The Year’s Biggest Competitions and More
Antholz, Italy, February 1. In a year that has been anything but normal weather-wise, the 2007 Biathlon World Championships open here Saturday under (finally) normal winter conditions.
Europe has suffered through a virtually snowless, warm winter until early last week. At that point, the moisture that has been rain in most of December and January clashed with the cold air and violaâ€”snow! More than a meter of snow buried all of central Europe from northern Germany through Austria, Slovenia, and the northern Italian Dolomites. As this precious commodity fell, there was a collective sigh of relief from hotel and ski area operators across the region.
Antholz suffered through the winter up to now, preparing for these Championships with hundreds of thousands of meters of artificial snow to cover the tracks. Prior to last week, the venue was ready, but the copious snowfall completed the setting for what promises to be a spectacular event. Now, from the bottom to the top of the Antholz Valley (a distance of about 7 miles), the Tyrolean style houses and barns as well as the high meadows are glistening white in the midwinter sun, typical of Antholz in February.
With the competitions just two days off, the organizers are busy putting finishing touches on the competition venue and spectator areas. The television compound is up and running with technicians testing the miles of cables under the stadium and the 33 camera positions that cover virtually every inch of the tracks. As much of the US watches the Super Bowl, millions of Europeans will be watching every minute of the four competitions this weekend and the over the following seven days.
Nevertheless, US Biathlon fans can log on to WCSN.com and see all of the competitions live with Chad Salmela doing live commentary this weekend and throughout the Championships.
Additionally, many of the competitions will be broadcast through out February on NESN, Fox Sports North, and Fox Sports Rocky Mountain.
The tracks are in â€œsuper condition,â€ according to US head Wax Technician Bernd Eisenbichler. Like his counterparts from most of the larger nations, Eisenbichler has been testing skis and wax for several days, seeking the magic potion for the US Team’s skis. The newly rebuilt (in 2005) Antholz stadium looks ready to host the competitions at any time, with the Hora targets getting a good test from the athletes all week. By Saturday, each athlete will know exactly how mush effort it takes to climb the small bridge as they leave the stadium on their tour of the pine forests before returning through a final tunnel into the stadium which will be filled to capacity with 12,000 spectators. Another 6,000 plus spectators will be on the tracks, making for a crowd of over 18,000 each day.
Antholz has always been a great party for the spectators. The organizers know how to combine the boisterous German biathlon atmosphere with a bit of Italian culture and sophistication. This means there will be Bavarian-style oompah bands, beer tents, pop idols, men in traditional alpine hats complete with a feather and some pins, as well as women dressed furs and boots straight from the runways in Milan. To keep the party atmosphere running until the wee hours, the â€œBiathlon Champs Villageâ€ now fills a large part of the village of Antholz (population maybe 500). This 6 PM to 2 AM party venue will feature medals presentations nightly, concessionaires, plus more music and dancing. To keep the roads safe, virtually everyone save the athletes and staff will come up to Antholz from their accommodations by an extensive bus transport system.
Besides all of the television productions and the 10-day non-stop party, there will be competitions, the true reason for this once a year event.
Many times the competitive fire wanes in the top athletes in the year after the Olympic Winter Games. This year is an exception, as Olympic Gold medalists from Torino at the top of both the men and women’s Overall World cup standings. Germany’s Kati Wilhelm only took the lead in the final competition at Pokljuka, but her performances have been steadily improving making her a favorite to win several World Championships here. Close on her heels is Anna Carin Olofsson of Sweden whose skiing ability and the confidence from a Gold medal last year in Torino could produce some classic battles with the red-haired German star.
Atop the men’s standings is Michael Greis of Germany, the multi Gold medalist from Torino. Despite being at the top of the heap now, Greis has struggled at times and has only one victory this season. He has competed in every possible competition to accumulate 398 points thus far. Breathing down his back is Norway’s Ole Einar Bjorndalen. After four Gold Medals in Salt Lake City 2002, the â€œking of biathlonâ€ failed to score a victory in Torino, settling for less shiny medals, after a season of illness. This season is a different story. Bjorndalen started the year with a cross-country World Cup victory and never looked back. He has competed in nine of the 14 Biathlon World Cup competitions, winning seven, mostly in a dominant fashion and now trails Greis by just 10 points. Based on the season to date, look for Bjorndalen to leave Antholz with a sore neck from all of the medals hanging on it.
The US Biathlon team comes to Antholz with Tim Burke (Paul Smiths, NY) in 22nd place in the overall World Cup and capable of competing equally with all of the top men. Burke’s last three World cup competitions resulted in 13th, 11th and 6th places, by far one of the best race series ever put together by a US Biathlete in World Cup competition. Burke, as well as Jay Hakkinen (Kasilof, AK), 10th in the Olympic Mass Start competition is capable of good results here. Their teammates Lowell Bailey (Lake Placid, NY) and Jeremy Teela (Anchorage, AK) have also scored world cup points this season, making it possible that all four could be in the top 30 here.. This quartet forms a potent relay team that will be trying to improve their 7th place season best at Ruhpolding.
The Barnes twins, Lanny and Tracy (Durango, CO), lead the US women. Lanny has a 15th place in an individual competition earlier this season and hopes to repeat that here. Tracy recently placed 10th in Europa Cup competitions, is shooting well, and should challenge her sister in each competition. Carolyn (Treacy) Bramante (Duluth, MN), Sarah Konrad (Laramie, WY), and Erin Graham (Jericho, VT) will also start in one or more competitions here. Graham, a first time World Championships competitor and member of the National Guard will be the US flag bearer in Friday evening’s opening ceremony.
â€œSpirit and Power,â€ the slogan for these World championships is very appropriate, as the spirit of the fans will surely drive the power and precision of the athletes to great performances in an almost idyllic setting.
Live streaming video coverage of Biathlon World Cup competitions for the remainder of the season is available by clicking the Biathlon World Cup logo at the top right of the page at www.usbiathlon.org.