ICWG: Biathletes bask in Olympic atmosphere
LAKE PLACID — It obviously wasn’t the Olympics, but Wednesday’s International Children’s Winter Games biathlon races certainly had some of the flavor of the world’s biggest amateur sports competition.
Cow bells, cheering fans, youngsters of different nations and cultures sharing their love for a common sport, and talented young athletes laying it all on the line were part of the scene at the Olympic Ski Jump Complex as the second day of biathlon racing took place.
On Tuesday, the races followed a staggered start format where the biathletes began skiing in 30-second intervals. The same held true for the qualifying round Wednesday, but the racing then moved into exciting elimination rounds that saw participants leave the starting line in groups.
When all was said and done, two biathletes from Slovenia took the boys and girls gold, and three local skiers also won medals. Following the qualifying round, which saw biathletes racing on a loop course at the bottom of the ski jumps while taking two trips to the range, the event moved into semifinal and final rounds.
Zala Repe of the Slovenia town of Gorje emerged as the girls winner, clocking a time of 4 minutes, 1.9 seconds, a result that put her nearly a half minute ahead of the rest of the field. Saranac Lake’s Sophia Kelting and Bella Wissler then skied and shot their way to respective silver and bronze medal finishes.
The two Red Storm high school cross country skiing teammates were separated by less than a second after battling it out in a sprint to the finish. For each miss at the shooting range, participants skied a penalty loop, and although Wissler was more accurate with the air rifle, Kelting was able to catch her teammate on the home stretch.
“When I went in for the penalty lap, I didn’t know how Sophia shot,” Wissler said.”I was just hoping she missed more than me. When we got to the finish, I did a little peek over my shoulder to see where she was. I had no idea.
“She missed one and I missed two, so she was ahead of me,” Kelting said. “I couldn’t see her but I was like ‘I have to catch her, I have to catch her.’ Coming in I was pushing it so hard. I thought she had it.”
Wissler explained that once she realized Kelting was close, she moved a little bit to give her teammate a little room. As a result, Wissler got bogged down in the deeper snow just ever so slightly, and it was enough to allow Kelting to eke out the silver at the finish line.
“I thought Sophia was right next to me, so I didn’t want to cut her off,” Wissler said. “She’s still my teammate and all, so I just started going through the powder. I was in pretty deep powder, and that’s when I figured she was going to catch up to me.”
Both Kelting and Wissler said they’ve been experimenting with biathlon for the past two years.
“Just this year, we started getting a little more serious about it and training more frequently,” Wissler said. “When we got the chance to do the Children’s Games, that’s when we got really excited.”
“Yesterday was our first biathlon race,” Kelting said. “I love it. We love it. It’s a lot of fun.”
Fourth place in the girls competition went to Tinkara Zalokar of Gorje.
The boys final heat of four racers included two Slovenians, a Canadian skier and Max Flanigan of Lake Placid. And like the girls race, a young skier from Gorje was well ahead of the rest of the pack as Luka Kosir took the gold with a 3:27:8 finish time. After a time adjustment was made at the end of the race, Flanigan claimed the silver, finishing with a 3:42.9 total, and Timur McNeran of Kelowna, British Columbia won the bronze. Domen Gomilar of Gorje, Slovenia finished fourth.
“It’s exhilarating. I’m still comprehending it,” Flanigan said. “It’s definitely a really cool experience because we get to interact with international kids. There are just some crazy countries here. We are racing against kids from Slovenia, the Netherlands, even Korea.
“Some of them can barely speak English and it’s been so interesting trying to communicate with them,” Flanigan continued. “I guess we all just love what we do. Racing like this is bringing us all together. It’s really cool.”
“I skied really well today. Way better than yesterday when I missed a lot of shots,” added Flanigan, who now has two actual biathlon races under his belt. “I shot good, and I felt good. I’m thrilled.”