The United States Biathlon Association (USBA) held their biggest summer event in Jericho, Vermont this weekend: the North American Rollerski Biathlon Championships, which crowned men’s and women’s champions in four different age categories as well as the masters men’s division.
“Things went wonderfully,” said John Madigan, president of the Ethan Allen Biathlon Club, which hosted the races. “It is such a close and fabulous community in biathlon and it is always special when we can have all the top U.S. biathletes racing here in Vermont.”
Despite the event’s name, no Canadian teams were in attendance, making the races an all-American affair. The U.S. national team was at the end of a week-long camp in Jericho, and comprised most of the senior field. In the junior races, athletes traveled from as far away as Alaska to attend the races.
“I think the Canadians missed a great opportunity to race at the highest level at one of the best rollerski venues in the country, but they had not put it into their training plan at the beginning of the year,” Madigan said.
On Saturday, the biathletes faced a scorcher of a sprint. The races were short – 7.5 k for women and 10 k for men, with just two shooting stages. With 80-degree weather, bright sun, and 80-percent humidity, many athletes struggled to adapt.
“Heat has always been a challenge for me and it was definitely pretty intense for the Saturday race,” national team member Lowell Bailey wrote in an e-mail. “Even with extra attention to hydration, I was still pretty dizzy by the end. I think almost everyone had the same experience.”
2006 Olympian Tracy Colliander said that the women had just as much trouble with the hot temperatures.
“The heat was a big factor in these race,” she told FasterSkier. “The biggest thing was to try to avoid overheating as long as possible. It was inevitable that you were going to overheat, but if you could delay it, you were better off.”
Bailey managed to triumph over his heat troubles in the sprint. He and Bill Bowler had the best shooting for the men – only a single penalty each – but Bailey was the faster skier, and picked up the win by 56 seconds. Jeremy Teela was another 38 seconds behind after missing three shots, and gave the national team a sweep of the podium.
Tim Burke, who is recovering from compartment syndrome surgery, finished sixth after missing eight shots.
“I was trying some new sites on my rifle but unfortunately I only received them the day before so I did not really have a chance to test them,” Burke said. “I decided the race would be the perfect situation to test them. I learned right away that they don’t work for me!”
Burke’s skiing was solid, and he was confident that he would be back in top race shape by December despite missing a large amount of ski-specific training this spring.
In the women’s race, Sara Studebaker picked up the win. Studebaker and Tracy Colliander had one penalty each; Colliander finished 15 seconds back, with her twin sister Lanny Barnes in third with two penalties.
“Yesterday was good for me,” Studebaker wrote in an e-mail. “I was really happy with my shooting, and managed to keep things together with the skiing for most of the race despite the heat. It was super humid both days and it definitely took a toll on people.”
While she was happy to win, Studebaker didn’t want to read too much into her victory. As a member of USBA’s “A” team she is prequalified for the first period of World Cup racing and is taking the long view.
“For me, it’s certainly nice to see some good results right now, but that’s never been to goal,” she said. “I’m really focusing on December, and not having to qualify for the World Cup gives me good opportunity to treat these races like training and just get some more races under my belt without the stress. In all, training has been going really well for me. I’ve been trying some new things with my shooting and working a lot on ski technique.”
Sunday brought a simulated pursuit – although the athletes started in the order they finished on Saturday, they were separated by thirty seconds instead of the time gaps from the previous race. For Studebaker, the 15-second advantage would have been nice to hold onto.
“I think today [the heat] just caught up to me,” she wrote. “My prone shooting was solid, but by the time I got to standing I was pretty tired and just couldn’t keep things going. It was a tough one for sure.”
Pursuits feature four shooting stages – two prone and two standing. For the women, these stages are spread over 10 k. Studebaker missed seven shots and finished in sixth place.
With the previous day’s winner faltering, Barnes stepped up and took the win by a solid minute over her sister. Of all the women, Barnes shot the best: she had only a single penalty to Colliander’s four. The best shooting in the men’s field was four penalties as well. The twins, who do not have national team support, have been the best American shooters for several years – and have turned heads when they appear on the World Cup circuit as well.
“We are where we want to be leading up to the next set of trials in Utah,” Colliander told FasterSkier. “It’s still early in the summer though and there is a lot of work to be done still before the season. We don’t want to be rocket fast right now, we want to be fast in the winter. You can’t look to seriously at results in the summer like this, but you can gauge how you feel and what you still need to work on before the snow flies.”
National team member Laura Spector, who is finishing up her last term at nearby Dartmouth College this summer, finished third with seven penalties.
“I’ve been training in Hanover during the week and go to Jericho for combo training on the weekend,” Spector said of her summer schedule. “It’s been pretty standard, and I just try to fit the training sessions in between classes and homework.”
In the men’s race, Bailey stuck to his winning ways, this time beating teammate Leif Nordgren by 17 seconds over 12.5 k of skiing despite having five penalties to Nordgren’s four.
“The races went pretty well,” Bailey said in a characteristically humble e-mail. “I have changed around my training a bit over the last month and I was happy to see that I was still able to perform well given those changes.”
But like Studebaker, he was careful not to take his victories to seriously.
“As far as these races are concerned, I think it’s hard to look at summer results and make assumptions or predictions about the upcoming winter,” Bailey said. “I’m happy with the way this weekend went, and it is a good affirmation of the work I’ve been doing. However, it’s important to keep things in perspective: my focus is on the December World Cups and eventually World Champs in Ruhpolding later this winter.”
Norgren, who is the youngest member of the national team, was pleased with his second-place finish.
“The skiing was pretty fast,” he said. “I’ve made a lot of improvements this summer in both technique and strength so I was happy with how the skiing went. As to where I was last summer, I’d say I’m way ahead of there now!”
Bowler edged out Teela for the final spot on the podium, giving the national team another sweep.
What’s next for the biathletes? The “A” team will be traveling to Europe for a training camp, while the rest of the squad will stay in the U.S.
The next races at Jericho will be the International Biathlon Union’s North American Summer Biathlon Championships, which pair running with shooting. It’s unlikely that any winter biathletes will be competing.
Results from the weekend can be found here.