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Biathlon conference seeks ways to grow sport

Fri, Jul  11, 2008 - By Air Force Master Sgt. Greg Rudl

 Major Teresa Benevento
 The new National Guard Sports/Biathlon Office director, Maj. Teresa Benevento.
ARLINGTON, Va. – National Guard Soldier-athletes have provided the majority of the biathlon competitors for the U.S. Winter Olympic Games teams since 1988. That’s an accomplishment that the new director of the National Guard Sports/Biathlon Office, Maj. Teresa Benevento, would like to continue.

So it’s no surprise that Benevento is focusing on bringing more people into the sport, and she’s counting on the state coordinators and coaches to build teams and develop athletes that can stand out nationally, possibly internationally.

Growing the sport was one of the major themes of the Fourth Annual National Guard Sports Biathlon Coaches/Coordinators Conference in Las Vegas June 24-27. About 50 Guardmembers attended and discussed the current state of the program, future plans, funding and more.

“Now’s the time to bring biathlon back into the light and push it forward to get better visibility,” Benevento said earlier this year after taking the reigns from Lt. Col. Tom Zelko, the former director.

Her job won’t be easy. Guardmembers are Soldiers and Airmen first–biathletes second. Global War on Terrorism deployments and training have made fielding teams more difficult. In the 1990’s, the annual Chief of the National Guard Bureau Biathlon Championships swelled with well over 100 competitors; in recent years, the event has included half that number.

The conference offered a series of breakouts geared for coaches that delved into the subtleties of shooting and skiing—the two ingredients of the sport.

The All-Guard Biathlon Team head coach, Army Staff Sgt. Sarah Lehto, shared years of experience while using assistant coach and trainer, Air Force Staff Sgt. Travis Voyer, as a model. The duo illustrated everything from how to properly hold the 9 lb., 22-calibre rifle used in the sport, to what V2 alternate looks like—biathlon’s main Nordic ski stroke. It’s hoped that these tips and techniques taught to the Guard’s elite biathletes will trickle down to state teams that are developing athletes.

“It’s like a gun turret on a tank,” said Lehto, explaining the benefits of a shooter who locks their elbow into their hip bone, establishing a solid base with which to shoot from.

“Stand tall and then compress with your core muscles,” said Voyer about producing power in the V2 alternate.
Other breakout sessions for coaches included shooting range procedure, ski waxing and strength training.

“The program’s goal is to bring skiers to the Olympic level and increase awareness of Guard biathlon nationwide,” said Benevento. One way her office is creating that awareness is by holding more Guard biathlon events in conjunction with civilian ones, as was done last season. The Guard’s West and East regional championships were held with the North American Biathlon Race Series events. Guard biathletes raced, and maybe more importantly, mingled with civilian biathletes, sharing the benefits of being a Guard biathlete, including free equipment, travel opportunities and the opportunity to serve your country.

All-Guard Biathlon Team

All-Guard Biathlon Team head coaches Army Staff Sgt. Sarah Lehto (in blue) and Air Force Staff Sgt. Travis Voyer (laying) illustrate the proper prone firing position at the Fourth Annual National Guard Sports Biathlon Coaches/Coordinators Conference held in Las Vegas June 24-27. About 50 Guardmembers attended and discussed the current state of the Guard biathlon program, future plans, funding and more. Photo by Air Force Master Sgt. Greg Rudl, National Guard Bureau.

The Guard biathlon program aims at developing the highest levels of skiing and rifle marksmanship necessary to improve the combat ability of individual Soldiers and Airmen so that they can represent the Guard and the U.S. military in competition.

Top Guard biathletes routinely compete in South America and Europe in events like the International Military Sports Council Ski Games, a goodwill sporting event between foreign militaries.

Also attending the conference were representatives from the marathon and marksmanship programs, and Leapfest—the Guard’s annual international parachute competition.

Benevento, who took over for Lt. Col. Tom Zelko this past season, previously served as the operations officer of the 386th Troop Command, Vermont National Guard. The National Guard Sports Office is located in Jericho, Vt., and has a staff of five. Anyone interested in finding out more about Guard biathlon should call (802) 899-7122.