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  • Anna Chabukina

Biathalon Snowshoe & Ski

At the Kincaid park winter recreation area in Anchorage, the biathlon snowshoe and ski event on Tuesday was a beautiful sight. Teams begin by stationing at their zones, zeroing in on their targets. Zeroing in is preparation for a biathlon by warming up and practicing shooting with a rifle at the target, in order to estimate wind direction and become mentally ready to compete. One of the biathlon coaches, Kate, explained "All the kids on snowshoes have to wear soft-sole mukluks, and most of these mukluks have been hand sown by family or passed down amongst athletes in the villages". She also commented that this year, all teams were using the same wax. "It's an international initiative from the International Biathlon Union to incorporate an environmental change". With this new information to help me grasp a better understanding of the sport, I set out to watch the first series of races.

Despite the chill, the teams chattered excitedly amongst themselves. The announcer called out a 5 minute warning followed by a run down of how the event would go: 3 runs, 2 shots. Once all participants got their timing chip, (an anklet that times their finish time and penalty laps) it was time for the athletes to take their places at the starting line. With calculated steps and a steady pace the racers started off at 15 second intervals, making their way down the track and around, keeping a steady pace so as not to exhaust themselves. It wasn’t long before the first runners approached the shooting range. Down they went on a pad, and fire their rifles, the sound of pellets hitting each target echoing over the crowd of spectators.

When they finished their shots, they jumped back to action and made their way down the raceway yet again. After the first track, the racers have two more tracks to go, and only one more opportunity to shoot. Fifteen minutes in,each athlete dived in for their second shot. The drill began again: drop to the mat, set their mark, fire, jump back into action to sprint down the course for their last run. In the last stretch, the crowd cheered for the athletes as they made the last bend. "LETS GO!" was heard from every corner as one after the other, athletes made their way closer to the finish line. With a final push, they crossed over the finish line and dropped into the snow to cool off after their amazing race. Great job to all the snowshoers!

After an intermission, the biathlon sprint skiers begin zeroing, which is a time for them to focus on their targets and get some last minute ski practice in. Sprint Ski has 2 courses: a purple/orange course for U16 that spans 4 km/2.4mi, and a red course for U18 that spans 6 km/3.7mi. Five minutes before line up, all participants in the biathlon ski were called to claim their chip. As chips were claimed, each racer made their way to the starting line. The closer the clock ticked toward the race start, the more determined each athlete looked. Then, at 15 second intervals athletes started their race of 3 laps and 2 shots, one by one, crossing the starting line with enthusiasm and speed. The race was underway! As the first group came down fast on the course, ski poles up, and arms to chest, they whipped by in a flurry of snow and cheers. Seven minutes into the race, the first skiers reached their rifles, got to their mat, and fired! Every point the competitors earn is vital. Any missed target earns them a penalty lap. Participants slung their seven to ten pound rifles to their backs and breezed into their second lap.

When the third and final lap started, racers were able to leave rifles on their hooks and speed off unencumbered. The crowd cheered and cowbells raised up a storm when the skiers were a few bends away from the finish line! U16 skiers zoomed across the finish line, sliding into the snow for sweet cool relief from a strenuous race across the course. As they caught their breath, the second place skier from Team Alaska playfully commented to Team Yukon who came in first, "slow down out there for the rest of us, eh?"

It didn’t take long for the U18 skiers to start crossing the finish line, heaving sighs of relief as they were able to lie down in the snow to rest. Racer after racer crossed the finish line to the calls of encouragement from family, friends, and teammates. Although exhausted from their sprint, they chatted cheerfully and congratulated each other on a race well done.


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