Young cross country skiers and biathletes are in the pursuit of gold as they prepare for the 2019 Canada Winter Games. (Contributed photos)

2019 Canada Winter Games: Spotlight on cross country skiing and biathlon

Although cross country skiing originated 5,000 years ago in Scandinavia, it has only become popular as a competitive sport in Canada over the past half century. The sport has been a part of the Canada Games since the first Games in 1967.

Through the progression of cross country skiing as a sport, the equipment has progressed as well. Fiberglass skis are faster and lighter than their wooden predecessors and come in a variety of shapes and sizes designed to go over most terrains or conditions.

Skiers race in classic or freestyle events that differ in rules. The classic technique is where the skier strides in formed tracks and the freestyle or skate-skiing technique uses wider strides, reminiscent of skating.

Athletes train to achieve endurance, strength, speed and flexibility. Cross country ski courses can range from a short sprint of 1.5 kilometres to a marathon of 50 kilometres.

With our vast trails and enthusiastic athletes, Red Deer is a hub for cross country skiing. Organizations active in providing leadership in cross country skiing in Red Deer include the Parkland Cross Country Ski Club and the Red Deer Nordic Ski Club. Both the cross country ski trails and biathlon range at River Bend Golf & Recreation Area are a legacy of the 1988 Alberta Winter Games. The upgrades to both facilities for the 2019 Canada Games is a tribute to the 30 year legacy of the Alberta Winter Games in our city.

Red Deer’s own cross country skiing athlete Owen Pimm was a part of the lighting of the Roly McLenahan torch in Ottawa. With Owen’s help, the first national Canada Games torch relay kicked off on October 4 and now the torch is set to travel through Alberta starting on January 5, 2019.

Olympic Gold medallist Chandra Crawford sprinted onto the national scene when she won gold at the 2003 Canada Games for Team Alberta. Paralympian Brian McKeever has competed at the 2006, 2010 and 2014 Paralympics where he won multiple medals. McKeever competed as an able bodied athlete at the 1999 Canada Games. Both of these Canada Games alumni hail from Canmore.

The determined athletes of cross country skiing navigate the trails of Riverbend in their search for gold during week two of the 2019 Canada Winter Games .

Biathlon combines competitive cross country skiing and small-bore rifle marksmanship. Biathlon is classified as a life sport because it has an application in everyday living as a form of transportation and the necessity of hunting.

The first recorded biathlon competition took place near the Swedish-Norwegian border in 1767 between the border guards from the two countries. It became a demonstration sport in the first Olympic Winter Games in 1924 under the name military patrol. Biathlon was first contested at the 1991 Canada Winter Games in Charlottetown.

Events in biathlon include individual, sprint, pursuit and relays. Sprint competitions are used as the qualifier for the pursuit events.

In a biathlon competition, the biathlete skis distances between 7.5 to 20 kilometres. Athletes stop at the shooting range to shoot two or four times. Both the distance travelled and

number of targets varies depending on the type of competition.

There are two shooting positions in biathlon: prone, where the athlete lays on the ground and standing.

One penalty loop is assigned for each missed target. The penalty loop is adjacent to the shooting range and is 150 metres long.

Rosanna Crawford from Canmore competed in the 2007 Canada Winter Games for Team Alberta where she won gold in both the 7.5 kilometres sprint and the 12.5 kilometres individual competitions. She later went on to compete in three Olympic Games in 2010, 2014 and 2018. Another three time Olympian in biathlon is Zina Kocher, a former resident of Red Deer. She competed in the 2006, 2010 and 2014 Olympic Games. Zina’s first major event was the 1998 Alberta Winter Games in Red Deer.

Biathlon athletes take their shot for gold at River Bend during week one of the 2019 Canada Winter Games.

Kaitlynn Rice

2019 Canada Winter Games

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