Competing at a Youth Olympic Games is momentous in itself, but for four young Canadian biathletes, the event bears even greater significance. It will be their first international competition of any kind.
“It’s crazy to think about,” said Naomi Walch (CAN). The 17-year-old will be making her international debut alongside teammates Ethan Algra, Finn Berg and Lucas Sadesky.
“I’m very lucky for my first to be this one. I’m just excited. I want to go out there and see what I can do,” said Berg, 17.
Apart from the nerves of competing internationally for the first time, they will also have to adjust to unusual conditions.
As athletes who live and train in an environment where -20 degrees Celsius is the norm, Lausanne has been balmy for the Canadians.
“This is very warm [for us], and we’re not used to slushy snow so we’re going to have to watch for that,” said Walch, who trains at the Foothills Nordic Ski Club in the Calgary region. “We’re used to racing in -5, -20-degree Celsius conditions, when the snow is always pretty hard and nice to ski on.”
Air temperature at the Les Tuffes Nordic Centre hovered around 5 degrees Celsius during practice on Thursday. The snow temperature measured about 9 degrees Celsius.
“It can take a toll on your muscles if you’re not used to it, and a lot of people have shin problems if they ski on soft snow,” said Walch.
But what does not change is the need to shoot accurately.
Every missed shot in the individual event adds a time penalty. In the sprint and team events, it means doing a penalty loop. At the Lausanne Games, the pursuit events have been replaced with individual competitions and as well as individual and sprint events athletes also compete in the single mixed relay and the team mixed relay.
Age regulations for the Games require that biathletes competing in Lausanne are between 16 and 18. As biathletes compete on the international junior circuit until their early 20s, many of these younger athletes have never met or raced against their counterparts before.
“The usual ones to look out for are like France, Germany. All the European teams are amazing. We’re going to try to keep up with them,” said Walch.
“I don’t know where I’ll place, but I just want to have my best race, shoot my best, and see where that puts me.”
“I want to try to get into the top five, that’s my goal. It’s a steep goal, but you know, no excuses,” said Berg.
The biathlon competition takes place at the Les Tuffes Nordic Centre from Jan 11-15.