When I was a college ski racer, February felt crazy. It was the culmination of 6 weeks of winter carnival racing season, in which we raced every Friday and Saturday and missed a day and a half of class every week. Staying healthy, keeping caught up with school work and making time for ski training required super human time management skills. Now, as a full time biathlete with nothing to worry about except training and racing, February is a piece of cake. However, this year there weren’t any February biathlon races on the domestic schedule expect for the World Cups.
So what is a biathlete to do? If you are Lauren, you make the pilgrimage up to Fort Kent and forerun the World Cup. (Check out a neat article about the TV test race that she helped out with: http://fasterskier.com/2011/02/19-miles-of-cable-and-one-espresso-machine-how-biathlon-gets-on-television/) If you are Hannah, you prepare to go kick some butt at the Birkie, America’s biggest ski race. If you are a US Junior biathlete, you might decide to stay in Europe following Junior World Championships for a couple extra weeks to race in Germany, Italy and the Czech Republic. Another option is to rent an RV or “Wohnwagen” for 3 weeks and follow the German race circuit, which is what the Barnes twins and MWSC’s BethAnn Chamberlain decided on. (Read about their adventures here: http://bambambiathlon.blogspot.com/). Since I already had a plane ticket to Europe for U-26 Championships at the end of the month, I decided I’d fly over a week early and rendezvous with the Juniors and the Wohnwagen posse in Ruhpolding, Germany. A weekend of German Cup racing sounded like a perfect tune-up before heading down to Ridnaun, Italy for U-26s.
Ruhpolding is a biathlon Mecca. Every January, tens of thousands of spectators descend on this tiny town to watch the World Cup. Biathlon paraphernalia lines the shelves of local shops. Biathlon is Germany’s most popular winter sport and many of their top athletes live in this region. As I was traveling in, I had no shortage of people volunteering to help carry my giant ski bag, rifle case, heavy backpack and overflowing tote bag when I changed trains in Traunstein. They all wanted to know where I was coming from and they wished me good luck in Ruhpolding.
With beautiful rugged mountain peaks on all sides, Ruhpolding is one of my favorite biathlon venues to visit. However, last weekend I understood why the World Cup team nicknamed the town “Rainpolding.” On the first day of the German Cup races, it down poured. We went through several changes of clothes and still were drenched and cold. Nonetheless, it was a successful day of racing.
We competed in an unusual race format: a sprint race with extra relay rounds. We were allowed to hand-load up to 3 extra bullets to try to knock down missed targets, so very few people had to ski penalty loops. In addition to the Germans, we had a bunch of Brits, a Norwegian, and a Canadian in our race. I had some of my better shooting of the season, requiring only one spare round, and I finished 2nd, one second behind my US teammate Lanny Barnes.
The following day we competed in a mass start. We rarely get to ski in mass starts at NorAm races at home, and never against an international field, so it was a valuable experience. I got a little distracted during the first shooting stage when we approached the range in a big pack, and it caused me to miss 2 targets. I spent the rest of the race playing catch up, but I was able to focus better in the range for the remaining stages. Lanny had another good day and cleaned her fourth biathlon race in a row- that’s 60 consecutive hits during competition.