Just over a week ago as we sat in the airport on our way to Slovenia for GRPski’s annual fall training trip, we got word that the Slovenian summer biathlon national championships were happening in Pokljuka, SLO the following weekend. We were headed to a training center in Planica, SLO, only an hour drive from Pokljuka. It seemed like a no-brainer to try to jump into the races, and gain some valuable biathlon race experience.
Coaches Pepa and Sam got in touch with the organizers, and they were happy to have us join in on the event. With some shuffling of our training plan to accommodate, we all got psyched to go mix it up with Jakov Fak, Teja Gregorin, and the rest of Slovenia’s world class athletes.
The races consisted of a sprint race on Saturday and a mass start on Sunday. Pokljuka is Slovenia’s premier biathlon venue, often hosting world cup level racing in the winter. The venue also features a nice, but not super long (only 1.5km) rollerski loop that made up the course for these summer races. To get adequate distances for the races we did a few double loops, making two laps before coming in to shoot. The course was mostly rolling terrain with one steeper climb and short, steep descent right onto the range, making for a pretty interesting range approach. All in all it was a super fast and fun course.
Saturday started off with pouring rain that delayed the start 30 minutes. Despite sporadic showers and big puddles throughout the race, I think everyone finished smiling.
On Sunday, the rain held off and there was even a little sun! Mass start races are generally pretty exciting and this one was no exception. We started the men’s race strong, with Alex taking the lead on the first loop, charging past the field to lead into the range. Things got interesting from there… IBU rules for mass start races state that on the first shooting you’re supposed to go to the point that matches your bib number. In the US, for some reason, we generally file into the range in the order that you arrive, starting at point one… So, Alex went to point one, and a bunch of people got all mixed up. Luckily we didn’t let it get to us, and both Alex and I cleaned the stage and were back out on course. Mike was close behind with two penalties. It progressed into an awesome race with some good shooting, and I think we all got a chance to ski and shoot next to some of the best biathletes in the world. Luckily after some talk amongst the coaches our hosts decided to take pity on the poor Americans and not disqualify us.
Needless to say, the correct mass start procedure was explained to Emily and Hallie no less than 3 times in multiple languages before the women’s start. The women’s field was much smaller, but no less exciting, with 50% of the competitors being Olympians. With a small women’s field, the junior boys started at the same time, which lead to quite a quick start. Emily cleaned both her prone stages, and Hallie had only one penalty in each of her’s. This allowed the girls to work together for the middle part of the race, before things spread out a little more with the standing shootings.
The race organizers were nice enough to make a non- Slovenian podium and even gave us “diplomas” instead of medals!