Clare Egan on a training run in Antholz, Italy, ahead of this week's BMW IBU World Cup (photo by NordicFocus)
After back-to-back IBU World Cup events in Oberhof, Germany, the U.S. Biathlon team and the rest of the world’s best biathletes are headed for Antholz, Italy, for the final World Cup races before the IBU Biathlon World Championships. This week’s BMW IBU World Cup event, running Jan. 21-24, will consist of individual races, mass starts and relays.
Antholz played host to last year’s world championships and the U.S. team enjoyed a banner competition with Susan Dunklee winning a silver medal in the women’s sprint, adding to her silver medal in the mass start three years earlier. Other Team USA highlights from last year’s world championships in Antholz were an eighth-place finish in the men's relay, and a career-best eighth place on 20-for-20 shooting by Leif Nordgren in the men's 20km individual.
“Oberhof took a lot out of the athletes these past two weeks,” said U.S. Biathlon Women’s National Team Coach Armin Auchentaller. “These first days in Antholz we have been taking it pretty easy to recover from the past two weeks. We hope for some good races here in Antholz which historically fits us pretty well.”
If anyone should know Antholz, it’s Auchentaller, who resides in the northern Italian town. And through him, the U.S. Biathlon team has come to know the trails of Antholz well through off-season training sessions there.
“It feels like my home course more than anywhere else and I'm looking forward to using that experience to my advantage,” says Clare Egan who trained in Antholz the entire month of September as well as 10 days over the recent holiday break.
“The team has spent a lot of time there over the years because of the fact that Armin lives there,” added U.S. Biathlon Director of High Performance Lowell Bailey. “We're looking forward to this virtual home-course advantage. Antholz is a great place, a great course, and it is sure to produce some exciting racing.”
Coming off two weeks of racing on the difficult tracks of Oberhof, which had been altered to host the world championships in two years, U.S. team members are looking forward not only to racing in the familiar confines of Antholz this weekend, but also to the sunshine that usually accompanies competition in the Antholz valley.
“Oberhof suits my climbing prowess but Antholz suits my altitude soul,” noted Joanne Reid. “I had a really great time racing in Oberhof, and I’m also looking forward to racing here.”
“I’m looking forward to sunshine,” said Jake Brown. “Through Armin I think we all feel some sort of special connection to this valley.”
Added Paul Schommer: “I really like the course here with longer gradual climbs and some rolling transitions. That, coupled with some cold hard tracks, and I think it provides a great opportunity for great race results.”
This week marks roughly two months on the road for most of the U.S. Biathlon team. A long stretch by any means but made significantly longer due to all the necessary COVID precautions and safety measures put in place by the IBU around the World Cup competitions.
“Bubble life has been going really well,” said Deedra Irwin. “The IBU has done an amazing job containing active cases. Our team guidelines have been very effective against COVID. Also, no one on the team has gotten any major ‘normal’ sicknesses either.”
Most of the team’s feelings around the restrictive protocols can best be summed up by Brown, who says, “I like racing, so the more I race the more sane I feel.”
The Antholz World Cup offers the final tune-up before the IBU World Championships begin in Pokljuka, Slovenia, on Feb. 10, and coaches and athletes alike are keen on fine-tuning their efforts this weekend in Italy.
“My advice going forward, as always, is to be proud of and continue doing the things that are good, target and improve the things that can be better,” said Shooting Coach Matt Emmons. “Champions pick themselves up and commit to improving.”
“I think the men’s team has been building some momentum in the relay and I would love to see us have a great performance here,” added Schommer.
Following this week’s racing in Antholz, the team will enjoy some well-deserved rest days before beginning the world championships pre-camp in Antholz. The team will head directly to the world championships in Pokljuka on Feb. 7.
The BMW IBU World Cup events in Antholz run Jan. 21-24, with the following schedule (all times Eastern):
Thursday, Jan. 21
8:15 am – Women’s 15km individual
Friday, Jan. 22
7:15 am – Men’s 20km individual
Saturday, Jan. 23
7:10 am – Women’s 12.5km mass start
9:05 am – Men’s 4x7.5km relay
Sunday, Jan. 24
6:45 am – Women’s 4x6km relay
9:05 am – Men’s 15km mass start
All events will be streamed live on Peacock with some events on the Olympic Channel and NBCSN. Find full schedule HERE.