Hay River hosted the first biathlon event of the season on Nov. 23 at the Hay River Ski Club, with about 20 athletes competing for the best time.
Chuck Lirette, the biathlon coach for Hay River, said the Polar Cup race was a good warm-up for the Arctic Winter Games trials to be held at the same location in three weeks.
“It was a really good practice race,” he said. “There are a few things we want to work on with individual athletes, but overall we’ll be increasing the training and the intensity so they can peak during those trials Dec. 12 through 14.”
The Hay River club fielded 17 athletes this time around, with two coming in from Yellowknife and one from Fort Smith joining the competition.
Lirette said he had expected more to come from the capital, but the weather proved too inclement for most to brave the drive.
In fact, the second day of races had to be cancelled as a result of blowing snow.
“It’s always good to have new athletes and new faces come to race. It keeps the kids more focused,” Lirette said, explaining that, if Hay River athletes only race against each other, it can feel more like a time trial or a practice.
For some of the biathletes, Saturday was their first-ever official race, including nine-year-old Gaius Crook, who was the only athlete to hit 10 out of 10 targets that day.
“It was pretty fun,” he later told The Hub. “I got to ski with my friends.”
The young biathlete also added that, while hitting all the targets was no doubt exciting, the best part had been the end of the race when he and his fellow competitors had been tripping going up a hill and none of them could stop laughing.
“I definitely want to keep doing biathlon,” he said.
Lirette said that, while the time trials are meant to simulate races and his athletes were prepared, there is always an added element of competition when it comes to official races.
“It’s a little more formal,” he said. “The kids have only been skiing a couple of weeks, though they’ve been shooting a bit longer, and we have lots of proud athletes.”
Lirette will also be coaching the biathlon team for the NWT when it travels to the Arctic Winter Games in Fairbanks, Alaska, in March.
Hay River will put forward 11 biathletes for tryouts Dec. 12 to 14, among a total of 35 from across the territory.