watching."

Black was thrilled to be on the podium in the individual races, but had to rally to make it in the pursuit, her favourite event.

"For the whole race, I was in sixth or seventh and in the last couple shootings, where it really counts, some people will mess up because they're nervous or just because they go in with too much confidence," she said. "When I wasn't shooting the best in the first couple of rounds, I refocused for the last two and was happy to come out in third from that."

Other WNDC medals included: Ontario's Zoe Pekos taking second in the junior women's sprint and third in the individual; Manitoba's Lucas Smith winning the youth men's pursuit and taking second in the youth men's sprint; and B.C.'s Ryan Elden taking third in the junior men's individual and second in the junior men's and women's relay alongside Dickson.

As well, operating outside the WNDC, Whistler's Benita Peiffer was second in the youth women's individual event.

Full results are available online at www.whistlerbiathlon.com.

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