It all started two years ago when Biathlon Canada’s head coach Matthias Ahrens struck up a conversation with highland-cow farmer Frode Oftedal at the World Cup in Oslo, Norway. There, Oftedal, also a biathlon enthusiast, invited the Canadians to come to Sirdal, Norway, for a training camp with the French team. The French biathletes had been returning to the sports school there to train since 2002 — because of Oftedal.
For Canada, the possibility became reality this spring when Ahrens asked Norwegian biathlon coach Arne Idland whether his A-team athletes (Rosanna Crawford, Megan Heinicke, Brendan Green, and Nathan Smith) could participate in the Blink rollerski festival in August. They could, and would, but before that, why not arrange a shooting camp with Norwegian personal shooting coach Joar Himle? Last year, the Canadians held a camp with Himle’s expertise at home in Canmore, Alberta. This time, they’d continue learning from him in Norway.
Three non-Canadians — Russia’s 2015 world champion Ekaterina “Katja” Yurlova, Finland’s Kaisa Mäkäräinen and American Susan Dunklee — caught wind of the camp and asked Himle if they could join, Ahrens explained in an email.
Of course they could, and the self-proclaimed International Biathlon Team was born. In the last few months before the nine-day camp in late July, Ahrens contacted the participants from various nations — including Norway and France — to coordinate workouts.
“At the end of the year World Cup party in Khanty-Mansiysk, I met Joar Himle,” Dunklee explained in an email. “He mentioned that he might put together an international women’s shooting training camp this summer around the Blink Festival. I was immediately interested.”
Tonstad, the site of the Sirdal sports school where the athletes would stay and train, was just a short drive from Sandnes, where Blink is held annually. For Dunklee and other Blink participants, such as Crawford, Heinicke, Green, and Smith, that made it an easy choice for a training venue before Blink.
“Shooting has traditionally been my weaker link as a biathlete and my major focus for this training season,” Dunklee explained. “I spent the spring brainstorming how to speed up my shooting times with the US coaches and sports psychologist and we have taken satisfying steps already. We decided it might also be beneficial for me to cast the net a little wider too. Joar’s camp worked very well with the timing of the Blink Festival, which I was already planning to race, and our team’s Europe camp. I heard that some top World Cup athletes were planning to attend. It sounded like an opportunity worth trying out.”
Meanwhile in late July, the rest of the US Biathlon A-team, except Lowell Bailey, who got married July 11, attended a training camp in Östersund, Sweden.
“This part of the camp we are focusing on specific biathlon training,” U.S. women’s coach Jonne Kähkönen explained in an email. “There’s a really good roller loop at the stadium and a full range that typically has varying winds — no change this time, so good wind practice. We have already had a couple of sessions with some Swedish athletes joining in to mix it up and provide additional challenge on the head to head stuff at the range.”
They planned to stay there until Aug. 3, when Dunklee, Bailey and Leif Nordgren would rejoin the team after Blink for a week at the ski tunnel in Torsby, Sweden.
“Next week in Torsby the biggest focus is on the skiing and technique work,” Kähkönen said of the second part of their European camp.
In Sirdal, Canada brought its A-team, including Crawford and Heinicke, to work out with Yurlova, Mäkäräinen and Dunklee. Smith and Green coordinated sessions with some of the French men.
“We’ve been having discussions together as a group about different aspects of the shooting process,” Dunklee wrote. “Joar believes in the value of athletes taking ownership of their own training and in the value of learning from other people’s approaches. We have also benefited from sharing the range here with the French and Norwegian women’s teams and collaborating on a few workouts.”
“It’s been great getting to chat with other athletes at meals and see what they’ve been up to during the summer,” Crawford wrote in an email.
She explained that all of the morning workouts included everyone —“Kaisa, Katja, Susan, Megan and the boys,” while afternoon training was a bit more individualized. They worked on shooting twice a day with Himle, including some shooting drills with the French team one day and the Norwegian women another afternoon.
“We also got to go for a great classic ski with some of the Norwegian women,” Crawford wrote. “It’s a pretty impressive group of people with 3 of them having WCH medals!”
On Wednesday, the group parted ways, with several athletes heading to Sandnes for the Blink races from Thursday to Saturday. Afterward, the Canadian A-team will venture to Oslo for three days to train on the 2016 IBU World Championships course. Then Ahrens and Smith will return to Canmore, and Crawford and Green will venture to Östersund for a few more days of training.
“Our B-team is in Canmore and will go up to the Haig glacier next week before they leave for [the North American Summer Championships in] Jericho [Vermont] and the races there,” Ahrens explained. “Otherwise we are mainly training in Canmore until we go for a 2 week camp in Park City in the last week of September, first week of October.”