Ruhpolding, Germany is home to one of the biggest biathlon venues in the world. Ruhpolding is the center of the biathlon universe from March 1 until March 11, transforming what is normally a quiet Bavarian village into a bustling mix of sport and celebration. Ruhpolding, Oberhof, and Antholz, three of the top biathlon venues in the world all have a special atmosphere and aura about them. However Ruhpolding has fans so close to the finish line and shooting range and that they can almost touch the athletes. The thunderous roar of the crowd bounces off the mountainside behind the shooting range and joyous atmosphere at the Chiemgau arena as well as in the village is unmatched. All of this has added up to the tag of “Super Bowl of Biathlon” in recent years. Now this Bavarian village stepped up a huge notch in 2012. The title really fits this year; in some ways this year it will match or exceed that ubiquitous Super Bowl of American football.
Ruhpolding was literally be overrun by fans this week at a previously unseen level for any biathlon competition. With advance ticket sales at over 210,000 and some walk-up tickets available for several days, the US event is dwarfed. The 6,500 inhabitants will disappear in the ocean of fans that will pass through each day. Few towns of this size, if any have ever hosted an event of this magnitude. The US Super Bowl is always in cities with populations in the millions. Just like any major event, many people will make their way to Ruhpolding without a ticket to just be a part of the ongoing party. Over 300, 000 people are expected to pass through this one-main street town by the time the Championships end. Ruhpolding will be packed every day until the competitions end on March 11.
For me, the Biathlon World Championships started with the 7.5km sprint race on 1/3. I had high expectations and goals coming into the Championships having just medaled in the International Biathlon Union Cups just two weeks ago in Canmore, Alberta. I was the only member of the team that had traveled from North America to Europe to meet up with the rest of the team who was already in Europe preparing for the races. I knew the jet lag and fatigue from travel would play a role in how I felt, so I took it one race at a time. The conditions and weather made for some very challenging skiing with temperatures soaring into the 50’s during race time. I shot well in the sprint only posting one missed shot, but struggled with an off day of skiing and finished a disappointing 67th out of 119 competitors.
I then geared up for the 15km Individual which is considered a shooters race and my best event. It is considered a shooters race because a one minute time penalty i s added for each missed shot for a total of 20 shots. In a sport that has gotten extremely competitive and close in time over the last 10 years, you can’t afford even on missed shot if you want to be standing on the podium. I started bib # 89 out of the random draw for the 118 starters and I knew the conditions on the track would get slower as the race when on, so I had to focus even more on my shooting and to make sure each shot count. There would be no making up for missed shots with the snow melting and getting slower and deeper as the race progressed. I had a great start hitting 5 for 5 in my first bout of shooting. Coming into the second shooting I knew I was in a good position so far in the race and easily hit the first 4 of 5 targets. The 30,000+ fans seated directly behind me started cheering in unison for each hit target I knocked down. Getting a little to confident, I took the last shot a fraction of a second to early and missed. Having only half the race finished, I knew not to give up as anything can happen in biathlon. I hit all of my remaining targets. I skied hard on the last loop and finished 37th of 118. I was definitely hoping for a top 10 and even a podium, but I made the most of the situation and finished in the top 40 which is awarded World Cup points.
Today is the last race and is the Women’s Relay. As a four person team, each person completes a 6 km course (three 2km loops) with 2 shooting stages, a prone and a standing. Each person is also allowed 3 extra bullets per stage is they miss a shot, but each extra has to be hand loaded which costs precious seconds in the relay. Any misses after the 3 extra and the athlete has to navigate their way around the 150meter penalty loop for each missed shot again loosing more time. After each leg, the athletes tag off to their teammates who then complete their leg until the final and 4th woman who has to sprint to the finish ahead of as many teams as possible. I will be competing the relay with my teammates in this order- Sara Studabaker, Susan Dunklee, Annelise Cook, and I will be the anchor leg for the team. You can tune in live for the race at 7:15AM MST or 9:15AM EST on this link http://eurovision.digotel.com/ibu/index.html. We’ll keep you posted on how the relay goes. Thanks for all your support!