Coleraine, Minnesota- The second day of the Biathlon World Team Trials started off with a low of -12 F. Fortunately, the sun pushed through clouds bringing the temperature to 0ºF and the Men’s 15km Mass Start began after a two-hour delay. Zach Hall, Anchorage, AK won the men’s race and Tracy Colliander, Durango, CO, captured the women’s crown, both in exciting fashion.
As USBA development coach James Upham pointed out that the “slight left to right wind on the range was not a major factor. Some white cheeks and ears but no permanent damage.”
As for the course “the race organizers got creative and squeezed 3k out of 2.5 by using part of the course twice and running parts backwards from the sprint race. Worked perfectly and added a really steep hill and a downhill approach. This was the course two years ago for Jr. trials because the JR World champs in Ruhpolding that year had the same type of hill and approach,” said Upham.
The new range approach, an extremely steep 75m climb, played havoc with the shooting for both men and women. As the women’s second place finisher Laura Spector recalled, “it was so steep that it might have been faster to herringbone it.”
“Anyone … who has ever skied at Mt. Itasca knows the hurt it can smack down on you,” said Upham.
Battle to the End
In the men’s race Walt Shepard, Yarmouth, ME, got the drop on the field after the first shooting with an extremely fast and accurate first prone shooting. A classic biathlon duel evolved over the next three stages with Zach Hall, Anchorage, AK, matching Shepard’s shooting accuracy but falling slightly behind in shooting speed.
It was a “great battle with the men right to the end. Not much difference in ski speed so shooting times and penalties made the race exciting to watch in the range,” said Upham.
Throughout the race Hall was able to close the gap down over each ski leg. Shepard and Hall left the last shooting stages only a few seconds apart. Hall pounded out the last 3km with Shepard hanging on for dear life, with only 2.6 seconds separating the two at the finish.
The battle for third went to Dan Campbell, Bozeman, MT, with Jesse Downs, Jericho, VT and Wynn Roberts, Battle Lake, MN filling out the top five. Roberts posted the top ski time of the day for the second day in a row, but 8 penalties were too many to overcome.
In the women’s race, Carolyn Bramante, Duluth, MN, took the early lead after the first shooting stage with clean shooting, but as soon as the standing stages began Tracy Colliander, Durango, CO, put on one of her signature displays of fast and flawless shooting.
“Colliander was magical in the shooting range-as expected,” said Upham as she went on to win by a minute.
Second and third places changed off several times in the later half of the race. Laura Spector displayed some of the ski speed that had put her on 2 World Championship team and finished 2nd with 6 total penalties. With the fastest ski time of the day, Susan Dunklee, Barton, VT managed to salvage a 3rd place finish after a disappointing day on the shooting range with 9 penalties.
With some time to reflect on the women’s race Spector recalled, “The start was pretty crazy. We dived almost immediately into the woods and started up a big climb with a few twists in it that made it hard to pass or ski anything other than single file.”
“Someone stepped on my pole at the top of the course and I lost it, but luckily a teammate behind me picked it up and passed it back to me. I think the most exciting thing about a mass start race, though, is from the perspective of the spectator. It’s a long race with four shooting bouts and the competition is head-to-head, so you always know where each competitor stands.”
“When two people come into the range at the same time–and I was always in a group of at least three people–there’s a lot of tension and every single shot counts because missing a shot may mean you lose contact with a group that could help you ski faster.”
The mass start format makes for an exciting race with most of the action happening in and around the range. The stress of the looming penalty laps makes biathlon’s mental game even more challenging than normal.
“My strategy is actually to stay pretty relaxed in the penalty loop and save my energy for the course. It’s too easy to waste energy in the penalty loop if you get amped up. On the last lap, though, I try to ski all-out everywhere,” said Spector.
International Results the Goal
When asked about these athletes’ preparation for the IBU Cup Team Trials Upham stated, “I don’t know where they are internationally and that is the measuring stick that I use. International performances are what counts for us.”
“We will find out in the next two months. I am pleased that these athletes are well prepared for these selection races. This is the most prepared group we have ever had for December tryout type races and that is due mainly to the great work the athletes and coaches have done in the offseason and secondly to the excellent budget that we have had to do extensive training camps in Utah, Canmore and now here in Minnesota. The support from our sponsors and the Olympic committee, especially the training center in Lake Placid, has really paid off for our development programs.”
“The number one glaring factor is the same as all Nordic sports in the US. Ski speed, of course. All factors of it need more work for every athlete in the US at every level. We can produce world-class athletes. We are doing it. We just need more.”
Competition for the 4 men’s and 4 women’s positions on the IBU Cup Team will resume on Dec 19th at Mt Itasca. Three more races remain in the best 3 of 5 race series. Complete results for all races can be viewed at www.minnesotabiathlon and www.usbiathlon.org.