With only seven weeks until the first race of the World Cup season, biathletes around the world are making their final preparations and fine-tuning their training. For the Americans, this meant a two-week training camp in Soldier Hollow, Utah, which finished Friday.
Coaches had two main goals for the camp: to take advantage of training at altitude, and to solidify shooting skills in “combination” workouts with rollerskiing.
Coach Patrick Coffey said that the staff worked with Randy Wilber, a U.S.O.C. sports physiologist, to make sure that they approached altitude training correctly.
“He’s an expert on altitude training, so we talked about maximizing the effect of altitude. We have this camp, and then we return to Lake Placid for a bit, and then we’ll be in Canmore, which isn’t really high, but it’s altitude,” Coffey said. “What we did was to have a break-in period, and then move into the real training.”
On Thursday, the athletes faced a time trial, which Coffey said was “a real whooper.”
“It makes for really tough shooting, skiing as hard as you can at altitude. They all did really well, which shows that the training was well-managed,” Coffey said.
Shooting was the other priority, according to Head Coach Per Nilsson.
“We are in a transition when we try to carry over the basic skills and technique training of the shooting more towards an automatic type of shooting,” he said.
Athlete Susan Dunklee explained.
“During the summer, we break apart the shooting routine to work on individual components. One of our main focuses this time of year is to make the whole shooting process flow seamlessly from poles-off to poles-on again,” she said. “The Soldier Hollow rollerski loop has a long approach to the range, making it a good venue for us to work on range procedure and skiing-shooting transitions.”
If the Soldier Hollow range is an ideal place to work on shooting, then a large camp is the ideal format. Although the men’s and women’s teams mainly did separate workouts, all the athletes shared the range, as well as the men’s and women’s coaches.
“A strength for us is also that all athletes and coaches can and have worked together, so we have eight coaches’ eyes on each athlete,” Nilsson said.
Athlete Sara Studebaker said that the coaches weren’t the only ones she was learning from. “Most days, we are all out at the range at least once together, and it’s great to be able to watch the men who are some of the best biathletes in the world train. I think there’s a lot to learn from watching my teammates!”
After this camp, athletes head back to Lake Placid, but then their paths diverge. A number of team members are pre-qualified for the first period of World Cup competitions; others will have to vie for the last few spots at selection races in Canmore, Alberta. After those races, another group will also head to the IBU Cup circuit – the top level of biathlon’s minor leagues.
Tim Burke, who last year became the first American to wear the yellow World Cup leader’s bib, knows he’s headed back to the World Cup. His goals for the camp included fine-tune his shooting to prepare for competition against the world’s best biathletes, and to get in some volume while cutting back on intensity.
“I still do around three intensity sessions a week here, but I just cut back a little on the intensity and the duration of these workouts,” he said. “With just under seven weeks until the first World Cup, I am also focusing a lot on my combination training (skiing and shooting in the same workout).”
Studebaker is the only woman pre-qualified for the World Cups, although she’ll head to Canmore for more training first. She said her goals were similar to Burke’s.
“Right now, we’re all working on fine-tuning our range procedures and ski technique in order to be best prepared for snow. Lots of combination training and specific technique workouts will dominate our training from now until the races start,” Studebaker said.
All of the athletes and coaches praised the team’s attitude and camaraderie.
According to Studebaker, “the team atmosphere is really good right now.”
“I think the coaches are really excited to see how everyone is progressing, and I think we all feel we’ve taken some big steps this summer and are really looking forward to seeing them transfer into great results,” she said. “The women’s team is especially tight right now. With such a small community, it’s imperative that we support each other, and I think we all feel like we’re in a great place to do really well this season.”
Coffey said that the women were all evenly-matched, which was a major contribution to the team’s confidence.
“I couldn’t tell you what’s going to happen with team selection – they are all performing at capacity, and everyone’s fast,” he said. “Whatever team we send [to Europe] is going to do great. They obviously all want to go, but it’s good for them to know that even if they don’t go, whichever teammates get picked will race well.”
Nilsson also has a lot of faith in his athletes.
“Everybody has done the work now, so it feels like we are ready to start,” he said. “We are looking forward to the season. The level for us is higher this year for sure, and we just have to wait and see how the other nations and athletes have prepared.”