Schleching, Germany. It is fall in Bavaria with sunny days, cool nights and the upcoming Oktoberfest season on everyone’s mind in the big cities like Munich as well as small mountain villages like Schleching.
On Thursday afternoon, the US Biathlon Team’s exclusive ski grinder, Remigius (Mook) Bauer, treated three US Biathletes, Jay Hakkinen (Kasilof, AK), Jeremy Teela (Anchorage, AK) and Lowell Bailey (Lake Placid, NY) to some traditional hospitality. Bauer and a friend (and biathlon fan), Heinz Hammerschmidt attended the World Cup final in Oslo last March. While talking about the US Team’s spectacular relay in the Olympic Games and Bauer’s relationship with the US Team, Hammerschmidt commented that since the team has such close connections to Bavaria, they needed some traditional Bavarian clothing, like Lederhosen. He happens to manufacture traditional Bavarian clothing in the town of Marquartstein. Bauer thought it was a great idea, as did the athletes.
Jump forward to a picture perfect sunny afternoon in Bavaria when Bauer has pulled out all stops. As a prelude to becoming “honorary Bavarians,” an autograph party brought biathlon fans to Bauer’s sports store in this small village about 40 miles southeast of Munich. Stories in local papers put the word out that the US Biathletes would be there, along with Olympic Gold Medalist and World Cup Overall Champion Kati Wilhelm and multi-World Champion and Olympic medalist Ricco Gross. By the time the five athletes arrived, a crowd nearing 100 was waiting, armed with cameras to get a photo with the popular athletes. Wilhelm and Gross have close ties with the US Biathlon team, as both use US Wax Technicians Bernd Eisenbichler and Andreas Emslander to prepare their championship skis and are good friends and role models for the US Biathletes.
For the athletes, signing autographs for everyone from grade school children to grandmothers, “I want these for my grandchildren who could not come,” was an enjoyable diversion from the recent three-week training camp and recent days testing skis on Austria’s Dachstein glacier.
As the public headed home with their treasured autographed photo cards, Hammierschmidt arrived with the promised Bavarian clothing. Within minutes, the two Alaskans, the musician/biathlete from upstate New York, the Olympic Champ from near Oberhof and the local hero from nearby Ruhpolding looked not like athletes, but a group of locals ready for a night of large tankards of the Bavarian national drink and dancing to the sounds of lederhosen bedecked brass band.
After obligatory photos with everyone involved and some promo photos for each athlete’s ski sponsors, the group retreated to Bauer’s garden for more Bavarian hospitality. The tranquil green garden with a bubbling water feature and striking flowers was a perfect setting as Bauer tapped the traditional wooden beer keg to serve the guests. Except for the television crew for BR (the local Bavarian network doing a story about the evening) and the sounds of English in the air, you would have thought it was just a gathering of neighbors for an evening of food, drinks, and conversation. The menu featured traditional pumpkin soup, grilled American steaks, great slabs of German cakes strong espresso and in honor of the US Team—Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream from Vermont!
This was a different, and special afternoon and evening. It was great example of how sports bring people together. The local artisan who is a biathlon fan, the technician who devotes hours to make the fastest skis possible for the up-and–coming US Team as well as Olympic Champions, and the athletes shared some laughs, a great meal and even some entertainment from guitarist Bailey.
The cool fall weather means winter and a hard season of competition is close. The next day of training, the ski testing, and competitions to come were far from everyone’s mind. For a few hours, the athletes were just “typical Bavarians in their Sunday best,” enjoying an evening with friends.
The United States Biathlon Association is the National Governing Body for the sport of Biathlon in the United States as recognized by the United States Olympic Committee and the International Biathlon Union. The US Biathlon Association supports the US Biathlon Team and development of the sport on all levels within the United States.