Volunteers from the Mt. Itasca Nordic Ski Association have been working round the clock for the past week to prepare the venue for the start of the Biathlon World Team Trials, Dec 12-22. Making snow is cold, exhausting and dangerous work and not something you usually volunteer to do. Club volunteers have been manning the snow guns over the past week, taking advantage of the cold nights. Crews have been repainting fencing and V- board, and sandblasting the biathlon targets in preparation of the five race series that begins on Saturday, Dec. 12.
The events at Mt Itasca are the first stage of Olympic selection. Upon conclusion of the Mt Itasca races, up to 4 men and 4 women will be selected based on their best 3 of 5 races to compete at the IBU Cup events in Altenberg, GER in early January. The three races in Altenberg will serve as the final selection for the US Olympic team.
Teams began arriving yesterday at Mt Itasca, and were able to train on a 1.5km loop and on the biathlon range and stadium area. To speed the snowmaking and snow distribution process, Mt Itasca has been creating massive piles of the snow in the stadium and then hauling the snow onto the course with a number of front-end loaders. These massive machines and their operators have been provided by the City of Coleraine, the Grand Rapids Public Works Department, and Nortrax John Deere dealership in Grand Rapids. Making and moving enough snow to cover a 3.0km race trail and an expansive biathlon stadium is a monumental task. “We’ve made really fast progress”, said a smiling Gene Eklin from the cab brand new John Deere loader, “We had to limit the use of the really big loaders because of the late ground freeze, but the energy of our volunteers and the support of Coleraine, Grand Rapids and Nortrax has really kept us on schedule.”
“We will be ready with a full race course by Thursday,” reported Vladimir Cervenka, Jr National Team coach and Mt Itasca snow-maker. “Mt Itasca is the most technically challenging biathlon venue in North America, and a great spectator venue. The community support for these races has just been outstanding- the venue will be in great shape for the races!”The top biathletes from around the country have been arriving in Grand Rapids over the past two days. Minnesota contenders for the US team include Mark Johnson (Grand Rapids), Dan Campbell (2002 Olympian from Hastings), Leif Nordgren (Marine on St Croix), Wynn Roberts (Battle Lake), and Kevin Patzoldt of Grand Rapids. Kevin is currently competing on the World Cup circuit and has an automatic qualification to the second round of Olympic qualification races. On the women’s side, Carolyn Bramante is the top Minnesota contender- she is a medical student at the Univ of Minnesota and a a 2006 Olympian. Jennifer Wygant (Burnsville) is in the Army World Class Athlete Program and U.S. Development Team. Nineteen year old Addie Byrne will also be shooting for a spot on the US team after a 6th place at last years World Junior Championships.