Bye to biathlete bound for Europe 

WNDC pair make junior cup tour team

click to enlarge PHOTO COURTESY OF TONY PEIFFER - CROSS CONTINENTAL Benita Peiffer competes in Canmore. She and Gillian Gowling qualified for the IBU Junior Cup tour circuit in Europe for 2017-18.
  • photo courtesy of Tony Peiffer
  • CROSS CONTINENTAL Benita Peiffer competes in Canmore. She and Gillian Gowling qualified for the IBU Junior Cup tour circuit in Europe for 2017-18.

Two members of Whistler Nordic Development Club (WNDC) won the right to represent Canada on the first leg of the International Biathlon Union Junior Cup tour in Austria and Italy, but Gillian Gowling will be travelling over alone. Both she and Benita Peiffer qualified at national team trials in Canmore, Alta. on Nov. 6 to 10, but Peiffer declined the invitation.

"I'm really excited to be heading over there to get the chance to race against so many people from all over the world," said Gowling. "It's also such a high level of competition, so I think it's really good to be exposed to that and get used to that type of racing. I think I've prepared as best I can, so I'm going to go over there and see how it goes."

This leg of the tour will make stops in Obertilliach, Austria from Dec. 8 to 10 and Ridnaun, Italy from Dec. 14 to 16.

Gowling used to race out of the Canmore Nordic Centre, before joining up with the Whistler team this year. She was intrigued by the opportunity to work with coach Etienne Letondeur, who she first encountered over the summer.

"I met him this summer at (Shooting Stars) camp, and I really enjoyed working with him. I was interested in his program and the approach that he takes to training was in line with what I had been looking for. I decided to give it a try, and I'm really liking it so far," said Gowling.

In her first event with the WNDC, the change in coaching paid off. After the first two races, Gowling wasn't in line to make Canada's junior team. But a good finish in the 6.8-kilometre modified sprint raised her percentage enough to make the squad.

This is only the second time Gowling has competed overseas. She competed in the 2016 Youth Olympic Games in Norway, but the competition will be much stiffer this time around.

"This is the first time (Gillian) is going to race at that level, so we don't have result expectations. The goal remains the World Juniors, so the goal is to peak later in the season, more around February. It was just a bonus if they could qualify for that first tour, and she did it, so she's going to enjoy the experience," said Letondeur.

Peiffer qualified for the junior team after her second race, a pair of strong showings in the 7.5-km sprints. She took part in the second-leg of the IBU junior tour last season in Pokljuka, Slovenia and Nove Mesto, Czech Republic where her best result was a 12th-place finish in the 7.5-km sprints.

This time around, the dual-sport athlete turned down the opportunity in order to take part in the NorAm cross country races in Sovereign Lake and Rossland in December. Also, since she's still in high school, it will give her more time to study.

For Peiffer, Gowling and the rest of the WNDC, the main goal of the season is still qualifying for the World Junior Championships in Estonia in March. The trials for that, as well as the second leg of the IBU junior circuit, will be held right here at Whistler Olympic Park, Jan. 3 to 7.

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