In the first year of Whistler Olympic Park's Nordic Development Centre, it's produced a qualifier for the World Youth and Junior Biathlon Championships.
On Jan. 11, Biathlon Canada announced Bobby Kreitz as one of four youth men nominees for the championships, which are set from Feb. 14 to March 2 in Brezno-Osrblie, Slovakia.
Kreitz punched his ticket after performing well in two races in frigid Valcartier, Que. from Jan. 7 to 9 as he took a fourth and a sixth to earn the fourth-best combined score of the weekend.
"It was tough because it was hovering around minus-20 for all the races," he said. "But I put it all together, everything I'd been working on all summer. These trials were the big competition we'd been working towards. I tried to not put so much pressure on myself, but it's kind of hard to do that."
Looking back on the start of the competitive season, in Canmore, Alta., Kreitz felt he had a good chance to be in the mix for a spot, but had to make a push to claim it.
"The first race of the year, you sort of figure out where you're standing in the group. I was hovering around that top-five spot and I had to make top four at the trials. I knew I had a chance but I had to work for it," he said.
Kreitz is originally from Prince George, moved to Whistler to join the Nordic Development Centre. While the 18-year-old has had his challenges, he appreciates the chance to train under head coach Etienne Letondeur.
"This year has been tough moving away from home. But there was a lot more training this year than there was last year, so it's been a big step up," he said. "We've all gained a lot this year in terms of speed, in terms of strength.
"Etienne keeps telling us that next year will be our big year because we've been training this year basically to race next year."
Letondeur had worked with Kreitz through the provincial team for a couple years before Kreitz moved to Whistler to work with him at the Nordic Development Centre.
"He was a pretty talented athlete when he started. He had a pretty good base but he put a lot of effort into his training," Letondeur said. "He improved his level the past few months and his preparation is going fast."
Letondeur explained the tight-knit group had eyes on getting at least one biathlete to Slovakia, and it was a good feeling to see Kreitz make it.
"That was the goal for our training centre here. We want to try to qualify at least one of us," he said. "He was one of the athletes who had the most chance to make it. He worked quite hard... He knew that he had to put things together at the right moment to make it happen."
All four racers from the development centre will go to Europe for three weeks to race in a Junior World Cup event and the European Championships, and Kreitz will remain across the pond when the others return. Letondeur said all four of the centre's athletes will get some great experience from the trip, as they'll get to compete in different snow conditions, at higher altitudes and against a new field.
"All the best athletes will be there," Latondeur said. "It's going to be a lot different. They've had snow the past few days, but before that, they didn't have much snow compared to us. It was a big challenge for them."
While Kreitz will go and do his best, he also plans to soak in everything about his first trip to Europe.
"What I've decided, at least for myself, is there's not going to be as much pressure. I'm just going for the experience. I've never been to Europe, so tourism will be a big thing there, too," he said.
As for the program's progression, Whistler Sport Legacies' vice-president of sport, Lucinda Jagger, hopes to bring in more athletes next year, as she's looking to double enrolment from four to eight or more. She feels that Kreitz's story will certainly help in those efforts.
"Qualifying for World Juniors is not easy. There's only four spots per gender (per country) so it's a pretty big feat for a young Canadian to qualify," she said. "It's a critical step on the pathway. I think it'll be a recognition that you need to be able to come to a high-quality training environment like we're able to provide on the legacy venues."
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