Winter closed with a bang at Casper Mountain Biathlon Club (CMBC) in Casper, Wyo., as the nordic center hosted World Para Nordic Skiing NorAm & U.S. Paralympics Nordic Skiing Biathlon Nationals with four races in three days earlier this month.
“Although the event was small, the competition was quality,” CMBC Managing Director Cathy Rosser wrote in an email.
On March 31, the day before the first event, athletes trained as a foot of snow fell on an already deep base. Biathlon races took place April 1 and 2, with middle-distance biathlon races on Saturday, 12.5 kilometers for men and 10 k for women, and four shooting stages for each. Men raced on a 2.5 k loop; the women skied a 2 k loop on trails designed by John Morton. The weather warmed to 36 degrees, making for a firm track.
On Sunday morning, biathletes raced a sprint, 7.5 k for men and 6 k for women, on the courses noted above. That afternoon, 1.2 k cross-country sprint qualifiers and finals were held. Fog descended during the sprint A-final, giving athletes just about 100 meters of visibility.
On Monday, the three-day series wrapped up with short-distance classic races.
Oksana Masters of the U.S. and South Korea’s Eui Hyun Sin dominated the biathlon events. On both days, American Andy Soule finished second by narrow margins, according to a CMBC press release. Canada’s Derek Zaplotinsky won the men’s sprint qualifier and final, and on the final day, Soule won the short-distance sitting cross-country race, as did Masters in the women’s sitting division.
The South Korean team planned to continue training in Casper through May 9. According to coach Kaspar Wirz, the team’s primary goals are to “work on technique and [accumulate] snow kilometers,” he explained on the phone. “This is more than just doing the races.”
Canada’s head para-nordic coach from 1996 to 2010, Wirz took the opportunity to coach the Korean Para-Nordic team in the months leading up to the 2018 Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea. When he started coaching the Korean team in January, he checked out CMBC. His athletes had never trained at high altitude, Wirz explained, and he chose Casper because of its elevation (above 5,000 feet) and reputation for promising spring conditions.
“We could have gone to Finland to put some kilometers in but decided to come here and I’m very happy.”
Coming off the IPC World Cup Finals in Sapporo, Japan, the team returned home for a few days before traveling to Wyoming.
“The conditions are excellent,” Wirz said. “The adjustment to the altitude and jet lag are not a big deal. I’m happy I made the move to come here.”
The training camp caps a successful season for the Korean team, which competed at all five stops on the IPC World Cup circuit. “We went to all the World Cups, we had people on the podium, but if the Russians come back, the deck would be re-shuffled a little bit,” he said, referring to the indefinite suspension of Russian Paralympic athletes from IPC-sanctioned competitions.
Six weeks makes for a long training camp, but Wirz said his athletes were up for it. The team’s original plan had been to train in Wyoming for two weeks, go home for a break and fly back to Bend, Ore. But that would have meant two additional 13-hour travel days and recovery from jet lag.
Asked about funding for the overseas camp, Wirz said that in January he met with the secretary general of the Korean National Ski Federation for the Disabled, who was incredibly supportive.
“So far I don’t have a budget. I just have to request to go somewhere, and they say yes or no,” Wirz explained. “So far, we haven’t had any budget restrictions. There were no questions asked because they want to perform at their home Olympics.”
Day 1: Middle-distance biathlon
Day 3: Short-distance XC