Biathlon looks to relive Sierra glory

Auburn Ski Club reintroduces sport to the area with new range
By: Justin A. Lawson Journal Sports Writer
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In a time where we’ve been led to believe that all winter sports fall into several categories of either skiing, snowboarding, ice skating, snow mobiles or bobsledding, many of us found out in the 2010 Winter Olympics that a few more winter sports exist. Curling, fresh off some robust coverage by NBC in 2010, has become the new beer-league sensation. Biathlon, which saw plenty of coverage during the last games, has found a home at the Auburn Ski Club where non-shooters, non-skiers or someone without experience in either disciplines can get lessons from an Olympic athlete. “I think it’s one the most challenging sports you can do,” said Glenn Jobe, who was part of the 1980 U.S. Biathlon team and is now an instructor at ASC. “It just fascinates me and continues to fascinate me with the physical attributes necessary to be a cross-country ski racer and the mental focus you have to have and calmness of a shooter. It’s just two diametrically opposed sports and when you put them together it’s just really interesting.” The sport is part cross-country skiing and part marksmanship as athletes race through a ski course then come to a stop to shoot a .22-caliber rifle at a target 50 meters away that is no bigger than a grapefruit. Jobe is one of the many coaches who will be on hand for several clinics at the ski club to introduce people to the challenging sport. ASC held its first clinic over the weekend and will hold two more Feb. 25 and April 1 along with a biathlon race Feb. 26 for both novice and pro divisions. Biathlon received extra coverage in 2010 because it was the 50th anniversary of the sport’s introduction to the Olympics. The celebration also held some local appeal considering that year’s Olympics were held in Squaw Valley. Northstar at Tahoe opened a biathlon range to coincide with the 2010 Olympics but had to close the range down this year. ASC was able to bring the range to Donner Summit and expand on a program that the club has offered since the 1980s. Former club president and U.S. Biathlon coach during the 1998 Winter Olympics Chuck Lyda started the program. “Glenn’s all fired up to get a lot of juniors in the club and because of that more adults have gotten involved,” said Sally Jones, ASC Nordic director.“So it just seems like the perfect timing. We’ve got the interest and we’ve got the facility and the equipment and we’re looking at building the momentum even more and hoping to get a permanent range built if we can find the funding this summer.” The range has opened a few additional opportunities for the club to introduce people to biathlon. Jobe estimates that 30 master skiers have gone through the necessary certifications to become range safe and have purchased their own rifles in preparation for the February race. ASC will also play host Aug. 23-26 to the United States Biathlon Association’s Summer National Championships where participants will run through the course instead of skiing. ASC expects nearly 200 participants from across the country to come to the event. Interestingly enough, biathlon is likely the one sport that the lack of snowfall in the Sierras hasn’t affected. Biathletes simply take a few laps around the range to get their heart rate up before attempting to briefly calm themselves for a shot. “We don’t need snow to practice the shooting side of things so we’ve been doing our regular junior team trainings come rain, come snow, come dust with this weird winter we’ve been having,” Jones said. Jobe hopes more will give Biathlon a chance and see how two polar opposites combine to make a wondrous sport. “That’s probably why I continue to tell people it’s one of the most challenging sports you can do because it really combines physical and mental aspects of sport,” Jobe said.“A shooter is a calm very deliberate-type person, (like) an Olympic small-bore shooter, where a cross-country skier is just going as hard as they can go the whole time – and you have to be both.”