Soldier Hollow will host biathlon national championships | ParkRecord.com

Soldier Hollow will host biathlon national championships

America's top biathletes are scheduled to arrive in Soldier Hollow this week. Starting Thursday, Soldier Hollow plans to host the U.S. Biathlon Association National Championships, which will include a Nor-Am race and the national championships at both the junior and senior level.

The race will draw Olympians, athletes from around North America and local racers for three high-stakes days of Biathlon, running from Thursday to Saturday.

Zach Hall, manager and head coach of Soldier Hollow's biathlon team, said the venue's track is currently in good shape, with stockpiled snow being distributed over the course to keep its condition up.

"It's all thanks to man-made snow," he said. "The natural has burned off."

Fortunately, the Biathlon Nationals are the final event scheduled for Soldier Hollow this season.

Hall said he is expecting about 100 athletes to come to the competition.

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"It's kind of an exciting send-off," he said, "(It will be) the last races for a few of these guys, and some of the up-and-comers who will fill in the gaps will be here, so it will be an exciting event for that."

Lowell Bailey and Tim Burke, who have represented the U.S. in every Winter Games since Torino in 2006, will likely attend and will retire after this week's competitions, Hall said.

The three races — a sprint, pursuit and mass start — will have different lengths depending on age group, though certain aspects will be the same. Each age group will travel the same number of laps and have the same number of shooting stops during each event, but the distance of each lap will be adjusted.

Thursday's sprint race will have three laps and two shoots, the results of which will determine the starting order for the next day's pursuit race.

"Pursuit is really exciting because they are hunting, so to speak," Hall said. "They are chasing down the athletes in front of them."

Saturday's mass start is a head-to-head competition with everyone starting at the same time among each age group.

Both the pursuit and mass starts will feature five laps and four shoots.

Those who win will earn the title of national champion, but it's also an opportunity for younger athletes to experience competing on a larger stage. The event will also open up future opportunities the top competitors, such as an invite to a national camp at Soldier Hollow in the fall, as well as a team trials event. Those that are successful in the team trials will get a shot at competing on the World Cup circuit, which is also making a stop at Soldier Hollow next February.

For Hall, it's a golden opportunity for Soldier Hollow's newly formed biathlon team, which was assembled last fall with a focus on exposing young athletes to the sport.

"All our athletes are on Nordic teams," Hall said. "They learn a lot of finer parts of the skiing through local Nordic groups, then we add the shooting and a couple opportunities for them to compete. We've found it's been a great addition to the local opportunities for kids."

About 10 local biathletes will compete this weekend. Eventually, Hall hopes Soldier Hollow will become a premier biathlon training site. So far, he said, the sport has been growing rapidly in the area — boosted by Olympic buzz.

Spectators coming to this week's events are encouraged to bring a picnic and watch from the innermost building at the race area, which provides panoramic views of the course.