By the time the first NorAm/Calforex Cup races of the season were held on Saturday and Sunday, Maddie Phaneuf and Paul Schommer had already spent considerable time in Canmore, Alberta. The two U.S. biathletes headed to “Frozen Thunder” as part of a national team training camp beginning at the end of October.
Luckily, “it’s one of my favorite venues,” Phaneuf wrote.
When the selected World Cup athletes left, Phaneuf and Schommer didn’t go with them. That had been the plan for Phaneuf since the end of rollerski trials racing in mid-October, when the U.S. decided not to fill its fourth women’s quota spot on the World Cup and have her continue preparing stateside. And Schommer had been taken to the camp as part of a “short list” of men for the World Cup, before Russell Currier of the Outdoor Sports Institute was ultimately given the nod.
“Of course I would have loved to be a part of the opening World Cups, but I think my coaches made the right decision,” Phaneuf wrote in an email on Monday. “Getting a solid block of training in and some ‘less stressful’ racing under the belt is good for me.”
Phaneuf made the most of the opportunity, winning Saturday’s 7.5 k sprint by 2:55 over Craftsbury’s Emily Dreissigacker and Sunday’s 12.5 k mass start by three minutes over Jessica Paterson of Edmonton Nordic. The sprint win came with perfect shooting; she was one of only two racers in any category to hit ten out of ten (the other was Mark Arendz, a two-time Paralympian who placed fourth in the open men’s race).
“Overall I would say I was pleased with how my first races of the season went!” Phaneuf wrote. “You can’t really beat shooting clean and taking a win for your first race! I would have liked to hit a few more targets in the mass start, but that just gives me room to improve.”
The women’s field was small, with the top three U.S. women and top four Canadian women over at the World Cup in Sweden, and Canada also sending IBU Cup and IBU Junior Cup teams to Europe for the December racing period.
That left just seven senior women racing the sprint and five in the mass start.
“It would have been nice to have a few more women out there,” Phaneuf admitted. “The Canadians had just left for IBU Cups #2 and #3 the day before the races…so unfortunately we couldn’t compete with them.”
But deep fields or no, racing is racing.
“I believe you get something valuable out of every race you do,” Phaneuf wrote. “Especially with the first races of the season. These NorAms confirmed to me that I can be confident in my shooting, and that my skiing is strong.”
Some of the competition came from Dreissigacker, who is transitioning into the sport after being a top junior cross-country skier and then competing as a rower at the international level for several years. She is seen as a strong development prospect for U.S. Biathlon.
Things didn’t go as smoothly for Dreissigacker, but she nevertheless netted second place in the sprint and was just 11.8 seconds behind teammate Hallie Grossman for the last podium spot in the mass start. (Grossman was third in the sprint, +3:41.7.)
“I was far from happy with my races,” Dreissigacker wrote in an email. “It was one of the worst weekends of shooting I’ve had. And my skiing didn’t feel great either. But that’s biathlon. Sometimes you shoot great and feel great skiing and sometimes you spend so long in the penalty loop that your legs are dead before you even get back on course.”
Phaneuf is still shooting for senior World Championships, and the first step in that process will be qualifying for international IBU Cup races in January.
“Now I will be staying in Canmore for another week leading up to the IBU Cup trials,” she explained. “I’m here with USBA’s X-team (Jake Brown, Max Durtschi, Paul Schommer) and a fellow A-team member, Sean Doherty, with our coach Jean Paquet. We’ll get a good training week done before flying out to Minnesota for the races.”
Dreissigacker will also be looking to get to the IBU Cup, and is expecting better performances by the time trials roll around.
“I know my performances this weekend are not a reflection of what I am capable of, so I’m happy to have the next week and a half before trials to reset and fine tune,” she wrote. “We are heading to Minnesota tomorrow in order to get in a week of sea level training before trials.”
Millar, Schommer Pick Up Men’s Wins
Unlike the women’s races, the men’s competitions saw fields of nearly 20 biathletes, including several with World Cup, IBU Cup, and World Junior Championships experience.
“There are quite a few talented athletes domestically right now which allows for competitive racing close to home,” Schommer wrote in an email. “It’s been great to race all the guys and as whole I think we all can help each other get faster.”
In Saturday’s 10 k sprint, Aidan Millar of the Biathlon Alberta Training Center eked out a 3.9-second win over independent American athlete Bill Bowler, despite two penalties to Bowler’s one.
