Cesana San Sicario , Italy , February 12. Biathlon competition for the US Women’s Olympic Biathlon Team begins on Monday February 13th, with the 15K Individual competition.
The women face tracks that are as equally challenging as the men. Since the competition is 5K shorter than the men, the women miss the most demanding 1K portion of the San Sicario tracks, the long grinding s-curving section of the lower meadows. Even without his extra kilometer of uphill, the women face a demanding challenge. The range approach is still a tough uphill and the final surprise hill inside the stadium is there. Of course, the lack of oxygen and very dry air is always there for every competitor.
For three of the four US women, the altitude is the least of the problems. Lanny and Tracy Barnes (Durango, CO) and Sarah Konrad (Laramie, WY) live at altitudes well above the 1650 meters at San Sicario. The trio thrives in the thin air. The top US woman, Rachel Steer (Anchorage, AK) does not live at altitude but has done several altitude camps this year to prepare for the 2006 Olympic Winter Games.
Steer comes to Torino as the only returning female member of the 2002 Olympic Biathlon Team. The fiery-haired Alaskan finished 31st in the 15K at Soldier Hollow in 2002 and looks to improve on that this year. Since that time, Steer has continued to be the dominant women in US Biathlon. The past two seasons, she had had a series of top 15 finishes in World Cups, a 17th place finish in the Pursuit at the 2005 World Championships, as well as a 21st place in the Individual at last year’s World Cup here in San Sicario. That result from last February could be good predictor for the top US woman. Still, any success depends on her shooting, which needs to be in the 90-95% range. Each 1 minute penalty will push Steer or any athlete down the results list rapidly.
After Steer, the three high-altitude residents will take different paths to success.
Lanny and Tracy Barnes are the shooters. The two pride themselves on their marksmanship and are determined to be the fastest and most accurate women in international biathlon. “To shoot in 25 seconds or less,” and clean every race is the twins’ biggest goal. Lanny has had the most recent success in the Individual competition. Last season, she was twice within one stage of a top 15 finish in World Cup competitions. She was 42nd in the Individual at San Sicario last season and 39th at the Antholz World Cup.
Identical twin sister Tracy topped Lanny last season with two top 25 finishes at the Pokljuka World Cup, and also finished a couple of notches higher in the 2006 Olympic selection series of races. Should either of both of the twins have clean shooting on Monday, they could be in the top 30.
The third altitude lover is Sarah Konrad. Konrad is the 38 year old rookie of the US Team. She has only been in the sport for a bit over 3 years; where as all of the other women have 7-10 years of experience and training. Konrad, who will also compete in cross-country for the US later in these Games, is by far the fastest female skier on the US Biathlon Team. Unlike the Barnes sisters and Steer, Konrad is just a “beginner” on the shooting range. Shooting maturity in biathlon can take up to 10 years, so she is trying to fast track up the accuracy-in-competition ladder. With her ski speed, the Dartmouth grad, with a big day on the shooting range could be the surprise of the Games. US Biathlon head Coach Algis Shalna explained, “With Sarah, at this stage, her shooting results are the same whether she shoots slow or fast. So we will have her shoot with good cadence and hope she has an above average day and then a good result.”
As in every biathlon competition, there are many variables, including shooting and skiing which can affect performance. On Monday, the US women hope to overcome all of these variables and have “a good day at the office.”
The United States Biathlon Association is the National Governing Body for the sport of Biathlon in the United States as recognized by the United States Olympic Committee and the International Biathlon Union. The US Biathlon Association supports the US Biathlon Team and development of the sport on all levels within the United States.