Note: This article has been updated to include comments and verification from Biathlon Canada High Performance Director Roddy Ward, and explain the modified shooting format used for Friday’s sprint.
Almost exactly two weeks before Biathlon Canada sends the rest of its World Cup team to Europe for the first trimeter of International Biathlon Union (IBU) World Cup racing, the national team held trials this past Tuesday through Friday on snow in Canmore, Alberta. Three sets of races in four days (all sprints*) determined which Canadian men and women will start the season at the World Cup opener in Östersund, Sweden, Nov. 26-Dec. 3.
The national-team trials, also known as the “Tour 1 Selection Trials”, ultimately boil down to what Biathlon Canada calls performance percentages, which measures an athlete’s finishing time in a given race against the average of of the top-three finishers’ times in that race. One bad race isn’t a deal-breaker; they consider the best two out of three. At the end of the trials, an athlete’s top-two results (specifically their performance percentages) are averaged for their overall ranking.
Going into the trials, two women and one man on Biathlon Canada’s senior team had prequalified for the first World Cup tour (World Cups 1, 2 & 3): Rosanna Crawford, Julia Ransom and Scott Gow, according to a national-team program dated Aug. 30, 2017.
According to the same document, two additional women’s spots and three men’s openings remained. Those went to the two highest-ranked women at the Nov. 7-10 trials — Megan Bankes and Emma Lunder, respectively — and the top-three ranked men — Nathan Smith, Brendan Green and Christian Gow, respectively.
All of the eight aforementioned athletes were nominated to Canada’s 11-member National Senior Team in June. The three remaining biathletes are Sarah Beaudry, who had the third-best overall women’s percentage at trials, Megan Tandy, who ranked fourth and was reportedly coming off an illness after traveling from Germany, and Macx Davies, who ranked seventh in the men’s final percentages after Matthew Hudec of the Biathlon Alberta Training Centre (BATC) in fourth, Carsen Campbell (BATC) in fifth, and Jules Burnotte (Biathlon Estrie) in sixth. (Scott Gow, Crawford and Ransom were not factored into the final percentages.)
The eight athletes that just missed the World Cup team will start the season on the IBU Cup. Four men and four women earned spots on Canada’s IBU Cup team as a direct result of their performances at trials: Hudec, Campbell, Burnotte, and Davies, and Beaudry, Tandy, Nadia Moser (BATC), and Leilani Tam von Burg (BATC).
Biathlon Canada’s High Performance Director Roddy Ward described the recent team selections as “straight-up trials”. Based on its published criteria, Biathlon Canada has the option to use discretion in choosing a fourth man and fourth woman for its IBU Cup team, but instead stuck to results, selecting the fifth- through eighth-ranked athletes at trials.
“We filled the team based on trials,” he explained on the phone on Sunday.
Ward said he was “feeling really good” about how the World Cup team shook out, with four of their top men returning to the circuit. He mentioned that Smith is healthy and back at full strength, and noted Green’s consistency at trials.
“On the women’s side, it’s just really good competition … with places changing every day,” he continued.
Most of the 16 athletes selected to Canada’s World Cup and IBU Cup teams spent much of the offseason together “time-trialling and integrating,” Ward said, which has brought up the level of training as well as made for closer competition among them.
“My hope is we go to the World Cup and do well and go to the IBU Cup and do well,” he said.
The Canmore trials began with sprints on Tuesday, which Beaudry and American Lowell Bailey (US Biathlon) won. The only woman to shoot clean, Beaudry topped the women’s 7.5-kilometer sprint by 8.9 seconds over Crawford with a finishing time of 21:57.7 minutes. Crawford missed one in each shooting stage (1+1) for second place and Lunder placed third, 21.1 seconds back, after a single standing miss (0+1). Tandy followed in fourth (+1:05.5) with two penalties (1+1), and Joanne Reid was the top American in fifth (+1:13.9) with one miss (0+1).
In the men’s 10 k sprint, Bailey also cleaned to beat out Smith by 13.4 seconds with a finishing time of 25:02.5. Smith had to ski one penalty loop after a prone miss (1+0) and Green placed third (+14.5) after two prone penalties (2+0). Scott Gow and his younger brother Christian finished fourth (+29.4) and fifth (+38.8), respectively, and Tim Burke (US Biathlon) was the second American in sixth overall (+1:11.0).
