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IBU Youth/Junior Biathlon World Championship attracts great attention from spectators

Shooting skiers gather in Raubichi

IBU Youth/Junior Biathlon World Championship attracts great attention from spectators

Few can have missed the excitement surrounding the Raubichi Sports Centre biathlon event, near Minsk. Organised groups from various enterprises gathered to watch the competition, waving flags bearing their company logos. Many admitted that they hadn’t expected to be vastly entertained, but had been pleasantly surprised by the ‘holiday atmosphere’.

In all likelihood, such people may return for future events of their own volition. Galina Zhigulova attended the third Biathlon World Championship back in 1982, hosted by Raubichi, and attended this time with her grandchildren. She smiles, “Back then, everything was festive and beautiful but today’s event is beyond compare. Raubichi looks amazing.”

Of course, the athletes are focused more on the serious task of winning medals. Honoured coach of Ukraine Alexander Moskalenko has been responsible for training first world champion in Raubichi’s new history. It’s well known that it’s difficult to make the transition from youth to adult sport: mentally and physically. Watching the young skiers from the stands, you cannot help but wonder if future world stars are racing in front of your eyes. There’s a great deal of pressure for young people to cope with, especially when the crowds are shouting in your ear. Meanwhile, there is the knowledge that huge numbers of people are watching you on television. Nobody wants to disappoint their supporters. However, it’s easy to ‘burn out’ in these circumstances.

Young Dinara Alimbekova and Anna Sola are both leaders on the Belarusian junior team and there were high hopes of a medal for either one of them in the individual race — which opened the World Championship programme. However, with 17 target misses between them, they were placed in the latter end of the top-thirty for the final race. Kristina Mazurina, another favourite, took 12th place.

Women’s senior coach Vladimir Makhlaev displayed a gloomy face as he paced back and forth. However, on reflection, he tried to find the positive, saying, “Of course, we expected more. Especially from Anna Sola and Dinara Alimbekova. It would be wrong to make a tragedy of the situation though. Our basic problem is shooting. Even Dasha Blashko, who is a good markswoman, missed four times. Nevertheless, every member of the team finished in the top-thirty, being on good form.”

The tight schedule of the championship left little time for rest and, naturally, those taking part have been training intensely for months. Meanwhile, organisers have been making preparations for a long time, including placing flags of participating nations at each shooting range.

Norwegian Ivar Ulekleiv took time out from his work with the adult national team to prepare the Belarusian junior team’s skis, being a real ‘wizard’ of waxes and powders. He has helped Darya Domracheva and Nadezhda Skardino win Olympic medals and is next to work his magic at the March World Championship, to be hosted by Kontiolahti. On the way from Holmenkollen to Finland, he dropped in to Minsk, to help the coming generation.

The wax-brigades are known for their focused work. It’s not easy persuading them to give an interview, as they are so busy. However, after persistence, they granted me an hour to chat and I walked past the national flags on all the doors of the backstage corridor, looking for our own: Norway, the USA, Germany, Ukraine, Russia, Sweden, Australia, and then Belarus. I couldn’t resist knocking on Australia’s door: who would have thought they’d be taking part in such a winter sport?

Are you really from Australia?

Yes, we’re recovering from our long flight at the moment.

Is this your first World Championship?

The second. The same is true of the New Zealanders and Brazilians. Our teams comprise just six people, as it’s not easy to be a biathlete in Australia. The sport isn’t hugely popular in our country, but we do have snow fall in July or August sometimes: not in Sydney, of course, but in the mountains. There was quite a lot last year, so you can train there. We aren’t thinking of medals yet, as our team is only beginning.

A single ski is propped at the door of the Australian waxing-booth, with the larger teams having ten pairs of skis for each athlete! Each piece of equipment is specially tailored to a skier’s height and weight and style of skiing. They may look identical but nothing could be further from the truth. They are stacked along walls, lie on special holders, and form pyramids. With the arrival of Mr. Ulekleiv, their number has only increased, as he has brought those used by the national team, including Dasha Domracheva’s own skis. Mr. Ulekleiv refrains from pointing them out, saying that all are prepared in the same way: for the adult and junior team. He tells us, “When you constantly work with the team, you know each athlete’s preferences. As for wax, it’s not that problematic. Whatever the weather, rain or frost, we find the optimum solution.”

Mr. Ulekleiv has been to Raubichi before, having first arrived in 1990, for the World Championship, when he stayed at the same hotel. However, there was no snow in Raubichi that year, obliging the event to move to Norway. However, he recalls, “We were very well hosted and all conditions of organisation were at a high level.” He notes that Raubichi has been modernised since then and remembers preparing skis in small houses back in 1990, as was normal at the time. Most teams didn’t have the luxury of a service-brigade, lubricating their own skis. He tells us, “I had just four pairs of skis (far from today’s variety) and we used only paraffin wax. Today, we have several variants to choose from, to suit the weather.”

While Ivar fingers jars and boxes of ‘magic powders’, Sergey Nekrasov works at the next station, holding a scraper. The women’s junior team coach adds, “You should have seen how we used to work. Do you remember the small wooden houses in Raubichi? You could only use them in summer. We had an attitude of ‘the more the merrier’ and it wasn’t a bad way to be. In fact, wax-booths like these in Raubichi exist seldom even today: during the World Cup, you tend to see mobile booths and, during the IBU Cup stages, we are lodged almost in sheds. Only the Russians and Belarusians build on such a scale as we see here in Raubichi. Elsewhere, we make do with cupboard space and temporary facilities, which can hardly stand up to the wind and are only lit by little heaters. I remember, once, in Beitostølen, working in a garage. All its walls and ceiling shook, as if they would fall on my head. Norwegians seldom worry about conditions! What’s important is maintaining a high level of work.”

He continues, “Belarusian athletes aren’t capricious and rarely grumble at the state of their skis. We do ask them for feedback, to inform the following race, and ensure that we make our skis better. Ideally, performance should reflect the readiness of athletes exclusively.”

Gold medal success

Darya Blashko claims first gold for Belarusian team at 2015 IBU Youth/Junior Biathlon World Championship, in 6km Youth Women’s Sprint (U19) with two shooting ranges

Darya, aged 19, started in 21st position, setting out confidently; she skied with speed and was accurate in her marksmanship: both prone and standing positions. After the first shooting range, she was ranked third and took the lead after the second, finishing with a time of 16 minutes and 26.4 seconds.
Victorious relay

Dinara Alimbekova, Anna Sola and Darya Blashko claim second gold for Belarusian national team at 2015 IBU Youth/Junior Biathlon World Championship, hosted by Raubichi, winning 3x6 relay in U19 category

Dinara Alimbekova came third after using two additional cartridges at the shooting ranges. Alla Sola brought Belarus to first place before the first shooting range, yet needed three additional cartridges. Meanwhile, Darya Blashko took and kept the lead, finishing ahead by 14 seconds.

By Kirill Karin
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