By Captain Karina Smith & Junior Canadian Rangers Support Group
Excited for their chance to compete nationally in the Olympic sport of biathlon, cadets from across the country gathered in Valcartier, Quebec from February 28 to March 4 for the National Cadet Biathlon Championship.
The national championship is a culmination of local and regional competitions where the top cadet biathletes from the provinces and the territories are invited to compete in this exciting national competition. This year, Mother Nature decided to spice things up a little by offering the participants one of her wildest weather packages yet, offering just about every combination of temperature, precipitation and snow conditions thought possible. It made the conduct of a usually ‘well-oiled’ event somewhat challenging.
Championship Director Captain Rémi Racine explains how the competition staff dealt the weather: “The main challenge for this year’s championship was the weather, which was really harsh. It impacted everything from logistics to the competition itself. We had to change the race order and distance to limit the impact of the freezing temperatures on the biathletes. We also had to come up with a Plan B just in case the cold temperatures prevented us from racing outside.”
A traditional cadet biathlon championship is composed of four different outdoor races: the mass start, the relay, the patrol and the team sprint. For each race, cadets ski a predetermined distance and shoot at five targets, taking them all down. If a cadet misses a target, they complete a penalty loop.
The relay race was first on the schedule. For this race, each team’s first athlete starts at the same time and skis the same distance. The difference between the relay and the sprint races is that the sprint is an individual race where there is a delay start of 30 seconds between each athlete.
“It was really tiring and I really wanted to give up in the middle, but I knew I had to finish the race no matter what; I had a teammate waiting for me at the end. I personally think it was all worth it in the end,” says Cadet Sophie Wei from 699 Jasper Place Squadron in Edmonton, Alberta. “What I love most about biathlon is that after competing in a race, I feel really proud of myself and very accomplished.”
On day three, under very cold conditions (averaging around minus 20), cadets participated in the mass start race. Every competitor begins the race at the same time, but the distance varies depending on the category.
“I had a lot of difficulty during the mass start — we were bumping into each other — but I think it went okay. Other than that, it wasn’t that bad. I was able to complete the race and that is what’s important,” recounts Cadet Kelly-Ann Gallien from 3006 Dieppe Army Cadet Corps in New Brunswick. “Even if I was far from home, far from my mom, I had to stay focused and try to show everybody that I could do this. Because I did not know what a biathlon [competition] was before and it was my first time at the national championship. I was really afraid to be selected, but I was excited at the same time. Our group cheered loudly and I beat my personal time. I did my loop in 28 minutes and I shot fairly well since I rarely do it at my corps. Today, I shot six of my ten targets.”
The patrol race took place on the last day of the competition. This unique race is specific to the Cadet Program, where teammates start at the same time and have to stay within 30 metres of each other, testing the team’s communication and teamwork skills. It is the easiest race to adapt if the temperature is too cold. And on that day, it certainly was! With frigid temperatures of minus 35 degrees, officials decided to transfer the race inside to keep everyone safe and minimize risk of injury. To maintain the same level of challenge without skiing, cadets ran loops between each relay on the range.
During the closing ceremony, Brigadier-General Kelly Woiden, Commander of the National Cadet and Junior Canadian Rangers Support Group, and Formation Chief Warrant Officer William Crawford were on hand to present some of the national awards. Another very special guest also made an appearance: Canadian Olympic biathlete Jean-Philippe Le Guellec, who participated in the Turin, Vancouver and Sochi Olympic Games. Le Guellec’s presence was especially motivating for the competitors as he started his journey as a biathlete through the Cadet Program in the late 1990s.
Even after uncertainty during a week of challenging races and winter weather, cadets left Valcartier with a sense of pride and accomplishment, having competed in a unique and challenging biathlon competition. It was a great opportunity for everyone to meet new people, and work as a team to overcome obstacles in the pursuit of excellence.