Soldier Hollow biathletes compete for World Championship berths
Soldier Hollow has a very young biathlon program at less than a year and a half old.
But the team is already honing some of the nation’s top youth athletes.
At the top of the eight-person competitive team are Lina Farra and Vincent Bonacci, who competed for spots at the Junior World Championships at the Youth And Junior World Championship Team Trials at Soldier Hollow over the weekend.
Farra, 17, has competed in biathlon since Soldier Hollow first started building a team a year and a half ago. The Heber City native started cross-country skiing when she was two, and has competed on Soldier Hollow’s Nordic team for several years, but she said when she tried biathlon she was hooked.
“I immediately clicked with it,” she said on Sunday, after the Team Trials pursuit race. “This is the sport for me.”
Farra graduated from the Winter Sports School before this season, allowing her to focus on competing in biathlon over the winter.
So far, the Junior World Championship Qualifier was the high point of her season, especially after her solid sprint race result on Friday, and her fourth-place finish in the pursuit on Sunday.
“She just executed like a normal training session,” said coach Zach Hall of Farra’s starting race. “She just did her thing on the range and the chips fell where they did.”
She had one of the best shooting performances of the day, forcing her to complete just three penalty laps.
“She skied really well on the tracks,” Hall said.
She led the race for three laps, then fell behind after missing three targets, then dropped back to fourth after missing three more in the final shooting bout. Farra said she still felt good about her result, which kept her in contention for a top-four podium and a possible spot at the Junior World Championships.
She took eighth in the final sprint race on Monday with a time of 22:32.2 after missing five of ten targets.
If she makes the Junior World Championship team, it will be her first time competing at the international level.
Last year, she went to the Youth and Junior World Championship Team Trials in Coleraine, Minnesota, but didn’t make the cut.
“It was really exciting,” she said. “I was maybe four months into biathlon, so I was really, really, new. It was a great experience for me to see who’s around and really just feel what biathlon is because it’s so different from Nordic skiing.”
She said no matter what happens this season, just competing in high-level competitions like the Youth and Junior World Championship Team Trials is a great experience.
Bonacci, 18, is a Salt Lake City native currently attending the University of Utah. Bonacci started racing cross-country at age 8 with The Utah Nordic Alliance, then joined Soldier Hollow when it formed the biathlon team. Now, he trains with TUNA at Mountain Dell for cross-country and comes to Soldier Hollow for biathlon practice twice a week.
Like Farra, this would be his first Junior World Championships, after finishing middle of the pack at last year’s team trials.
He started off this year’s trials with a second-place finish in the sprint and an 11th place finish in the pursuit.
“I finally managed to put it all together,” he said of his sprint race. “I had nothing to complain about. It all fell into place.”
That led him to a confident start in the pursuit race, though he was hampered by a run of bad shooting later on.
“The first stage (of the pursuit), I didn’t miss any targets and I was feeling invincible,” he said. “Then, coming into the second prone stage, I missed all of the targets, and spent a lot of time on the penalty loop. Did some extra laps. I did nine penalty loops (over the race), which wasn’t ideal, but I still skied well.”
On Monday, he took third in the sprint race, shooting all but three targets to finish with a time of 21:26.4.
Ironically, a trip to the Youth and Junior World Championships could lead Farra and Bonacci back to Soldier Hollow. Those who do well at Junior World Championships are often invited to join camps with the U.S. national team, which sometimes trains at Soldier Hollow.
“U.S. Biathlon held a camp in the fall here for a few weeks, and hosted some of their roller ski trials,” said Hall. “There’s a very real possibility that some of their elite camps will be held at Soldier Hollow where they train.”
Hall said regardless of whether Bonacci and Farra qualify for the Youth and Junior World Championships, he was happy with their performances.
“For both of those athletes I was really proud of how they conducted themselves over the series of races,” he said. “For a new biathlon club just a year and a half in, its an exciting thing to have athletes like them in the running for making the team.”
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