On Thursday, Smith won the second sprint of the week outright with a 26.1-second victory in the men’s 10 k with perfect shooting and a finishing time of 24:25.3. Green once again followed in second with clean shooting as well, and Artem Prima of Ukraine took third (+1:09.3) with two misses (2+0). While the Americans didn’t compete on Day 2 of the trials, Team Ukraine did, accounting for nearly the same amount of competitors (40 in the men’s race, 20 in the women’s race, compared to 40 in the men’s race and 26 in the women’s race two days earlier).
Scott Gow finished fourth in the Day 2 sprint (+1:17.0), followed by Hudec in fifth (+1:29.4).
In the second women’s 7.5 k sprint, a new winner emerged, but second through fourth place were exact repeats from Day 1. Bankes claimed the win in 22:03.5 with clean shooting, while Crawford followed in second, 26 seconds back with two standing penalties (0+2), Lunder placed third (+1:02.8) with two prone misses (2+0), and Tandy was fourth (+1:16.2) with two prone penalties (2+0) as well. Beaudry placed fifth (+2:16.6) with three penalties (2+1).
After sitting out the first two days of trials, Ransom won Friday’s modified sprint (6.8 k for the women) by just a tenth of a second over Lunder. Ransom hit all of her targets and posted the win in 20:20.4, and Lunder was just off her mark in second place after “cleaning” as well. Per the modified format, each athlete could use up to three spare bullets per shooting bout, similar to a modified relay.
“We all know [sprints] are important races; they lead to pursuits they lead to mass starts,” Ward explained. “We want to make sure we’re picking good biathletes, but also favoring on the ski-speed side.”
In addition to giving an athlete more chances on the shooting range, the relay format showed who could excel in those types of races, Ward said.
As a result of the modified-sprint format, the top-five women avoided the penalty loop. Bankes placed third, 6.7 seconds off Ransom’s time. Bankes’s BATC teammate Nadia Moser finished fourth (+8.6), ahead of American Susan Dunklee (US Biathlon) in fifth (+18.6). Crawford finished sixth (+48.0) with two penalties (2+0) and Tandy placed seventh (+1:13.9) with one miss (1+0).
In the men’s modified 7.5 k sprint on Friday, Smith emerged as the top Canadian for the third-straight race, winning in 18:42.0 with “clean” shooting. The top-eight men hit all their targets. Green finished second (+11.5) once again, and Scott Gow improved to third (+36.4).
Prima followed in fourth (+41.5), his Ukrainian teammate Sergey Semenov finished fifth (+1:05.9), Campbell and Burnotte tied for sixth (+1:08.2), and Davies placed eighth (+1:20.2). Christian Gow finished ninth (+1:40.9) with one penalty (1+0), Burke was the top American in 10th (+1:47.7), followed by Bailey in 11th (+1:47.9). Both Americans finished without any penalties.
Both the U.S. and Ukrainian teams raced two out of the three days of trials, contributing to the total field size of 45 men and 26 women on the last day. Ward emphasized that those teams’ presence made for “some really good competition”, and added that having Canadian juniors race alongside seniors (same distances, same races) showed them a clear path to reaching the World Cup level.
US Biathlon held the last of its own trials last month and planned to finalized its IBU World Cup team after its Canmore training camp.
For the Canadian World Cup team, Green and the Gow brothers planned to leave Sunday for Sjusjøen, Norway, where they’ll race at Norwegian biathlon trials. According to Ward, Lunder will depart on Thursday for Sjusjøen, where she’ll start her season with the first IBU Cup sprint on Nov. 23 before meeting the rest of the World Cup team in Östersund. Smith, Crawford, Ransom and Bankes planned to leave Canada on Nov. 22.
Most of the IBU Cup team will depart on Dec. 1, while Campbell and Beaudry will start their seasons earlier at the IBU Cup opener Nov. 23-26 in Sjusjøen.
(*Why were all of these trials sprint races? When it comes to individual events, IBU Cup and IBU World Cup venues typically open with sprints to determine which athletes qualify for the remaining races of the week at each stop. For instance, the top 60 in the sprint qualify for the following pursuit race, and approximately the top 30 in the overall World Cup rankings qualify for mass starts.)