Hallie’s First Biathlon World Cup

21.Jan.2020 by Hallie Grossman

Hallie here, writing from the “Family Club” or “Y” at the Biathlon World Cup in Ruhpolding, Germany (that’s where this post originated, but it took a few days to finish). On January 6 and 7, USBA/the National Team held two trials races in Arber, Germany to determine the IBU Cup and World Cup teams for the upcoming race weekends. Jake, Emily, another teammate Paul, and I were the top two men and women in the races, so after the races wrapped up, we got in the van for a fairly long ride to Oberhof, Germany. Four hours and one “American burger” stop later, we made it to Oberhof.

Oberhof is notorious for its inclement (read: lousy) weather and it didn’t disappoint. As we got closer to the venue, the fog set in. It seems like natural snow is lacking in Central Europe this year, so it wasn’t surprising that there wasn’t any of that. There was a light dusting of snow in Oberhof, but I was warned that that would likely be gone soon (it was).

The next morning, I had some business to attend to. First, I had to get my rifle and some of my racing clothes inspected, to make sure my rifle was legal and my clothes didn’t have too many or the wrong logos on them. Second, Armin, the women’s National Team coach, gave me a tour of the racing venue. The venue is huge-large enough to contain at least 20,000 fans, more than 200 competitors, a similar number, if not more, of team staff, and a huge amount of wonderful volunteers. The venue is on a hill, with the wax cabins at the top and the range at the bottom, so there is a complex maze of buildings and temporary outdoor stairs to get you from one place to another. Armin told me the best way to navigate the maze, showed me where rifle check was, and pointed out least six different toilets (a critical part of race day!). After the grand tour, it was time for training, where I tried to not be too star-struck by all the biathlon phenoms on the range the whole time. It was raining, which made it more difficult to see and distinguish everyone in all their rain gear!

Thursday was sprint race day! Almost all the World Cup races are in the afternoon-better for spectators-so I went about my usual prerace activities of jogging and dryfiring and eating and being a mix of nervous and excited. Kelsey and I found glitter earlier in the winter and started wearing it at races. I hemmed and hawed for a moment about whether I wanted to wear glitter in the big leagues and the final decision was a resounding yes. I was really excited when Armin handed me my bib and said I got to keep it! They make new bibs for every single race on the World Cup. Seems a bit wasteful, but also good souvenirs and gifts for supporters. I’ll definitely be keeping this one forever though.

All smiles before the first race: glitter, a pink bib that is mine forever and a smily coach. (Ignore that I am wearing rain pants and our changing cabin is full of rain gear).

The most noteworthy part of the race was the spectators. There is a giant hill at the beginning of the course that is packed with people, that were all cheering. On the first loop, I couldn’t help but smile going up that hill. For the two more or more minutes that you ski through the stadium before you shoot, there are tons and tons of cheering spectators.

The IBU Instagram featured the new-comers to the circuit after the sprint. This pictures sums up my feelings of the day pretty well: tired but there’s a hint of smile still left.

Friday was a day off from racing. Usually on a day like this you go to the venue for training and do some skiing and shooting. Unfortunately, it had rained so much that they cancelled women’s training to preserve the snow for the men’s race that afternoon and all the racing that still had to take place in the coming days.

Saturday was relay day! It was my first time doing the “women’s relay.” On the IBU Cup, they are always mixed gender relays. It was also the first time there was an all-GRP relay on the biathlon World Cup! Susan was the scramble leg, followed by Clare, then me, then Emily as the anchor. These other three are well known for being really good at relays! Clare and Susan were in the top five for both of their legs and I haven’t been that nervous before a race start in a long time. While me and the other third-leggers were waiting to be tagged, a Swedish girl turned to me and said “Have fun! Enjoy it!” A smile instantly came over my face and I relaxed a lot. During the race, I got passed by several people and had one penalty loop in standing (in a relay, you have three spare rounds then anymore open targets require a penalty loop). Susan was out on the course cheering for me, which was really encouraging, as was Armin and our other coaches and wax technicians. I tagged Emily in 13th place (I think) and then she moved us up to 12th.

After the race, the Swedish girl gave me a big hug and asked me how it was and said she knew it was my first World Cup because aforementioned Instagram post. I told her that her pre-race reminder made my day. I didn’t perform as well as I wanted to in the relay, but my teammates were so encouraging and reminded me of the rule of not be allowed to say “sorry” after a relay.

GRP relay selfie

Sunday brought the final races of the weekend: the mass starts. To be qualify for the mass start, you have to be in top-25 World Cup ranking or the top-five performers that week so far. Susan qualified for her first mass start of the season in Oberhof! I decided to take the short jog from our hotel to watch the women’s race. I don’t think there were a lot of other athletes’ spectating but I was still starry-eyed enough about being on the World Cup that I wanted to go watch, and cheer for Suz! The weather wasn’t great for the race and it was quite windy but this didn’t deter the fans at all.

Only a sliver of the grandstands.
There were jumbotrons on the course!
Throngs of people leaving after the women’s race.

After Oberhof, it was on to Ruhpolding. I was promised nicer weather here, and it happened for the beginning of the week. It was like spring, with green grass and temperatures climbing to the mid 40’s.

Happy to see the sun!

On the second night in Oberhof, there were the Opening Ceremonies. I learned that certain World Cups have these every year. We waited outside for a long time, then walked across a stage and there were tons of people watching.

Our flag bearers
Some of the kids wanted everything and anything signed, like snow pants, gloves, and jackets!

Ruhpolding is a total biathlon town. There were signs for the races everywhere. When we were there in the summer, there were spectators at the range, cheering. They even have an indoor shooting range!

We went to the “shooting hall,” or indoor shooting range. It was quite loud but also beneficial to do more slow fire shooting in the winter without freezing.

The women’s sprint race was on Thursday. I heard Jake’s parents cheering from the side of the course, which was cool!

Starting the sprint. I think the primary purpose of the start cabin is sponsor visibility.
Photo from Karen, Jake’s mom.

On Friday, we took the tram up a mountain. It was the same mountain that Alex, Emily, Mike, and I hiked up a few years ago when we were in Ruhpolding for a training camp. It was fun to be like a regular tourist and get a ride to the top, then enjoy coffee and cake in the sunshine! The view looking down the mountain was neat, as one side looked like green farmland and the other side was snowy mountains.

Green grass
Fun afternoon adventure.

I didn’t compete in Friday’s pursuit, but got to be on course with Armin during the race. It was neat to experience this perspective of the World Cup! There were a lot of coaches, spare poles, smart phones with live results, and cheering. I was too intent on learning how to be a coach to take any pictures…

I’m back to the IBU Cup now and we have a few week break before racing commences. I’m spending the time in Switzerland with a girl on the Swiss team! It’s been sunny and great so far.