The Canadian biathlon team isn’t known for chasing points, and that couldn’t have been more apparent last weekend in Oberhof, Germany, when they sent only a skeleton crew to the first World Cups of the new year. It’s a tactic they have used in the pass to give their athletes more time at home in North America; as several pointed out, now that they’re back in Europe, they’ll stay there until mid-March at the earliest. That’s a long time.
“It was never the plan for the team to go to Oberhof,” Scott Gow told FasterSkier. “JP [Le Guellec] and Zina [Kocher] went because they were chasing points, and the plan for everyone else was to stay home, put in a good training block, and try to be as ready as possible for the tour. Also, this tour is going to last until at least after Sochi, so to have an extra week home before a very long tour is nice.”
While that almost certainly cost Canada some Nations Cup points, especially since two relays were featured in Oberhof, it’s seeming like the right decision now, as both Gow and Scott Perras notched career-best results in the sprint in Ruhpolding, Germany today. Gow placed 29th, his first time in the points; Perras was tenth, his first time in top ten.
While Gow thought that being able to do a volume block at home over Christmas helped him out today, Perras wasn’t so sure. He as more concerned about maintaining fitness and a good base, which is tough to do during the season.
“When you are on the World Cup it is hard to log a ton of volume hours,” Perras wrote in an e-mail. “Volume hours are not for everyone but they are for me, I did my best to log some solid volume so that I could be fast in February and beyond.”
Spending a few weeks in Canmore did give him an advantage today, however, and it came from having similar conditions and a solid gameplan. Perras had the 31st-fastest course time and Gow the 37th; but Perras timed his work perfectly, moving from 21st up to tenth between the final shooting and the finish.
“The conditions were tough today, pretty slow and challenging,” Perras wrote, referring to the fresh snow that had fallen all day but luckily stopped before the men raced. “I was kind of happy with this because Canmore was cold and slow over Christmas so I was used to it. We did a race right before coming to Ruhpolding and it was slower in Canmore. I knew that it was going to be a long race and that I should leave something for the end.”
Perras was able to ski with Simon Schempp of Germany for the beginning of the race, while Gow caught a ride with a French racer near the end. Skiing fast was important, and both men said that having people to ski with helped.
But in Ruhpolding, shooting cleanly is also incredibly important. The venue often sees a high number of clean sheets, meaning that there’s less room for error.
“Often in Ruhpolding you have to shoot clean, it’s a downhill approach the the range and there isn’t a breath of wind,” Perras explained. “My zero on my rifle has been the same since the first training day here. These two factors add up to a range where people are going to shoot well and do it fast.”
While both men shot clean, Perras succeeded particularly well at this, and it’s what helped him climb into the top ranks; while he was just eight seconds faster than Gow on the trails, he made up time on the range.
After sitting in the top 20 after a clean prone stage, Jean Philippe Le Guellec accumulated two penalties in standing and dropped down to 41st by the finish.
“Thats why I missed two today!” he joked on Twitter. “… my first name isn’t Scott.”
Along with Le Guellec’s win earlier this season, the first for a Canadian man on the World Cup, the team seems to be on the upswing despite the loss of Brendan Green for the season due to back injuries. While it’s easy to look at each performance separately, everyone involved insisted that the success is a team effort started years before – perhaps even with Le Guellec’s sixth-place finish at the Olympics in Vancouver.
“I think our success as a team started last year when JP and Brendan started to really break through,” Gow said. “We all took that as motivation to better ourselves, and that added focus has translated into some great results for everyone. It’s also a huge confidence boost which helps the whole team train and perform better.”
“We have a decent group and everyone has some strengths to bring to the game,” Perras agreed. “We started to strengthen our weaknesses by trying to match our teammates strengths. Like I told Brendan earlier this year, iron sharpens iron.”
But he was particularly appreciative to have not only Green and Le Guellec as teammates, but also younger teammates like Gow, who has only competed in a handful of World Cup competitions.
“Gow, he is the future of Biathlon Canada,” Perras wrote. “He is only 22 and pushes me everyday. Sometimes I look over at him training and think about how much ahead of me he is when I was 22.”
And like the fact that the Canadians don’t chase Nations Cup points, they also don’t push their up-and-coming talent too hard, at least not if they can help it. While Gow has been a top prospect for some time now, he is still racing frequently on the IBU Cup, the tier just below the World Cup.
“I started on the IBU Cup because the rest of the team was preselected for the World Cup,” Gow explained. “I started off the season with a top 6 on the IBU Cup and ended the World Cup in Pokljuka. I’m happy I did the IBU Cups first because it gave me the confidence I needed to perform well on the World Cup, that I may not have had had I gone straight to Ostersund.”
Indeed, last season he did so well in early-season trials races that he made the trip to Ostersund for the opening World Cups. But once there, he placed 80th in the sprint. This year, he’s better prepared and hitting his stride in the middle of the season.
“The coaches have been pleased with my results, so I was asked to stay on the World Cup and I have improved on my personal best with a top 30,” he wrote.
With his performance, Perras qualified for the mass start tomorrow. Limited to 30 athletes including the top 25 in the total score and the next five best racers from the earlier part of the weekend, it’s tough to get into, and Perras has never done so before. He’ll be the lone Canadian contesting the race, which starts at 9:30 EST and can be streamed live for free from the IBU’s biathlonworld website.
Lowell Bailey led the U.S. in 26th place with clean shooting; Jay Hakkinen also shot clean to place 54th, while Russell Currier had four penalties for 80th place and Leif Nordgren five penalties for 86th.
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Chelsea Little is FasterSkier's Editor-At-Large. A former racer at Ford Sayre, Dartmouth College and the Craftsbury Green Racing Project, she is a PhD candidate in aquatic ecology in the @Altermatt_lab at Eawag, the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology in Zurich, Switzerland. You can follow her on twitter @ChelskiLittle.