Marksmanship meets endurance at Northstar
January 5, 2010
The unconventional winter sport that made its debut at the 1960 Squaw Valley Olympics is making a comeback in the Sierra.
Northstar-at-Tahoe Resort, partnering with the Auburn Ski Club, unveiled this year the region’s first permanent biathlon range.
“It’s a good fit for us,” said Julie Young, Northstar’s Nordic director. “We’re able to play a bigger role in the cross-country community. By having the only permanent range on the West Coast, we can draw elite athletes from across the country.”
Biathlon pairs two opposed forms of competition, skiing and shooting. The trick is to ski hard, but then drop the pulse level down enough to shoot straight.
“It’s not the fastest skier who’s going to win. And it’s not the best shooter. It’s the one who can put it all together,” said Glenn Jobe.
And he would know.
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Jobe competed in the sport in the 1980 Winter Olympics and has continued to train young athletes since then.
The Sierraville resident is the lead instructor in the biathlon program, teaching the essentials of rifle marksmanship and sharing some inside knowledge.
The range will not be open for general practice, but those interested in learning about the sport or in training can call to set up an appointment. The three-hour instruction course begins with a clinic on dry firing, where participants will learn the mechanics of firing a gun.
From there, students ski or snowshoe to the biathlon range and try their hand at live firing.
Precision, said Jobe, is essential to success.
In a biathlon, competitors ski a set distance, then enter the range to shoot five targets from the prone position. They ski another round, then shoot five targets standing. Depending on the length of the race, the process could be repeated.
For each shot missed, competitors must ski a penalty lap.
“Take your time shooting,” Jobe advised. “It’s way faster than a penalty lap. The penalty lap is not your friend.”
When competing on the Olympic team, Jobe said, the athletes met with a psychologist to mentally train themselves to drop their pulse quickly.
He said he would imagine a certain peaceful scene to drop his race pulse of 160 down to an even 120 to shoot.
Jobe will be joined by other world-class athletes in giving instruction at the center. Tom McElroy, who competed in the world championships in 1979-’80 and skied for the national team from 1978-1982, also will serve as an instructor. Sisters Biby Xantus and Gyongyi Benedek, who both competed on the Romanian Olympic team, will help out when they can.
Xantus, who competed in the Junior Olympics, said she would like to see the sport gain the popularity in the United States that it has in Europe.
“Everybody’s yelling and shouting and cheering,” she said. “It’s just amazing, the energy. Hopefully we get a lot of people up here.”
Tim Burke is leading the World Cup, marking the first time an American biathlete has done that in a sport dominated by Europeans.
Jobe said the heightened television coverage during this year’s Olympics and the focus on the anniversary of the Squaw Valley Olympics during Olympic Heritage Week will increase interest in biathlon. The Auburn Ski Club Association will be hosting a biathlon demonstration during Olympic Heritage Week and holding clinics to introduce locals to the sport.
“The interest is there, we just haven’t had the facility to do it,” Jobe said. “This is a big year for biathlon.”
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