The first time Marni Stokoe picked up a rifle, she was hooked.
She knew biathlon would be her future.
The 16-year-old from Red Deer, who competes for the Foothills Nordic Club in Calgary, has been involved in cross-country skiing since she was a youngster, but only watched biathlon on television.
“A couple of years ago our team went to Canmore for a fun day, which involved biathlon and when I picked up the rifle I said ‘wow this is for me’,” she said. “I find it’s a lot more challenging than cross-country.
“I can’t see myself returning to just cross-country . . . biathlon is my calling.”
Biathlon is a two-discipline sport — cross-country skiing and rifle shooting — where athletes ski a certain distance than shoot at targets.
They repeat the process a number of times, depending on the distance of the race.
Stokoe is only in her second full year of competition, but is a natural at it.
The Grade 10 student at Hunting Hills made the provincial team this year and competed at the Canadian finals in the senior girls’ (15-17-year-old) division.
She placed fourth in the 7.5-kilometre individual race, missing a medal by eight seconds, and was fifth in the 4km sprint.
“If I hit one more target in the sprint I would have finished second,” she explained. “So overall I was really excited about how everything went.”
The shooting is considered the toughest aspect of the sport to learn as athletes need to ski as fast as they can and then be able to slow their heart rate, and breathing down to a level where they can steady the rifle during the shooting.
“That’s certainly the tough part,” she said.
“You have to be under control. If you’re tired it’s tough to hit the targets. Last year was tough while this year proved to be a turning point for me in that I was able to move up. But it’s still a big learning curve and I’ve just started.”
As well this is the first year she’s had to shoot while standing.
“Last year I just did prone and there’s certainly a difference between the two,” she said.
Stokoe has to do both during a race.
She’ll do one prone and one standing during the sprint and two of each in the individual race.
There’s penalties applied for each target missed.
A one minute penalty is added for each miss in the individual race while competitors will ski a penalty loop for each miss in the sprint.
Stokoe hopes to return to the Canadian championships next year, but has even bigger goals.
“I hope to ultimately compete at the world level,” she said.
“In a couple of years I can be in the youth division and then get a chance to qualify for the world championships. I could possibly move up next year, but we’ll see how it goes.”
Stokoe competes in a number of races, from sprint to individual, to relay, to mass start, but says her favourite is the sprint.
“It’s shorter and you shoot only twice, so I can push myself harder,” she said.
Stokoe will take the next month off before returning to training in May.
During the winter she trains once a week with her club in Canmore while during the summer she spends one day in Calgary working on her shooting and one day at Canmore.
“In the summer we either run, or roller ski, then shoot,” he said. “I like the roller skiing as it’s a lot more fun and keeps your legs in shape for skiing.”
Stokoe also competes in track and field for Hunting Hills while still doing cross-country and downhill skiing when she has time in the winter.
Contact Danny Rode at firstname.lastname@example.org