BEND, Oregon – Even though the U.S. biathlon national team did not compete in the Pole Pedal Paddle on Saturday morning like their skiing counterparts, the athletes still didn’t get to sleep in for their weekend.
After all, this is training camp.
Instead, they headed up to Mount Bachelor to do intervals, and had to start early so that they could be off the race trails before the five-sport extravaganza began.
“Early in the morning it’s a little tricky because it’s a little bit icy, but it takes half an hour to warm up and then it’s awesome,” Sara Studebaker said after finishing up her last interval. “And they have so much snow, and the grooming has been really good. It’s really great.”
It’s the first time the current crop of biathletes have had an official camp in Bend, and only the cream of the crop are in attendance; eight “A” team athletes were invited, but Jay Hakkinen is at home in Germany and Leif Nordgren is recovering from surgery. That left Studebaker, Annelies Cook, and Susan Dunklee for the women and Tim Burke, Lowell Bailey, and Russell Currier for the men. Dunklee said that the Bend camp was an additional carrot for reaching “A” team status: not only was it a beautiful location, but the small number of athletes meant more individual attention from coaches.
And, of course, it’s a chance to get on snow. While the team hasn’t traditionally done an on-snow camp in the spring, women’s coach Jonne Kahkonen said the athletes were handling it well.
“We’ve been skiing a lot, pretty late on snow, so the transition was not so hard,” he told FasterSkier.
He added that even the venue’s altitude – the nordic center sits around 6,000 feet – didn’t have a major effect on the team’s training.
“I’ve been surprised – even myself, and I’m not in the shape that the athletes are,” Kahkonen said. “It’s weird, sometimes there are places where the altitude doesn’t really get you, and that’s exactly what the athletes say now. They don’t really feel it and maybe it’s just that they have more training done, and more background. The conditions are great, so that helps a lot.”
Another new development for the team: for the first time, they are attending a camp without even bringing their rifles. While Mount Bachelor does have a shooting range, it is rarely used and the team decided to focus on skiing instead.
“It’s awesome,” Studebaker said of the change. “It was so great, we were like, ‘Oh, we can put as much stuff as we want in our bags!’ It’s so easy to travel without rifles. And to have a camp where you’re just thinking about training is great. I think it’s really necessary every once in a while.”
Kahkonen said that the team is considering the idea of periodizing some of its training into skiing and shooting camps. Before coming here to Bend, the team had done a camp in Lake Placid that focused primarily on shooting. Kahkonen had done something similar in his previous job with the Finnish national team, and was excited to see the idea introduced in the U.S.
“In my two years we’ve always had biathlon camps, but I think the athletes are liking it,” he said. “They can just focus on one thing at a time. And after this camp they get a break, it’s an off week, but then it’s biathlon training. So now, ideally, all the basics are done for shooting, and the basics will be done for the skiing, and they’ll start putting it together.”
On Saturday, the athletes did a roughly 12-minute warmup alternating fast pieces with easy skiing before launching into a set of five-minute level four intervals. Even though it’s May, the team has already been hard at work with intensity sessions.
“We do a couple of sessions already, per week,” Kahkonen said. “We do a lot of volume, so if you look at the percentages it’s still quite low. And that’s the focus also – over the course of the year there’s less volume and more quality.”
By the time she finished her last interval, Studebaker was appropriately tired. Despite Kahkonen’s earlier assertion, she said that the altitude did make things a tad tougher.
“It’s definitely hard,” she said. “I come from the West, so I know what it feels like to be at altitude, but it’s an adjustment. I was up in Alaska before our training season started, and then Lake Placid, so here it’s really high [in comparison].
“But it’s great to be on snow.”