Posted: 28.05.2024 11:36:00

Prospects for the season

Growing ambitions in biathlon

Biathletes have got back from vacation and started preparing for the new season. Despite the fact that there is still a lot of time before it starts, the plans for the competitive year have already been outlined. Since the International Biathlon Union has not yet changed its decision regarding the return of Russian and Belarusian athletes to the world stage, the entire focus is on the internal and joint competitions of ‘shooting skiers’ of the two countries.

Hanna Sola and Oleg Ryzhenkov          IHAR STSEPANTSOU

According to the recently made statement by the Belarusian Biathlon Federation, Belarusian biathletes have opened the first training camp in the Raubichi sports complex. The men’s team consists of Anton Smolski, Dzmitry Lazouski, Mikita Labastau, Ilya Auseyenka, Ivan Tulatsin, Stsiapan Danilau, Pavel Belko and Maksim Varabey. The women’s team consists of Dzinara Smolskaya, Hanna Sola, Iryna Leshchanka, Darya Kudayeva, Alena Kulak, Hanna Pestsiarava and Alina Zaitsava. Head coach of the Belarusian national team Oleg Ryzhenkov has shared some plans, “Our men’s team is completely staffed, and its composition remains unchanged. We will certainly keep an eye on the youth, too. As for women, a new team is being formed with the prospect of competing at the Olympics not even in 2026, but in 2030. We are looking at a lot of young biathletes, and include the most promising ones, in our opinion, in the team — those who have already proven themselves at competitions. In addition, we select younger biathletes that will also be trained according to the national team programme. We need to make decisions with an eye toward the future now in order to form a strong and combat-ready squad for the future.”
Kseniia Shneider, a 24-year-old Russian, is also training with the Belarusian team. Maksim Varabey’s fiancée has decided to move to Belarus and plans to perform as part of the Belarusian national team. 
“Kseniia will definitely not be superfluous in our team,” Oleg Ryzhenkov expressed his opinion. “She will strengthen the squad that is preparing for the competitions, as well as the team of four for the relay race.”  
What is the exact situation with the competitions? 
“We will probably not participate in all the starts. We will skip some of them and will prepare for more important tournaments, such as the stage of the Commonwealth Biathlon Cup, which will be held in Sochi in February. This will be one of the main starts,” Ryzhenkov explained. “Of course, we will pay special attention to the home stage of the Commonwealth Cup in Raubichi, expected to take place in January. Another important start is going to be the Russian Championship, scheduled for the end of March.”  
It is possible that the calendar will not be limited to the Commonwealth Biathlon Cup, the stages of the Russian Cup and the Russian Championship. Discussions are currently underway on the possibility of continuing the competitions within the International Biathlon Club League (IBCL). The project organised by the Regional Biathlon Club of Moscow Region in liaison with the Belarusian Biathlon Club was launched for the first time in 2023. Before the start of the new season, ‘shooting skiers’ held four races in Khanty-Mansiysk, where they contended not only for victory but also for solid prize money totalling ₽8 million. Preparing for the first IBCL Cup, the organisers announced that the future of the project would depend on the result of the first edition. The debut proved to be a success, so they are planning not only to resume but also to expand it in the new competitive year. Aleksei Nuzhdov, Head of the Regional Biathlon Club of Moscow Region, has recently revealed, “We wanted to organise four stages in 2024. We have co-ordinated that with the Russian Biathlon Union so as to smoothly align the calendars. The approval process is underway now. The Russian Biathlon Union has provided us with such a busy calendar that so far there is physically not enough space to hold four stages. We hope to find a consensus, though.”
According to Oleg Ryzhenkov, the IBCL Cup presents interesting competitions that may become in the future one of the viable options for biathlon development on the world stage. “There are club competitions in many sports. Perhaps they will also be introduced in our sport over time. It was interesting for the athletes to participate in the IBCL Cup. This is a great competitive practice. The commercial component of the tournament is important, too.”  
In the near future, Belarusian athletes will continue to train at Raubichi. They are scheduled to have a training camp at middle altitudes in July and August, after which they will have another training session at the main biathlon complex of the country. It is probable that in September, athletes from the two countries will open the competition season at the Commonwealth Biathlon Cup on roller skis.

The training programme of Dzinara and Anton Smolski includes a variety of sports

By Tatiana Pastushenko