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World Cup test events continue with biathlon, para-alpine

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It's been a busy season for Whistler's Olympic and Paralympic venues, with World Cup test events in cross-country, ski jumping, Nordic combined, luge, skeleton and bobsleigh in the past two months, and the para-nordic cross-country and biathlon World Cup this week. Two events remain on the calendar, including the IBU World Cup Biathlon March 11-15, and the IPC Alpine Skiing World Cup Finals March 9-14.

Biathlon
Sponsored by E-On and Ruhrgas, the IBU World Cup Biathlon at Whistler Olympic Park will have an audience in the tens of millions, as biathlon is one of the most popular televised events in Europe.

"This is the biggest, most prestigious event this whole year," said John Aalberg, Olympic Park director. "It's the number one TV sport in Europe right now, and it's one of the most exciting to watch as well. I'm hoping that people come out for all four days."

The event is free to spectators, but spectators are not guaranteed parking and are encouraged to car pool to the site. Admission is not guaranteed if parking areas at Whistler Olympic Park fill up.

Biathlon may be the oldest of all the sports in the Winter Olympics, with hunters using skis 4,000 years ago to hunt prey in the snow. Scandanavian countries combined skis and rifles more than 500 years ago in the name of defence, but it did not become a recognized sport until the first world championships in 1958.

You need to be fast on cross-country and skate skis to compete, but it's the firing where events are won and lost. Skiers will slow down before heading into the shooting range to try and rapidly reduce their heart rate from over 200 beats per minute - more than most people can achieve - to around 140 bpm, where they can actually hold the rifle steady. It takes a biathlete seconds to achieve this drop in heart rate, while it could take the average person several minutes. For this reason biathletes are ranked among the fittest athletes on the planet.

There are five targets 50 metres away, and for every miss the athlete has to ski a 150-metre penalty loop before rejoining the race.

The amount of strategy is enormous. The fastest skier to the range may miss a lot of targets, and then find themselves dropping back into the middle of the pack, while the last person to the range may have a slower heart rate but will be too far back to catch up.

Athletes can go by the range up to four times in a race, depending on the event's format.

There are 10 official Olympic biathlon events - men's 4x7.5 km relay, women's 4x6 km relay, men's 10 km sprint, women's 7.5 km sprint, men's 12.5 km pursuit, women's 10 km pursuit, men's 15 km mass start, women's 12.5 km mass start, and men's 20 km individual.

The events taking place at Whistler Olympic Park next week include individual, sprints and relays.

Wednesday, March 11 - The women's 15 km race starts at 10:15 a.m., with competitors making five laps of a 3.0 km loop, stopping four times between laps to shoot. The men's 20 km race gets underway at 3:30 p.m. with athletes making five laps of a 4.0 km course. Competitors use skate skis and start 30 seconds apart based on their world rankings. There are no penalty laps, but one minute is added for every shot the skiers miss.

Friday, March 13 - The women's sprint competition gets underway at 10:15 a.m., with participants making three laps of a 2.5 km loop, stopping twice to shoot. The men's sprint is at 2 p.m. with participants making three laps of a 3.3 km course. Athletes start 30 seconds apart, and must do a lap of the 150-metre penalty loop for every target they miss at the range.

Saturday, March 14 - The women's relay gets underway at 12:30 p.m. with each of the four members of the team making three laps of a 2.0 km course and shooting twice in between laps. Each athlete gets an extra three bullets at the range, and must ski laps of the penalty loop for every missed target.

Sunday, March 15 - Men's relay teams ski three laps of a 7.5 km course, with the competition getting underway at 10 a.m.

Athletes to Watch: Canada has had limited success in biathlon in the past, but hasn't done well in recent years. That has changed with athletes cracking the top-tier at World Cup events and one of the strongest junior teams in the world. The national team includes Marc-Andre Bedard, Jaime Robb, Megan Tandy, Jean-Philippe LeGuellec, Robin Clegg, Sandra Keith, and Zina Kocher, and you can expect members of the national development team to be on hand as well if they've earned enough points.

For more information visit www.biathlon-vancouver.com.


IPC Para Alpine World Cup
Canada is the dominant country right now in Para-Alpine skiing, with seven world championship titles last week in Korea and a total of 16 medals. The IPC Para Alpine World Cup in Whistler is the last World Cup of the season for the team, and a chance for the athletes to show off their abilities on the actual Paralympic courses.

The sport and disciplines are the same as for able-bodied athletes, with shorter downhill and super G courses, and some modifications to allow for different types of disabilities. Athletes compete in three categories; standing, sitting and visually impaired, and different time deductions are applied according to an athletes' classification to level the playing field.

The World Cup finals get underway on Monday and Tuesday with downhill training runs, followed by the downhill at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, March 11. The super G and super combined event is on Thursday, with the super G at 10 a.m. and the slalom at 1 p.m.

The giant slalom is on Friday, with the first run at 10 a.m. and the second run at 1 p.m., and the slalom is on Saturday with the same start times.

Athletes to Watch: Whistler's Matt Hallat, Arly Fogarty and Matthew Perrin will be in the running, and all eyes will be on Canada's World Championship medalists - Four-time world champion Lauren Woolstencroft, Kimberly Joines, Josh Dueck, Chris Williamson and Guide Nick Brush, and Viviane Forrest and guide Lindsay Debou.

There are good spots to watch on Whistler Mountain, with the finish area at the timing flats.

For more information visit www.ipcalpinefinals.com.

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