National Guard Biathletes Train for Winter Olympics
By Gary Sheftick
Army News Service
CAMP ETHAN ALLEN, Vt. , Sept. 17, 2013 National Guard athletes aren't allowing warm weather to stop them from training for this winter's demanding schedule of biathlons leading up to the Olympics, in just five months.
There's no need for snow when roller skis enable the training, said Pfc. Wynn Roberts, who competed in the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.
Roberts and three other athletes reported for duty Sept. 3, at the National Guard Biathlon Program training camp in Vermont.
They spend their mornings on roller skis, racing around paved trails at Camp Ethan Allen and firing their weapons at the same targets they will use for winter competitions.
"People call it skating," said Staff Sgt. Sarah Lehto, coach for the elite biathletes. "But what we're doing is ... using roller skis, which imitate or simulate the on-snow skiing that we do in the winter. It's very specific to the actual winter sport."
"We have a roller loop here that we're told is one of the best, if not the best facility for summer training in the world," Lehto said.
About five kilometers of paved loop exists, which Lehto said can be used in different combinations for races of various lengths.
"We can come up with virtually any distance we're looking for," Lehto said.
The Camp Ethan Allen loop hosted the North American Biathlon Rollerski Championships, Aug. 9-11. The U.S. National Team competed, along with the Canadian team.
Roberts finished in 5th place in the 10-kilometer sprint race, beating Staff Sgt. Jeremy Teela, a three-time Olympian and member of the Army World Class Athlete Program. Teela competes with the U.S. National Team, which normally trains in Soldier Hollow, Utah.
Teela, 34, was able to just beat Roberts, 25, in the 12.5-km pursuit. Roberts finished 7th in the pursuit.
Both Roberts and Teela are vying for the three remaining biathlon positions on the five-man USA Team for the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Feb. 7-23.
"It's a long road" to qualify for the Olympics, said Maj. Christopher Ruggerio, who heads up the National Guard Biathlon Program.
"There's a lot of different gates that you need to meet," Ruggerio said, explaining that the biathlon has a demanding schedule of Olympic trials.
The next competition is another roller-skiing race at Soldier Hollow, Utah, Oct. 20-22. The first race in the snow will take place in November in Canada at the North America Cup races. Then competitors will move on to the National Guard Biathlon Regionals, the National Guard Bureau Championship, and then to the international competitions leading up to the Olympics.
During the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Canada, Teela was ill on the morning of the 20-km pursuit race and Roberts stood in for him. Roberts finished 86th with a time of 58:49.2. Teela finished 9th in the 10-km sprint there, the best individual American finish ever in an Olympic biathlon.
Roberts didn't ski with the Guard team at the Vancouver Olympics. He just enlisted in the Vermont National Guard last year as an 88M heavy vehicle driver. In fact, he just attended Advanced Individual Training, from April 25 to June 20, at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo.
While at advanced individual training, Roberts wasn't able to ski at all or train for the biathlon, Ruggerio pointed out. This put him somewhat at a disadvantage for the summer roller ski competitions.
But he's back on roller skis now.
"Every week I can see a progression," Roberts said.
Roberts related that he grew up cross-country skiing in Minnesota. His younger brother, Spc. Conrad Roberts, also is training at the Guard Biathlon camp. Conrad has competed on the National Junior Biathlon Team and said he hopes to qualify for the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
The other two athletes at the National Guard Biathlon camp this week are also juniors: Pvt. Jordan McElroy, 19, of the Vermont National Guard, and Spc. Jake Dahlberg of the Minnesota National Guard.
"It's a great program," Roberts said of the National Guard Biathlon Camp. "If it wasn't for the National Guard Biathlon Program, I'd be struggling to do biathlon at a competitive level."
He said the expense of the sport and the need to train full-time to be competitive would be difficult without the National Guard.
In biathlon competition, athletes cross-country ski and stop either two or four times to shoot at 50-meter targets. Half of the shooting rounds are in the prone position and the other half standing. In each round, the biathlete must hit five targets. Each missed target brings a penalty of either another 150-meter loop, or a minute added to the total score.
Thirty-one states now participate in the National Guard Biathlon program. Kentucky just signed on, Ruggerio said, primarily for the marksmanship skills.
The Camp Ethan Allen facility not only features paved trails and competition loops, it also has a newly remodeled strength-training facility, Ruggerio said. The gym includes a huge horse treadmill that biathletes utilize with their roller skis.