Winter Games Preview: Lakeland strong biathlon contenders

Andrew Schopp
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Despite limited practice time due to inclement weather, the Lakeland District men’s biathlon team should be serious medal contenders, according to the team’s coach Chris Fettig of Paddockwood. 

With one juvenile and a pair of juniors on the 2014 Saskatchewan Winter Games squad, Fettig’s expectations are high going into the event which kicks off on Feb. 19 at the Prince Albert Golf and Curling Club. 

“From what I’ve seen, I am confident that the guys will do quite well,” Fettig said. “I am pretty confident the boys will be in contention for medals in their races.”

Fettig, who has been coaching biathlon for more than eight years, is new to the district, moving within it’s boundaries last summer. He coached Pinehouse’s district biathlon team at the 2010 Winter Games in Moose Jaw.                                                                                                        

The experience of the trio of Lakeland athletes in this year’s event is mixed. The pair of junior boys, Ryan Potts and Mitchell Jones, both of Shellbrook, have their roots in cross-country skiing as members of the Sturgeon River Nordic Club. The juvenile Justin Backen, of Hudson Bay, is new to skiing but has experience with a rifle.

“The juniors have picked up on the shooting quite well,” Fettig said adding that their expertise on skis is advantageous given the limited time the team has had to prepare for the event. “I really only need to coach them the shooting side of things.”

The biathlon event will consist of two types of competitions. The sprint, will have athletes shooting twice while skiing three one-km loops while the mass start will have them skiing four loops and shooting three times.

Because the competition is being held within city limits, the athletes will be using air rifles due to safety regulations and concerns. 

Fettig said the Daisy 853 pellet rifles to be used in the event are very similar to the .22 gauge rifles currently being used in the biathlon at the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia. 

“There are some slight differences between using a .22 and an air rifle, but they are very similar,” Fettig said. “They are very accurate so the shooting should be quite good.” 

When looking at Lakeland’s competition in the event, Fettig said Team South East, coached by provincial coach Doug Sylvester, are heavy contenders.

“They’ll be a strong team,” Fettig said of South East District representing athletes from Weyburn, Estevan, Whitewood and Broadview. “Saskatoon and Regina also have established biathlon clubs so those three will be the teams to beat for sure.”

Despite the strong field, Fettig is confident his team’s mix of shooting and cross-country skiing experience will pay dividends.

“Based on the fact that two of my guys are pretty good skiers, that’s going to put them in medal contention,” he said. “Hopefully the weather is going to co-operate so everyone can have a really good time and enjoy Prince Albert.” 

The biathlon event at the 2014 Winter Games runs from Feb. 19-22 at the Golf and Curling Club.

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