When the small town of Ruhpolding, Germany, bid to host biathlon’s 2012 World Championships, they knew they had their work cut out for them.
“Preparations for the World Champs 2012 start now,” said Mayor Claus Pichler in August 2008 when Ruhpolding won the bid. “I got plenty of feedback from the delegates at the IBU Congress.”
And they have been busy ever since, completely renovating and reconfiguring the area’s stadium as well as giving the trails a facelift. All of the work was unveiled last weekend when Ruhpolding hosted the fifth weekend of IBU World Cup racing.
Swedish head coach Wolfgang Pichler – a Ruhpolding native and Claus’s brother – was proud of the changes which had been made.
“I think the stadium here is the best in the world,” he told IBU News this weekend. “Our goal was to make big progress; if you look at everything, the tracks and buildings . . . you will see that this is a step forward for our sport.”
If so many upgrades were needed, why was Ruhpolding chosen at all? Mayor Pichler had a few ideas. He hypothesized that the selection committee knew that the town of just over 6,000 would pull out all the stops to host an amazing event.
“Ruhpolding and biathlon are more or less the same,” Pichler told IBU news last week. “We have done so much to develop this sport. It is not an exaggeration to say that Ruhpolding is the cradle of modern biathlon and the sport is deep in my heart. I would like our home town to remain that cradle for the future; we will contribute our part so that biathlon remains the winter sport number one all over the world.”
With the caveat that a number of women complained about the difficulty of one of the downhills – Helena Ekholm of Sweden even said that she “really hated” it – most of the athletes seemed to like the new courses. Here’s a roundup of reactions from the World Cup field, beginning with North America’s best biathletes and finishing with international stars.
Jeremy Teela (USA)
“The new venue is very nice – there are lots upgrades for the spectators,” the three-time Olympian told FasterSkier. “The range moved a little left and back it seems. The courses have become a little harder, with some down hills that are more technical, which takes away from the recovery you’d normally get. I would highly recommend coming to watch next years World Champs; the atmosphere in Germany for biathlon is like no other.”
Laura Spector (USA)
“I am a fan of this course because climbing tends to be one of my strengths and there are a number of long, steep hills,” America’s top female biathlete said in an e-mail. “The downhills are tricky and I’ve skied them many times over the course of the week to get more comfortable, but it also depends on the weather and snow conditions. I think it’s a great choice of venue because so many biathlon fans attend the races here.”
Tim Burke (USA)
“Competing here in Ruhpolding is definitely very exciting with all of the fans,” last year’s early-season World Cup overall leader told FasterSkier. “They had 89,000 total fans for the week, which creates an incredible atmosphere. Unfortunately, the course here at Ruhpolding is by far my least favorite course on the World Cup. You almost never have to work for more than 30 seconds before you get a break. It is basically jump skating up a steep hill then resting over and over again. I will definitely have to make some changes to my training if I want to compete for a top spot next year at World Championships.”
Scott Perras (CAN)
“The new course is pretty good; actually I like it a lot,” Perras said in an e-mail. “It still has the difficulty of the old course, but with better flow so it is all around more enjoyable. The uphills are still covered with fans but they are not as close as in previous years; it seems they widened the trails and with many of the trails being two-way, it’s not as intimate as before, when you would grind up steep climbs and you could feel the breath of the fans.
“The most disappointing thing about Ruhpolding is that the weather is never consistent and rarely fair for the entire field. Even though they sell over 100,000 tickets a weekend I would rather see solid winter conditions and less fans. That being said, the organizing committee really is on the ball with salting the course and everything turned out well [this weekend].”
Magdalena Neuner (GER)
“It took us a few days to get acquainted with the new courses,” the two-time Olympic gold medalist told IBU News. “We were pretty critical in the beginning about the very hard downhill. But it depends a lot on the conditions with the weather. I am basically pretty happy that the most dangerous parts will not be that difficult next year for the World Championships. Nevertheless I think the stadium is very nice for both the athletes and fans.”
Emil Hegle Svendsen (NOR)
“It is an amazing stadium,” the Olympic gold medalist and current second-place man in the overall standings said in a press conference. “I think it is for sure one of the best. Most important for the athletes the tracks are good and wide . . . they have built something amazing and I am really looking forward to the World Championships here next year. I think it is going to be something very special.”
Andrea Henkel (GER)
“[The downhills] were for me a little bit too tough,” the 2007 overall World Cup winner said in a video blog from Ruhpolding. “I made it very safe from loop to loop and on each loop got more afraid… the new stadium is very well-planned, I think. They have a huge gym with lots of bikes for warming up and cooling down, which was good yesterday [when it was pouring rain]. The track is fine, everything is very hard, which is good for me on the uphills but it is maybe a little too hard on the downhills. Maybe they will change it before the World Championships next year.”