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Local biathletes make a beeline for British Columbia
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There are a small handful of winter sports - the biathlon being one, maybe speedskating as another - that are extremely thankful for the notoriety that comes their way once every four years.

Winter Olympic Games have a way of shining a spotlight on events that are often a little more on the periphery of the sporting spectrum at most other times.

All of this is critically important to the likes of Eston Stiller, Henri Lefebvre and Jeff Moore.

The first two are biathletes, the third a coach with the Walden Biathlon Club.

As the Games in Beijing continue this week, Stiller and Lefebvre make their way to Sovereign Lake (B.C.), site of the World Junior Youth Trials. As for Moore, he will continue to work to grow the sport on a local level, a sport that first captured his interest a couple of decades or so ago.

“I was a cadet myself, back in the day,” said Moore, noting one half of the dual environments that tend to host competitive biathletes: the cadet/military stream and that of the standard civilian events. “I was interested in the biathlon at the time, but didn’t make the cut.”

But where his dreams to compete as an athlete may have stalled, they formed the starting point of the role in which his volunteer help is now very much appreciated. “I eventually made it as an officer within the unit,” said Moore. “I’m a marksman myself and help to coach the shooting team.”

“I didn’t know anything about skiing, but I knew that I could definitely help out on the range.”

And so he did, jumping aboard initially in a supportive role back in 2010 and taking on the head club coaching reins in Walden roughly three years ago. “Previous coaches had left the unit so I had to kind of figure it out on my own,” said Moore. “That’s how it started.”

“I had no background in nordic skiing. I only recently started skiing myself the past couple of years.”

Thankfully, in this particular case, the athlete could also assist the coach. Previously profiled on these very pages, Henri Lefebvre has worked his way nicely up the ranks over the years, the Collège Notre-Dame senior making his mark at both the Ontario Winter Games and OFSAA competitions, pre-pandemic.

And while Eston Stiller can date his involvement in the biathlon even further, giving the sport a shot (pardon the pun!) as far back as 2016, as a member of the 2912 Sudbury Irish Army Cadets Biathlon team, it’s really only been over the course of the past year or two where the 18 year-old senior at Lo-Ellen Park Secondary School has jumped head first into the civilian side of things, now exposed to the expanded training opportunities.

“Since I could no longer participate in the biathlon with the cadets because they have been participating virtually for almost two years, I began training and competing on the civilian side in the 22 calibre biathlon,” said Stiller.

Ah yes - one other difference between the two streams: civilian biathletes begin their competitive journeys using air rifles, where the cadets are very quickly introduced to the world of the 22’s.

It’s part of the reason that Moore felt compelled to help out with the Walden Biathlon Club.

“With the cadets, there is more than just the biathlon (in terms of sport options),” he said. “But when it comes to the biathlon and the cadet side, there’s really only a few competitions that they are able to do.”

Races in Northern Ontario would help qualify participants for provincials, with a select few moving on to nationals. “Unless they also compete on the civilian side, you’re a lot more limited,” noted Moore.

A member of the nordic ski teams at both Lo-Ellen and with the Walden Racers Ski Club, Stiller ramped up his pursuit of biathlon excellence notably since the start of the pandemic. “My ski partner (Lefebvre) and I have been travelling to Quebec a few times a month since August to train with the team and receive coaching support,” he stated, referencing their involvement with the Chelsea Nordic Biathlon Club.

“We have also attended training camps in Timmins, Eagle Lake and Val Cartier."

The marriage between shooting and skiing within the biathlon can be cited as strange by folks who do not understand the military history behind the discipline. If nothing else, combining the two seldom comes easy.

“Both components of the sport require equal effort in developing perfection,” said Stiller. “The challenge is that the two components are so different. Skiing is rigorous and requires good cardio and technique while simultaneously working against the elements: extreme cold, altitude (in Sovereign Lake) or warm, wet conditions.”

“The marksmanship component requires the athletes to train so that they can control their heart rate, and involves both concentration and strength” - not to mention very specialized equipment.

"The firearms we use are rifles designed for use in a biathlon event," Stiller continued. "They are usually equipped with straight-pull actions, integrated magazine carriers, and ergonomic stock designs suitable for both prone and standing shooting positions."

The younger of two boys in the famly clearly knows his rifles.

Preparing to leave for Trials but understanding the limitations that come with relatively minimal experience in the sport and a training period punctuated by breaks due to the pandemic, Stiller is planning on taking this competition in stride.

“My expectations of myself are to do my best, given the challenges,” he said. “I will learn more about the sport, meet other athletes and have a great experience.”

Coach Moore could not ask for any more.

Given the skill level and competitive dreams of both Lefebvre and Stiller, the local mentor was more than happy to see them enlist the help of the Chelsea Club and others. Still, in time, he hopes that will change.

“What I would definitely like to see in Sudbury, and it is something that we’re working towards, is having a full 22 biathlon training facility.”

Perhaps then, folks might not need to wait for an event once every four years to be aware that opportunities exist for the sport of biathlon in the nickel city.

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