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Silver, Vaillancourt take national biathlon sprint titles at WOP

Squamish's Megan Heinecke second in women's sprint



The North American and Canadian Biathlon Championships took place in all kinds of weather on Saturday, March 16. Conditions were good for the morning competition and the men's race, but by the time the women raced it was alternating between rain, freezing rain, snow and gusting wind.

Squamish's Megan Heinecke was on pace to win the race with a fast first lap and perfect 5/5 on her first visit to the range, but on her second lap she was forced to shoot standing while gusting winds made it difficult to aim. As a result she missed three shots and had to make three laps of the 150-metre penalty loop.

That allowed Quebec's Audrey Vaillancourt to pull into the lead, as she was perfect in both trips to the range. With the extra almost half-kilometre, Heinecke's finish time was 1:31 back of the national title.

"It was a pretty rough race," she said. "I didn't feel good skiing and I had some near misses on course, and then I had some problems with the wind (while) standing (and shooting). Three times around the penalty loop is definitely too many.

"(The wind) affects you quite a bit when you're standing because you have so much surface area, your whole body is affected by the wind. It's all about finding the right tension, the right balance... but it's all a little bit how tired your legs are at the moment."

Heinecke has spent most of the winter training in Germany with her husband and coach, iLmar, racing World Cup and working to qualify for the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi. Four Canadians, have already qualified for Canada's eight spots, and Heinecke said she's about two-thirds of the way of qualifying for one of the two remaining women's spots.

"I'm relatively confident," she said. "I believe in myself and I believe in my training. I've had a tough time putting the shooting together this year and I spent a lot more time in the penalty loop than I intended, but I'm pretty confident in my skiing and I can work on the shooting. I'm motivated to follow my plan."

Vaillancourt finished three laps of the women's 7.5km course in 21:35.5, hitting every target while prone and standing. Heinicke was second in 23:07.1 after missing three targets whil standing and Corrine Malcolm of the U.S. was third in 23:42.2, missing two targets in total. The third Canadian was Kathryn Stone of Alberta.

In the men's 10km sprint, Alberta's Nathan Smith dominated, finishing the course in 25:53.7 after missing two shots. Teammate Kurtis Wentzel was second in 26:53.6 after shooting perfectly at the range, while American Bill Bowler pulled up third in 27:11.7.

The third Canadian was Quebec's Marc-Andre Bedard who finished fourth overall in 27:23.9 after making four trips to the range. The top B.C. athlete was Matthew Neumann in sixth, also missing four shots.

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