Giving biathlon a shot
A year ago I was busy at work proofing pages and eating doughnuts when I got a phone call.
“Emma, what are you doing right now?” my dad asked. (Yes, I have to include him in every column).
“Ahh, I’m working, why?” I said.
“What, you’re not watching the biathlon relays? They’re so exciting. You know, I think this might be something you’d be good at. Have you ever shot before?” he asked.
“Yeah, I’ve shot a few times. I’m all right.”
“Is there anywhere up there you can practice?”
“I think they set up a biathlon range sometimes at Auburn Ski Club.”
“Well your mum (my parents are British, so I get disowned if I say mom) and I were thinking we’d really like to go watch the next Olympics in Vancouver, so we think you should ski in them …”
Sure, no problem, I thought. I’ll qualify for the Olympics in my spare time. But I was somewhat flattered by my dad’s confidence in my ability.
“… I mean, we know you wouldn’t have a chance of medaling, but it would be great if you could participate.”
My dad has always been realistic.
A year later I had made no effort to practice for a biathlon.
When I pulled up at Auburn Ski Club Sunday morning to cover the 10th Mountain Biathlon Division Competition, I remembered the conversation I had had with my dad a year ago. I started wishing I was racing rather than covering the race (this happens a lot), at least to see if I could do it.
As I made my way up to the range I ran into a Jeff Schloss, my old coach, and he asked me if I was racing. I sadly replied “No”. He tried to convinced me to race but it was too late to sign up. Luckily, Mark Nadell, who was tired from too much backcountry, had signed up and decided not to race and gave me his bib. I ran back to the car, grabbed my skis and headed to the start.
The race I participated in was a 9-kilometer ski with two stops at the rifle range, once shooting prone and the other standing. The majority of the skiers racing were new to biathlon, so they went with the tactic of shoot as fast as you can and ski as fast as you can. This meant missing most of the targets and skiing all of the penalty laps, as demonstrated by Schloss, who hit only two out of 10 targets and finished first.
I tried to take it easy on the ski, but the long, gradual climb back to the range in sloppy snow took its toll each time. Luckily we did not have to ski with rifles because everyone was sharing the guns. When we skied to the range we were assigned a lane with a volunteer who kindly loaded the rifle.
While shooting prone I hit four out of five, which meant I had to ski one penalty lap. I managed to pass Schloss, who was skiing four laps, but he quickly passed me on the second lap.
Second time in the range was standing. It was very difficult to hold the rifle steady while I was breathing hard. I managed to hit two targets; I don’t know how (once I was aiming for a different target and hit the one next to it). Six out of 10 was good enough for me. I then had to ski three penalty laps and one final loop on the 3-kilometer course.
Everyone out there seemed to have a good time, perhaps because they were not taking it as seriously as their regular cross-country ski races and it was the end of the season. I managed to place first among female competitors, but because I was skiing as Mark Nadell, I did not medal. But at least I participated, which I think was the goal of most of the racers out there.
I also managed to get some shots of the juniors racing the 3-kilometer race before my start. Most of the kids out there were shooting all 10 targets during the race. I was very impressed with their focus. I know the thought of an 8-year-old holding a gun scares most people, but that’s only when you don’t understand the sport. I really hope for more opportunities to use the range, especially when I saw the potential of the junior racers.
Emma Garrard is a photographer for the Sierra Sun. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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