Canmore, Alberta’s Aidan Millar was the third man onto the course in Saturday’s individual-start 10 k sprint at World Junior Championships for biathlon in Raubichi, Belarus.
With little information about his competitors, Millar had to just ski his own best race. He had a penalty in prone but then cleaned in standing, and was unsurprisingly the race leader when he crossed the line. The thing was waiting for the other 90+ racers to finish as well.
“As soon as I had gotten my stuff I left the finish area and went and cooled down away from the TVs and the stadium,” he wrote in an email. “I knew I would probably stay in the top 10 but it was way too hard to watch the results.”
As his team had predicted, it was a top-10 finish when all was said and done. Millar’s time put him in eighth, 44.9 seconds behind Russia’s Aleksandr Dediukhin, who won with a time of 24:49.0.
Millar’s split after the last shooting had him in fifth place, but he was unable to hold onto that position, and lost about 20 seconds to the leaders over the final 3.3 k.
Still, the result was a major recovery after the individual competition, where Millar missed nine shots. He was frustrated with himself and vowed to do better.
“The individual was pretty disappointing shooting-wise,” he explained. “So for the sprint I tried to shoot more in control and not get caught up in shooting fast.”
Despite those goals, Millar actually had the eighth-fastest shooting time in the field. That speed and accuracy helped him to his best-ever result in an international competition. It was also the best result for Canada so far at the Championships, including in the youth competitions which are held on alternating days with the junior races.
At last year’s World Youth Championships in Presque Isle, Maine, he placed ninth in the sprint. But this year is completely different, and not just because the junior field is older and more experienced than the youths, Millar explained.
“I would say it’s definitely a huge step up,” Millar wrote. “With last [Championships] being in North America some of the better countries didn’t send full teams so the field wasn’t as strong. So with the jump from Youth to Junior already making it more competitive the fact that it was in Europe made even that much more competitive than last year. With those things in mind, I’m finding it hard to believe that I was actually able to get that result.”
Millar’s coach at the Biathlon Alberta Training Center, Richard Boruta, is the leader of Canada’s team on the trip and expounded a bit more on the jump Millar has made.
“While in the Youth category lots depends on biological age and other factors, in the Junior category the results are much more representing the quality of training and future potential of the athlete,” he wrote in an email. “By staying in (or at least being capable of) the top ten at [Junior Worlds], athletes are showing that they are on the progression curve necessary for future good performance in the World Cup.”
The age category is not the only change Millar has made this year. He also transitioned from the Canmore Nordic Ski Club to training with Boruta’s training center.
“He has the benefit of training with strong juniors on our team and after his recovery [from a concussion in the fall] his ski speed kept improving during all of our tests and early season races,” Boruta wrote.
He hopes for even more from Millar in the future, but is also content to have eighth place as a standout result.
“Aidan is a prototype of modern high performance biathlete (tall and strong), and I am sure we will hear about him in the future again,” Boruta wrote. “I am really happy for his result today and his goal for Pursuit is to learn how it feels to compete head-to-head with the best in the world. I would like to think that another top ten is possibility, but the field is very competitive, so it will likely come down to shooting performance during the entire race.”
As for Millar, he professed to have no results-based goals for the pursuit, which will be held on Sunday.
“Try and stay calm, shoot in control and see what happens,” he wrote.
But regardless, the top-ten is a confidence boost that still leaves him marveling.
“I’m super happy with the result,” he wrote. “I didn’t really have a results goal coming in to the Championships but 8th was beyond my expectations.”
Also in the junior men’s sprint, Matthew Strum finished 46th with one penalty, and Carsen Campbell 55th with three. Both made it inside the 60-man cutoff to compete in Sunday’s pursuit.
Stuart Harden, one of Canada’s top young biathletes, did not start the race. He explained in a facebook post that he woke up with a cold and is trying to recover in time for the relay early next week.
In the junior women’s 7.5 k sprint, Sarah Beaudry placed 38th with three penalties.
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.