Twenty-eight biathletes gathered in Hay River last week to compete for only 16 spots on the Arctic Winter Games team – but with a catch. They had to compete inside with neither skis nor their regular guns.
“It’s just too cold,” said coach Chuck Lirette on Dec. 12. “The cut off is 20 below, 23 with wind chill factor, and it’s nearly minus 30 out there now.”
Instead, a miniature gun range was set up at the Hay River Ski Club for athletes to practise with air rifles on Thursday and Friday. The determining race was held at Harry Camsell School on Dec. 14, with athletes running laps around the hallways and ducking into the gym for the shooting portion of the event.
“It makes a lot of difference,” said Lirette. “Obviously running either two or two-and-a-half kilometres is very different from skiing five or seven. If you talk to all the people in here, they’ll tell you they would rather be outside, competing in the way this sport was intended.”
But no matter the weather situation, the NWT’s biathlon team was decided on the basis of the indoor race, with the top two athletes in each age category making the team based solely on their times.
“They’ve been training three-and-a-half months for this and it’s unfortunate that they really can’t show off the best of their abilities,” said Lirette. “They’re all really good kids and I wish I could bring all 28 of them.”
Hay River hopeful Treiva Plamondon said she was confident she would make the team, despite only having started in biathlon the year before.
“I’ll be up on that podium in March,” she joked, while waiting for her turn to shoot at the indoor range.
She said competing indoors changed everything, and that some competitors might have an advantage running as opposed to skiing or snowshoeing, and that using different guns may also pose a challenge for some.
“The Hay River biathletes have been using the air rifles, I think, but maybe some of the others haven’t and that could change things for them,” she said.
For both safety reasons and as a result of limited space, the athletes used air rifles on a 10-metre range inside. Their regular practice is to shoot at targets 40 metres away with 22-calibre rifles.
While the change of plan made for some logistical headaches and some frustration, not everyone was that upset.
“It means no cold fingers,” said Hay River biathlete Elli Cunningham, laughing. “That’s pretty nice.”
— Sarah Ladik