Vasek Cervenka, 21, will be competing in his first IBU Open European Championships this week in Poland (photo by Jeffrey Leopold)
This week’s IBU Open European Championships in Duszniki Zdroj, Poland, will provide differing experiences for the 12-member U.S. Biathlon team, a mix of world cup veterans and promising young biathletes. But one thing is certain, the competition that runs Jan. 27-31 will be top-notch.
For some, like 20-year-old Vincent Bonacci (Salt Lake City, Utah), the last two weekends were spent in Arber, Germany, racing in IBU Cup events, his first taste of senior-level competition.
“I have been learning a ton from the first two rounds of IBU Cup racing, and I’m excited to apply that going forward into these races,” said Bonacci. “Having the chance to be here and racing is awesome and I am psyched for the competitions to start.”
Bonacci’s teammates at the recent IBU Cup, Lars Hammernes Leopold (Truckee, Calif.) and Vasek Cervenka (Grand Rapids, Minn.), are also excited to test their prowess at their first Open European Championships.
“This is my first Euro Championships and I’m looking forward to racing and getting a sense for the competition,” Leopold said. “I have never been to Poland and it is fun to race in new countries and race in championships.”
“I’m definitely looking forward to racing this week,” added Cervenka. “Since it’s my first time at Open European Championships it will be the most elite senior-level racing I have ever done.”
For veterans of the event, like Hallie Grossman (Craftsbury, Vt.), past experience is invaluable as they prepare both mentally and physically for the four-day event.
“Euro Champs is always a highly-competitive field, with some countries bringing some or all of their world cup regulars, so the level is extra high,” Grossman noted. “For me, it’s important to remember all the same things that work in training and a regular IBU Cup work here too. The races here are always well run and organized. The course is nothing too technical, with a big climb in the beginning and a long downhill at the end.”
Chloe Levins (Rutland, Vt.) has raced the Open European Championships only once before, as a teenager three years ago in Italy.
“It’s been a few years since I’ve raced in OECH, so I’m looking forward to racing as a more mature and experienced biathlete this week,” said Levins. “As a first-timer in Poland, I feel refreshed to be in a new location. There is a lot of racing on the schedule for the IBU Cup and OECH circuit this year—more than I’ve ever done. It’s going to be extremely important for all of us to value recovery and refueling this week.”
Kelsey Dickinson (Winthrop, Wash.) has also raced in the event before, but this week’s races will be her first of the season, and she’s eagerly anticipating the competition.
“I am really looking forward to finally getting to do some racing,” Dickinson said. “I think that Duszniki has always put on some good races, and the snow conditions seem good for the week. I was here before in 2019 and they had to shorten the race loop because of rain and poor conditions, so I am excited that the weather is good.”
Dickinson will also lean on her veteran knowledge to guide her through this week’s races.
“What past OECH experiences have taught me is that anything can happen during championship races and it is always good to focus on putting together your best race and not worry too much about what is happening around you while you are out on the course.”
Team members who competed at the recent IBU Cup events also got their first taste of the necessary COVID precautions put in place by the IBU to ensure a safe event for all involved.
“The IBU and organizing committee are doing a great job thus far making us feel as safe as we can while traveling and competing during a pandemic,” Grossman said. “We are tested approximately once every four days, masks are provided at the finish of each race, and are required around the venue where you are not actively skiing or shooting. For someone coming from small-town Craftsbury, the sheer number of people is a little overwhelming still. The changes didn’t alter the challenge or fun of biathlon though.”
“Racing in these COVID times are, funny enough, not so different from racing pre-COVID,” said Leopold. “We can't socialize really but other than that it's quite similar.”
Added Levins: “So far, the COVID precautions taken by the hotel have made me feel very safe and confident about my health.”
The IBU Open European Championships in Duszniki Zdroj, Poland run Jan. 27-31, with the following schedule (all times Eastern):
Wednesday, Jan. 27
4:30 am – Women’s 15km individual
8:15 am – Men’s 20km individual
Friday, Jan. 29
4:30 am – Women’s 7.5km sprint
8:00 am – Men’s 10km sprint
Saturday, Jan. 30
4:30 am – Women’s 10km pursuit
7:00 am – Men’s 12.5km pursuit
Sunday, Jan. 31
4:30 am – Single mixed relay
7:00 am – Mixed relay
U.S. Biathlon Open European Championships Team:
Paul Schommer (Appleton, Wis.)
Max Durtschi (Ketchum, Idaho)
Raleigh Goessling (Duluth, Minn.)
Vasek Cervenka (Grand Rapids, Minn.)
Lars Hammerness Leopold (Truckee, Calif.)
Vincent Bonacci (Salt Lake City, Utah)
Deedra Irwin (Pulaski, Wis.)
Maddie Phaneuf (Old Forge, N.Y.)
Hallie Grossman (Craftsbury, Vt.)
Chloe Levins (Rutland, Vt.)
Kelsey Dickinson (Winthrop, Wash.)
Lucy Hochschartner (Lake Placid, N.Y.)