Biathletes endure hot weather training for winter sport
In the middle of last week’s heat wave four local biathletes met for a three-day session to work on shooting skills and endurance training.
With coach Keith Conger leading the group they practiced shooting in both prone and standing positions with heart rates elevated from a short but intense run. With the temperature climbing close to 90°F the conditions were not exactly what they’ll be dealing with during the actual season. The coach frequently reminded them to keep drinking plenty of water.
The four biathletes are Tobin Hobbs, Mallory Conger, Sarah Bahnke, all of Nome, and John Soderstrom of Unalakleet. All four are experienced in the sport and have competed in Anchorage, White Mountain and other big competitions.
In the course of the three days they ran on the Teller Highway, did hill bounding and then the nine-mile bike ride back into town. They did a hike to Monument Rock and worked on combos, exercises where they run to elevate their pulse and then shoot while their heart rate is still high. All this was done in the middle of the heat wave.
“Mallory and Sarah went to the United States Biathlon Association camp in early June that was run by Marine Dusser,” said Keith Conger. Dusser is a French former world cup racer and coach of the Alaska Biathlon Club. “In rural Alaska we use that camp as training for our Arctic Winter Games kids,” said Conger.
Qualifications for the Arctic Winter Games are held a year in advance due to the logistical problems of holding two rural championships. Last March at White Mountain Tobin, Sarah, and John all qualified. Mallory was ineligible for being 41 days over the age limit so she has set her sights on the World Junior Trials. “Rural Alaska has way more participation in biathlon than the road system,” said Coach Conger. “We had 92 kids show up for the regional meet and 45 for the state meet. Both in White Mountain.”
“I’ve gone to Anchorage lots of times,” said Tobin Hobbs. “Anchorage is big with biathlon and they have a nice course there. It’s awesome. There’s lots of hills lots of flats, lots of downhills. A lot of fun.” There are also a lot of moose who often appear on sections of the course. “There were other kids there about my age and I liked how competitive they were, so I just chased them and beat them.”
Sarah Bahnke displayed impressive skill with the biathlon rifle, a .22 caliber with a special bolt action, a flip top for keeping snow out of the barrel, and a complicated stock designed for both shooting and efficient carrying during the race. The rifles, which are not cheap, are made either by Anschutz in Austria or Izhmash in Russia, which is the original Kalashnikov factory. Sarah, who will enter eighth grade this fall, is the second ranked in Alaska’s juvenile category. The upcoming season will be her third year. She also does swimming and basketball. In the winter time the team will ski out to the range and shoot once in a while, a distance of about nine miles. “It’s really fun and I enjoy the sport a lot,” she said.
John Soderstrom is from Unalakleet, a community with a strong ski and biathlon community. His father and uncle were both skiers and biathletes in Talkeetna, where they grew up, so it runs in the family.
Mallory Conger, who will be a senior next school year, is hoping for a top ten placement at the World Junior Trials, to be held next December. In mid-June she went to Casper, Wyoming for a biathlon camp. “It was really hot,” she said. “The elevation got me the first couple days but after a while I got used to it.”
Nome will be the host for the 2020 Western Interior Ski Association event, WISSA for short. WISSA is the governing body for rural Alaska high school cross country. A biathlon course will be built for the event.
“The NRA has provided funds for Nome Sportsmen’s Association to have a range here,” said coach Conger. “Individually our club has applied for and received grants from the NRA for all the targets we have here and five rifles. We’ve got laser rifles we use for winter time training and that all came from NRA funding.’
The club also raises its own money for travel expenses with contracts to do cleanup work. “The snow dump is our big thing,” said Conger. “It’s the worst I’ve ever seen in the ten years we’ve had contracts. We’ve been cleaning up bags and bags of trash. We clean up the beaches, the port area. Our team really works hard for its financing. It’s a community service. We pride ourselves that our funding comes from community service.”
Editor's Note: This article reflects a correction from the newspaper version, as Mallory Conger will be a senior, not junior, in the upcoming school year.