“This summer I missed some big chunks of training due to injuries so I wasn’t too surprised to miss out on the first IBU Cup tour, but was still a little disappointed,” 21-year-old Millar wrote in an email. “In hindsight it was probably a good thing, as I will be able to get some good training in and hopefully be improved for the second part of the season.”
A former member of U.S. Biathlon’s B-team, Bowler hasn’t competed in Europe since 2013, but is trying to make a comeback, writing on his blog that he has been trying to follow a training plan given to him by the national team five years ago.
“My goal is to get over to race the IBU Cups in Europe,” Bowler wrote in an email on Monday. “I’ve mostly been training on my own, and I think I’ve seen some good improvements over the summer and fall this year. I felt pretty good about the weekend other than the last shooting in the mass start. I was a little disappointed to be just outside the win in the sprint, but that’s how it goes when you miss the last shot.”
Third place in the sprint went to Schommer (+10.0), who then upped his game and won Sunday’s 15 k mass start by 1:08.4 over Craftsbury’s Ethan Dreissigacker.
“Missing out on the first World Cups was definitely a bummer, but after a conversation with the coach there was definitely a reason for the decision,” Schommer wrote. “A big reason was to stay in North America and continue training as well as gain more racing experience. This weekend was another opportunity to do just that; to continue to improve as a biathlete through racing other competitive biathletes.”
In his second year of biathlon, Schommer is still learning, but shot well: just three penalties in the 20-stage mass start.
“At my last camp in Canmore with the A-team, I really saw how fast and consistent the top guys shoot on a regular basis,” he wrote. “It’s made me really start to push the pace on the range during training which will ultimately carry over to racing. As with most things though, it takes time to take less time, if you know what I mean.”
In the mass start, Dreissigacker bested Millar by just one second to take second place. That kind of competition spurred the young Canadian.
“My ski speed surprised me a lot as I didn’t expect to be going so fast and to be so competitive,” he wrote. “There is still room to improve in my shooting, especially standing, but I was happy with my prone and will look to build on that for the rest of the season. Having such a competitive field was great as there are so few opportunities to have a race of such high calibre in Canada.”
And from here, all the top competitors are hoping to build their cases for getting to Europe, and the IBU Cup.
“Having some good results this past weekend gives me confidence going forward and shows that I’m on the right track to make the second IBU Cup tour,” Millar wrote. “Until early January when the second set of IBU Cup trials takes place, I am planning to race next weekend in the Calforex Cup in Canmore then travel down to Rossland to race in the Cross-Country NorAm and get another weekend of high end competition.”
Junior and Youth Races
The youth and junior fields, particularly for the men, were as big or bigger than the senior competitions. In Saturday’s junior men’s 10 k sprint, Travis Cooper of National Guard Biathlon took a 26.6-second win over Trevor Kiers of the Biathlon Alberta Training Center and Biathlon Ontario. André Boudreau of Biathlon PEI was third, +51.7. Cooper doubled up with another win in the 12.5 k mass start, taking a 2:06.7 win over Jarod Algra of West Coast Nordic despite seven penalties. Algra edged Boudreau by just 0.1 seconds to secure second place.
In the youth men’s 7.5 k sprint, Adam Runnalls of Calgary Biathlon Racers bested teammate Sergey Bochkarnikov by a minute and 23 seconds. Thomas Hulsman of Foothills Nordic was third, +2:09.1. In the 10 k mass start, Haldan Borglum of Foothills Nordic took a 32-second win over Hulsman, with Bochkarnikov third (+1:01.5).
In the junior women’s 7.5 k sprint, Darya Sepandj of the Biathlon Alberta Training Center and Foothills Nordic took a similar victory, by 1:28.5 over Biathlon PEI’s Caitlin Campbell. Siena Ellingson of Loppet Nordic Racing was third, +1:47.5. Campbell took a 1:16.7 win over Ellingson in the 10 k mass start, with Ashley Runnalls third (+9:47.2).
And in the youth women’s 6 k sprint, Lexie Madigan of the Auburn Ski Club came out on top, 1:10.1 ahead of Gillian Gowling of Rocky Mountain Racers. Third place went to Rylie Garner of the Casper Mountain Biathlon Club (+1:19.4). The podium was all-new in the 7.5 k mass start: Pascale Paradis and Élise Sauvé of Foothills Nordic went 1-2, with Sauvé 1:21.7 back, and Frederique Karia Perusse of La Pursuite was third, +2:09.1.
Photo Gallery Sprints (Click any photo to enlarge)
Photo Gallery Mass Start/Individidual
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.