On Tuesday, Jean Philippe Le Guellec, Scott Perras, Zina Kocher, and Rosanna Crawford will get on a plane a fly to Sweden. This they knew: the four Canadian biathletes are already qualified for the upcoming Olympics in Sochi, and have the luxury of knowing that they’ll start their seasons on the World Cup next weekend.
But after trials races in Canmore on Thursday and Friday, 11 more athletes learned that they’d be leaving even sooner. Five women and six men will start their seasons on the second-tier IBU Cup, which, for two women and one man, will be a stepping stone to the World Cup a week later.
The group is a mix of national team athletes, development team athletes, and even juniors. And, says Biathlon Canada High Performance Director Chris Lindsay, they’re probably going to put down some good results. He was impressed by what he saw over the last two days, and in a great mood when FasterSkier talked with him on Friday afternoon.
“It was a great opportunity to see some great early-season racing for my guys,” Lindsay said. “They were able to pull out some results that were maybe not perfect, but were good indicators of the overall quality of the training that’s happening and the continuing improvement of the program overall. I’ve been watching all these athletes for the last month here on the early snow, because we’ve been on snow for a full month as of today.”
While the goal for this first period of racing is certainly to have strong results at the World Cup level – Lindsay would like to see multiple top-30 finishes – it’s also important for Olympic qualification. That’s possible through World Cup results, by either two top-16 results or three top-30 results. Brendan Green, Megan Imrie, and Megan Heinicke, all starting on the IBU Cup, each only need one more top-30 to achieve their Olympic qualification, while Scott Gow needs two top-30s.
But Green and Gow are going to have to fight it out just for the chance to compete on the World Cup, and best not only each other but Nathan Smith, Marc-Andre Bedard, Macx Davies, and Scott’s younger brother Christian Gow. Canada only has three quota spots for men’s World Cup racing.
“It certainly looks to us like we have four or five male athletes who are more than capable of having World Cup results in the top 30,” Lindsay explained. “We’re in an unfortunate situation where because we have limited start spots on the World Cup, so that we cannot just throw all of them there and have them fight it out.”
Because the IBU Cup and World Cup tours swing in geographically different directions this year, Lindsay says it’s unlikely that athletes will be switched between the two circuits once the World Cup begins. That means that it’s highly probable that the men’s Olympic team will not be filled by the time the Christmas break rolls around. In that case, any remaining athletes that have met IBU standards – basically, the same standards that must be achieved to race on he World Cup – will have a trials series at home.
The same goes for the women, should Imrie and Heinicke fail to complete their qualification on the World Cup. Audrey Vaillancourt, Claude Godbout, and Julia Ransom have the chance to steal a World Cup spot from Imrie or Heinicke based on results from the first IBU Cup races.
“The results of IBU Cup 1 are not the only factor in who gets the World Cup spots, but you’re not going to be able to just barf a race out there,” Lindsay said. “You’re going to have to be the first or second Canadian. And we want to see a good result against the field – if everyone comes in around the top 60, that’s not what we’re looking for. We’re expecting people to do extremely well at that IBU Cup.”
Because if you can’t do well at the IBU Cup, then how are you going to do well at the Olympics? And so despite the chance to have a strong opening to the World Cup season, those goals take a backseat for the team in favor of prepping their athletes as well as possible for the Olympics – and to get selected for them.
“We’ve been trying our best to make sure that the athletes are completely aware of the situation the team finds itself in, and that they need to be on the selfish side,” Lindsay said. “If they feel that their best opportunity to make the Games is on the World Cup, then we’ll support them. If they feel that their best opportunity to make the Games is to come home early [to prepare for the Christmas trials races] then we will support that as well. We don’t want to put someone in a situation where they felt that they had to be part of the team at a certain World Cup because the team needed them, but yet that wasn’t the right choice for them. We have a strong philosophy that if we have athletes who are able to achieve their individual performance goals, then the performance of the team will rise too.”
National team and senior athletes certainly acquitted themselves well in the trials races. In Thursday’s sprint, Kocher and Crawford were the second and third women, behind Slovakian and 2010 Olympic gold medalist Anastasiya Kuzmina. Perras was second behind Nathan Smith, a 2012 World Championships team member, and Green was third. It was a turnaround for Perras, who had a tough summer and missed the “A” team’s recent on-snow trip to Ramsau, Austria.
But other athletes asserted themselves, too. Lindsay pointed to Sarah Beaudry, a junior who finished second in the trials rankings behind Godbout; she is a reserve for the trip. Carsen Campbell, a young biathlete from Prince Edward Island, was second in Friday’s sprint, behind Perras. The performances by these and other juniors bode well for Canada’s chances at this years World Youth and Junior Championships in Presque Isle, Maine, which Linday called “almost a home championships.”
And on the veterans side, Robin Clegg, who represented Canada at three Olympics, came out of retirement to rank second in the trials behind Perras. Like Beaudry, he is on the reserve list for the European tour.
“Robin has been doing some semi-professional bike racing in the last two years, and he has come out of retirement to make a push – and I would say a pretty strong push – to qualify for the Olympics,” Lindsay said. “He is training with a local club, so he has no national team support, but I have had several conversations with him about it in the last few months… having him there is great, because it is more competition and it makes everyone faster. In the end, whoever qualifies for the Olympics – whether it’s a young junior who comes out of nowhere, or if it’s Robin – they will be faster the more people we have training and competing.”
World Cup Team
Jean Philippe Le Guellec
IBU Cup Team
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.