Hay River will be well-represented at the national biathlon championships next month.
Three biathletes – Christopher Lirette, Andrew Lirette and Angeline Magtibay – will be heading to Whistler, B.C., in late March.
For 16-year-old Andrew Lirette, it will be his first time at the championships.
“It will be a good experience, probably,” he said.
Andrew Lirette has no goals set for his competition in the senior boys division for ages 15 and 16.
“I don’t really know what the competition is like,” he said.
His brother, 17-year-old Christopher Lirette, will be attending the nationals for the third time, and won a gold medal in the senior boys’ division last year.
However, this year he is moving to a new division – youth men’s for ages 17 and 18.
“I have to carry my rifle now and the distances are longer,” he said, noting the most significant adjustment has been the distance. “Our longest race last year was 7.5 km and this year it’s 12.5 km. So it’s a pretty big jump.”
Christopher Lirette said his goal is just to do his best and maybe finish in the top 10.
Magtibay will be attending her third nationals.
The 17-year-old hasn’t set any goals in the youth women’s division for ages 17 and 18.
“Probably just to try my best to finish because last year’s nationals and the year before that I’d just been going through a lot of injuries and it was been tough,” she said.
The three biathletes from Hay River will be part of an NWT team which will also include Betsy Mawdsley from Fort Smith and Connor Kimmins from Yellowknife.
In addition, Hay River’s Brendan Green, a member of the national biathlon team, has been listed on the NWT squad, and may or may not compete depending on his progress recovering from injury.
Green is encouraged that three other biathletes from Hay River will be at nationals, noting that is great for the sport in the community.
“I know it’s been a really cold winter for those guys, so I’m sure they’re looking forward to heading south to some warmer climates,” he said. “It’s great to see that the participation is still up, despite the harsh conditions, the weather, and that the club is active.”
The NWT team will be coached by Pat Bobinski and Doug Swallow, both from Hay River, with the assistance of Ted Kimmins from Yellowknife.
They will also offer guidance to Ryan Burlingame, the only biathlete attending the championships this year from the Yukon.
Bobinski, the president of the NWT Biathlon Association, said he has been to the nationals up to a dozen times as a coach and it is always a challenge.
“Working with these young athletes is such an honour for me,” he said.
Bobinski said, for the competitors, it is very exciting to go to the Canadian championships.
Chuck Lirette, head coach of the biathlon club in Hay River, is pleased with the number of biathletes from the community attending nationals.
“It’s the biggest competition, so all the best biathletes from every province and territory are going to be there,” he said. “So it really lets the kids see how they’re doing against the best in Canada. Biathlon Canada uses it to help identify athletes who are going to go on to junior programs or national teams from there.”
Lirette, who won’t be at the national competition himself, said the Hay River biathletes have been working hard since last August to get ready.
“I guess the biggest goal for me is for the kids to have fun and to be competitive,” he said.
The Canadian National Ski Championships will be held in Whistler from March 15 to 30. The event will include cross-country, Nordic, ski jumping and biathlon competitions.
– Paul Bickford