Two hundred and thirty biathletes, 115 men and 115 women, will earn the right to be called a 2018 Olympian — 10 of whom will be Canadian.
The top-six teams in last season’s International Biathlon Union’s (IBU) final Nation’s Cup ranking can bring a full team of six men and six women to the Games. Canada’s men’s finished ranked 13th while the women ranked 15th, so each squad can bring five athletes.
Biathlon Canada’s criteria for the Games team are heavily weighted toward biathletes who can demonstrate success on the IBU World Cup. The Biathlon Canada High-Performance Working Group (HPWG) developed what it calls Internal Nomination Procedures (INP), which formulated the qualifying guidelines for PyeongChang. The Olympic qualification period, as established by Biathlon Canada, began last season on Nov. 25, 2016, and ends Jan. 22, 2018. Since the criteria began at the onset of last season’s World Cup, it also included results at the 2017 IBU World Championships.
The INP includes Priorities 1, 2, 3.1-3.7 and a Priority 4, a tiered and sequential system of results standards. Athletes meeting Priority 1 will be named to the team first, before those meeting Priority 2, and so on. In the event of a tie when determining rankings in the first three priorities, an athlete’s next-best World Championship or World Cup result during the qualification period will be used to break the tie.
It’s a tight go for all Canadian biathletes: there’s only 10 spots open, and each nation represented in the Olympics can field a maximum of four athletes in any individual biathlon race and a single team in the relay events.
“You can see pretty quickly here that the only way for anyone to get on the team now, and to supplant some of these people, is they need to score results on the World Cup,” Biathlon Canada’s High Performance Director Roddy Ward said on the phone in mid-November.
Ward was referring to this document detailing Olympic criteria standards met by specific athletes since June 1, 2017. Based on results from the first two World Cup weekends, positions have changed a bit when analyzing results through Dec. 9.
No Canadian biathletes have met Priority 1: a single top-eight individual or top-three relay result at a World Cup (WC) or World Championship (WCH).
Priority 2 requires an athlete to place two times in the top 16 or notch a top-six relay result on the World Cup or at World Champs. Scott Gow has also met that by racing to a career-best 16th at the first World Cup weekend in Östersund, Sweden and then again placing 16th in the sprint in Annecy, France. Julia Ransom is halfway to meeting the Priority 2 criteria: she placed ninth in the women’s 15-kilometer individual on Nov. 29 at the World Cup opener in Östersund.
Moving down one rung on the Olympic qualifying criteria standards and potential Olympic team spots begin to fill up. Prior to this year’s start of the IBU World Cup, Rosanna Crawford had already fulfilled Priority 3.1’s standard: three times in the top 30 on the World Cup or at World Championships (so had Scott Gow and Ransom, who will meet Priority 3.1 even if Ransom does not score another top 16 to meet Priority 2; she has turned in several more top 30’s, too).
Christian Gow is also currently qualified under the 3.1 standard after placing 21st, 26th, 29th, and 30th in races this season, and shooting consistently well in the process.
Emma Lunder has also seen a big performance jump this season, meeting Priority 3.1 by finishing 27th in the pursuit in Hochfilzen, 18th in the pursuit in Annecy, and 28th in the mass start there, the first mass start qualification of her career.
Meanwhile, Nathan Smith is close on this criteria: he placed 19th in the 10 k sprint during last weekend’s World Cup racing in Hochfilzen, Austria, and 24th in Hochfilzen, Austria.
By doing so, Smith has definitely met Priority 3.2 benchmarks — two top-40 WC/WCH results — as have Brendan Green and Megan Tandy, both two-time Olympians already.
Green has several top 40’s from last season, and a 33rd-place finish in the pursuit in Hochfilzen. Tandy turned in her top 40’s last season as she did not qualify for the World Cup tour at trials in November, but has since torn it up on the IBU Cup circuit, collecting finishes of ninth, 11th, and 18th over two weekends of racing.
Macx Davies currently meets Priority 3.3 criteria: two top-60 WC/WCH results. Like Tandy, he started the season on the IBU Cup; there, he collected two top-30 results. Megan Bankes partially meets 3.3 after her 60th place on the first World Cup weekend, and is locked in for Priority 3.4 — one top-three World Junior Championship (WJCH) result after winning the individual race at 2017 IBU Junior World Championships.
The objective criteria set forth by Biathlon Canada extends through Priority 3.7 to determine the Olympic team, but as five athletes on both the men’s and women’s sides have already met higher priority criteria, they will not be used.
Here’s the summary for the five available spots on the men’s and women’s side. Currently the women’s rankings are as follows: Ransom 1st, Lunder 2nd, Crawford 3rd, Tandy 4th, and Bankes 5th.
On the men’s side, it’s: Scott Gow 1st, Christian Gow 2nd, Smith 3rd, Green 4th, and Davies 5th.
As made clear by Ward earlier, the primary road to qualifying for PyeongChang is on the IBU World Cup. Even before this year’s results, the women already had four skiers meeting criteria from their World Cup results and a junior skier with a podium at Junior Worlds.
Similarly for the men, as of June 1, four skiers had fulfilled minimum criteria, while Smith recovered from illness he also had a 43rd place to partially meet Priority 3.4 — the two times in the top-60 benchmark.
“Just by virtue of this criteria, closed Olympic trials is not going to happen,” Ward said.
For now, 10 spots are open, and those spots are technically spoken for by skiers with World Cup opportunities.
Then there’s that 10-letter word — discretion.
This for sure can be debated, but in the case of making Canada’s Olympic biathlon team in 2018, it appears very clear what the criteria are.
“This is how we use discretion,” Ward began. “Either through current or historical results. That could be 50 results in the past or what is happening right now. For example, historical results would be how we prequalified Julia Ransom and Rosanna for the first tour here on the World Cup. That was based on last year’s results. Current result demonstrate the ability or the potential to meet Biathlon Canada’s objectives for the high-performance program.
“There is data on everything. But you know some form of discretion is necessary. You can never build criteria that is absolutely perfect in every scenario. Completely unrealistic. If you have to build with some notion of fairness and objectivity and also to give yourself a little bit of wiggle room to use discretion in those certain scenarios that pop up every year.”
Once at the Olympics, as previously mentioned, only four athletes can start for each country in each competition. That means that a fifth team member on both the men’s and women’s side will be watching from the sidelines. And who that is will be formally known: of the 10 Canadian biathletes headed to PyeongChang, the fifth qualifier for the men’s and women’s team will be considered an alternate.
“The top-four ranked athletes in each gender get individual start rights, and the relays are up to coach’s discretion,” Ward stated.
In an email from Ward on Dec. 27, he noted Tandy, Beaudry and Carsen Campbell would get World Cup starts when the IBU World Cup resumes Jan. 4 in Oberhof, Germany.
Three World Cup weekends remain until the PyeongChang qualification period concludes.