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Canadian Junior Biathletes Rollerski 1080 KM from Canmore to Whistler

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Thu, Sep  17, 2009 - By Jerry Kokesh, IBU

Canadian Junior Biathletes Rollerski 1080 KM from Canmore to Whistler Biathlon British Columbia Coach iLmar Heinicke wanted to find a way for his young athletes to feel more connected to the upcoming 2010 Olympic Winter Games. So why not a rollerski relay from the Canmore Nordic Center, site of the 1988 Olympic Biathlon competitions to Whistler Olympic Park, the 2010 Olympic Biathlon venue.

8-10,000 Meters of Climbing

That idea became a reality as nine junior biathletes and their support crew covered the 1080 KM across the heart of the Canadian Rockies in a continuous relay from July 12-16. This relay was a true challenge, not just because of the distance, but the topography "I think there was 8-10,000 meters of climbing at least including the Rogers Pass, the Sea-to-Sky Highway and a lot of rolling terrain."

Heinicke described the experience, "We had three adults and three vehicles:  a van to follow the skiers, a car to shuttle people back to the motor home, where people could get a rest and eat. The most work was driving and keeping your eyes on traffic so the athletes knew if a big truck or something was coming."

Support from SRB Ski Rollers

In addition to a vehicle, the skiers always had a cyclist as an escort for safety, 24 hours a day. They also had their personal rollerski technician, as Arno Barthelmes of SRB Ski Rollers travelled with his family from Germany to support the athletes. SRB provided their newest line of rollerskis for the athletes, which were well tested by the time they reached Whistler Olympic Park. 

The relay started on Sunday July 12 on the shooting range at the Canmore Nordic Center, site of the 2009 Youth / Junior Biathlon World Championships. The first part of the journey was fairly easy passing through the Banff / Lake Louise area.

 

Canadian rollerskiers

Image from Daniel Giroux, photographer, Flex-Art-Studio.com

 

Ironman Matt Neumann

On Monday, Matt Neumann tackled the tough Rogers Pass (1330 meters), covering the 64 KM up and down leg in 3:25. Neumann proved to be the workhorse of the team, racking up 256 KM on the road. Besides Rogers, he also handled the penultimate 63 KM leg along the challenging Sea-to-Sky Highway to the entrance of the Whistler Olympic Park. To finish off his day, he and the other athletes skied the 13 KM up to the biathlon venue as a group. Heinicke commented, "Matt decided to do all of the big legs on his own. No one forced him to do it.  From Britannia Beach up to the venue was 76 KM. He did it in 3 hours and 30 minutes. That was pretty impressive. In that section, the local radio station was giving updates for both information and safety, so people would honk and wave when they passed. He got pretty excited by all of the attention."

Rollerskiing with the Stars and Moon

Heinicke said that the trip was hard work, as he spent most of the day driving. However, he got in his share of skiing during the early morning hours each day. He explained, "We rested from 12-2 each night. That gave the drivers and the athletes a short rest. . . Except for those two hours each night, we never stopped longer than 5 minutes to change skiers or take a water bottle. I took the first shift from 2 am to 4, or 5 am each night. Rollerskiing on the big highway with the stars and moon, only seeing another car every 45 minutes or so was really a nice experience. It was actually relaxing."

Olympic Spirit

Still, the whole adventure was for this group of biathletes who train at the Whistler Olympic Park venue. Heinicke praised them for their teamwork and team spirit, during a long, tiring trip, much of which was spent in cramped quarters. "I was not surprised, but really happy to see how all of the athletes worked together to make this happen and continue consistently (for the whole trip.) They had to work together. It was a team building experience for the athletes. This relay gave this group of younger athletes another nice activity connected to the Olympics. It was an Olympic Spirit activity. It was a great experience for them."

Now that the British Columbia biathletes have completed their relay across part of Alberta and British Columbia, they are back training at the Whistler Olympic Park. Heinicke does not see any more big adventures in the immediate future. He described the trip as "hard work. Someone suggested that next year we ski from Halifax to Whistler, coast to coast. I said no, no."

A detailed blog about the relay can be found at:

 http://web.mac.com/coachbiathlonbc/iWeb/Site/Blog/BC701967-90D7-47B8-8969-B86D52F89A1E.html