More than 80 biathletes from across North America and even Sweden converged on Jericho, Vermont, this weekend for the annual rollerski biathlon championships race series.
Tim Burke (USA) won the sprint and Nathan Smith (Canada) the mass start, for men, while Susan Dunklee (USA) swept the women’s races. The American “A” team as well as Smith had just returned from training camps in Europe.
“I think it was a very good weekend,” U.S. Biathlon Association Chief of Sport Bernd Eisenbichler said. “I was especially happy that Nathan Smith decided pretty last minute that he would come too. The other Canadians had been confirmed for a while. So it was a very competitive field at the senior level, and it was pretty high numbers overall.”
That meant nine Canadian clubs, 16 American clubs, juniors from the Solleftea Ski Gymnasium in Sweden, and a few without affiliation were all competing together, from a girls and boys age group for 14- to 16-year-olds, to a masters age group for 35+.
With high temperatures, the weather presented an extra challenge to athletes. But they had the incentive of competing on the Ethan Allen Firing Range, which was just repaved in July and has had new Kurvinen automatic targets since last year.
That makes it a perfect place for competition, and more biathletes are using the venue this year than they have recently.
“We have communication and partnership with the army, so they will allow us to be there as much as we want from the national team side,” Eisenbichler said. “We will go four times this year. The range is also very challenging, so it’s good for training.”
On Saturday, three-time Olympian Burke mastered that challenge by eking out a 4.5-second win over World Championships silver medalist Smith, despite having one more penalty than the Canadian.
Burke’s U.S. national team teammate Leif Nordgren placed third, 16.5 seconds back, and Casey Smith of the Craftsbury Green Racing Project, recently recovered from breaking his back in a training accident this winter, placed fourth with perfect shooting.
On the women’s side, Dunklee cruised to a big win in the sprint, despite having two penalties. Canada’s Emma Lunder followed in second with one penalty, a minute and two seconds back, with American Hannah Dreissigacker five seconds behind her.
On Sunday, the seniors competed in mass starts, where Smith took a decisive 22-second win with four penalties.
The breakout of the day belonged to 20-year-old Jakob Ellingson of Loppet Nordic Racing and Mount Itasca Biathlon, who had just two missed shots over the four-stage race to finish second.
“He worked really really hard these last months,” Eisenbichler said. “You can see that. I was very impressed by his performance, especially yesterday but also on Saturday he had a good race.”
U.S. national team members Sean Doherty and Nordgren placed third and fourth, with Scott Gow in fifth as the second Canadian.
Dunklee again ran away with the women’s race, this time winning by a minute and a half over Lunder. The two had five and six penalties, respectively. U.S. “A” teamer Annelies Cook placed third with eight penalties.
In the other age classes, Arvid Aronsson (Solleftea Ski Gymnasium) swept the junior men’s races, Bjorn Westervelt (Craftsbury Nordic) swept the boys’ races, Joseph Iwan (Saratoga Biathlon) swept the masters men’s races, and Emma Stertz (Mount Itasca) swept the girls’ races.
For junior men, Matthew Forshey of HURT won the sprint but Cody Johnson of the Maine Winter Sports Center prevailed in the pursuit.
For junior women, Siena Ellingson of Ginger Biathlon won the sprint but sat out the pursuit, where Charlotte Hamel of ACBQ (Quebec) took the win.
For youth women, Amanda Kautzer of Loppet Nordic Racing and Minnesota Biathlon won the sprint, but was caught by Chloe Levins of Mountain Top Nordic in the pursuit.
“For us it’s really important to keep the national team together with the younger athletes to make a good festival character for this weekend,” Eisenbichler said. “Plus with the Canadians coming and some junior Swedish athletes were there, it was an overall good competitive character.”