Biathlon faster, tougher than expected 

IBU gives Olympic Park thumbs up for 2010

VANOC's director of biathlon would have liked to have seen the heavy snow on Sunday about five hours earlier, to give his grooming crew a chance to work under pressure. But overall Max Saenger said last week's IBU Biathlon World Cup events at Whistler Olympic Park were a successful test for 2010.

"We did get a chance to refine how we do stuff," said Saenger. "For example, when we got 15 or 20 centimetres of snow, we got a chance to look at who was on the machines, the path they use to groom the stadium for the setup, figure out where to break in the fences for snowmobiles - really fine tuning this stuff as we go forward.

"We would have liked to have had the snow we had Sunday afternoon about four or five hours earlier, before the competition, so we could practice the strategies we have in place for dealing with snow."

Unlike the cross-country events in January, none of the athletes suggested that the course was too easy for an Olympic competition. However, there will likely be a few minor course changes before 2010.

"I'd say the course was deceptively stuff," said Saenger. "For example, the men's 4 km course, which they use in the 20 km race... people were saying that it was easy, that there were no big, steep up-hills. But when they got to the finish all the racers were on their knees or on their backs, and saying 'boy oh boy, that was a lot tougher than I thought.'

"There's no rest, which makes it very tough. There are a lot of up-hills and down-hills, tight transitions and turns, and it's very technical."

In the sprint events, the 2 km and 2.5 km courses were faster than expected. They fall within the distance ranges set by the IBU, but because of the lap times organizers were seeing they made the decision to add 100 to 200 metres to the course using existing trails and terrain.

"It keeps the balance of shooting and skiing," Saenger explained. "As skiers get faster and skis get faster, and as the athletes get better at shooting, it's more important to have that distance because otherwise there's less time to make up a bad shot. The amount of time athletes spend on their skis is really important."

Thousands of spectators turned out most days, including about 1,500 school kids through a bus sponsorship program - and some students that are currently enrolled in the Callaghan Local Organizing Committee's (CALOC's) Biathlon Bears program. Saenger says that was important because the long-term legacy of the facility depends on creating awareness of the sport, and drawing athletes into recreational and competitive programs.


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