BROOKVALE - For the first time in 20 years, P.E.I. will send a team of athletes to compete in the sport of biathalon at the Canada Winter Games.
Seven dedicated competitors have been training seven days per week for more than three years in preparation for next month's event and they are ready to prove to the nation Islanders can hold their own in the strenuous sport of biathalon – a sport that combines a cross-country ski race and rifle shooting.
"It's a huge, huge commitment but if you want to be competitive you have to be serious about it otherwise you're just going to the Canada Games to enjoy yourself and that's not what the province expects when they send people to these Games," said coach Bob Bentley.
The team's training schedule is demanding and time consuming with daily physical activities including skiing, strength training, fitness and shooting practice.
Biathalon first appeared on the Canada Games stage during the 1991 Canada Winter Games that were held in P.E.I. When the Games came to a close so did the sport of competitive biathalon on P.E.I. In 2005, after nearly 15 years of inactivity, biathalon P.E.I. was resurrected.
"They had a post games slump and it kind of died out for a while and biathalon became just a recreational part of the cadet program," Bentley explained. "Since 2005 we've been working on the team, setting up introductory programs and doing numerous upgrades to the range."
Canada Games biathalon team members are Jacenta Jones of Portage, Carsen Campbell of Bedeque, Spencer MacKinnon of Crapaud, Rebecca Sentner of Cornwall, Mike Gallant of Oyster Bed Bridge, Menno Arendz of Hartsville and Brighid Woodman of Charlottetown. The team has a combined total of more than 40 years of biathalon training behind them.
Athletes will compete in three individual races and one team relay during their week at the 2011 Canada Winter Games. Their week of competition begins on Feb. 13 at Ski Martock in West Hants, Nova Scotia.
Team members have set personal goals for themselves as they enter their final month of training before they hit the national trail.
Mike Gallant of Oyster Bed Bridge is aiming for a top 15 finish in one or more of his individual races. He entered the sport as a cadet about eight years ago and says he has not been able to get enough of it ever since.
"I really like the feeling you get out of the races because it's such a long race that you really feel a sense of accomplishment once you are done of everything," the 20-year-old competitor said. "It really keeps you active and gives you a good lifestyle."
Gallant's teammate Menno Arendz shares his friend's enthusiasm for personal challenge.
"I love it for the challenge between cross country racing, which is some of the fastest racing you can do, and having to calm your heart rate down and shoot is an unbelievable combination," said Arendz, who is the brother of Canadian Para-Nordic Ski team member Mark Arendz.
"It's one of the trickiest sports to master and it takes years and years and years to practice to get at the top of your game."
Arendz has a personal goal of finishing in the top 15 in all three of his individual races.
Coach Bentley is confident his team will make their province proud at the Games.
"I think we are going to do very well. I think they're really going to surprise everyone with how well they do."
The P.E.I. team will have an opportunity to familiarize themselves with the Canada Games trails this weekend at the Atlantic Cup #2 in Martock.
What is biathlon?
In a biathlon competition the biathlete skis distances varying from 7.5 to 20 km and stops at the shooting range to shoot two or four times, with both the distance and number of shooting bouts depending on the type of competition in question. The shooting distance is always 50 m and five rounds are fired in each bout at five targets.
The combination of two very contradictory disciplines, skiing and shooting, in the same competition confronts an athlete with a very demanding challenge. Cross-country racing requires intense, full out physical exertion over an extended period of time while shooting demands extremely fine control and stability. When athletes arrive at the shooting range, they have to shoot at a very small target, with a racing heartbeat and heaving chest because the clock is running even while they are shooting.
Source: Biathlon Canada