By Erin Yungblut
It was a tough start to racing in Duszniki-Zdrój, Poland, at the IBU Open European Championships (OECH) for the North Americans. After a week-long hiatus from IBU Cup, the 15/20-kilometer individual on Wednesday was fast with perfect shooting a must for a decent result on a grey, calm day. The Canadians trained for a week on the fresh snow in Nove Mesto, Czech Republic, while the Americans enjoyed a sunny week in Dobiacco, Italy, before the event. With some nations using the OECH event as selections for World Championships in February, there were many World Cup regulars racing. Every nation can enter six athletes at OECH, and the event is often considered the “world championships” of the IBU Cup level.
The Canadian wax technicians jokingly coined the individual on Wednesday “Russian Nationals” after yet another strong showing at the top of the results sheet by the Russian team. The IBU Cup is usually dominated by the Russians (with six in the top eight a common occurrence on the circuit), and Wednesday’s race was no different, with two athletes having recently served two-year bans for EPO use standing on top of the podium. The best North American women’s result was Emily Dreissigacker in 41st, while Russell Currier led the North American men in 51st. Both the Canadians and Americans had mediocre days on the range, with the top shooting being 18-for-20 for both teams.
The range had only a few light breezes throughout the day, but the long downhill approach finishing with a short punch into the range was deceptively difficult for most, arriving on the shooting mat with lead legs/lower-than-normal heart rates. The course in Poland is wide and designed for TV with many long one and two-skate sections and only one steep climb. The snow was soft and mushy, deteriorating throughout the day, making for a lot of work with little rest.
Overall, the atmosphere in Poland is bright with the locals working hard to make the event happen without a glitch — despite a half-finished stadium building — and the spectators were loud and excited. At only their third event of the team’s first IBU Cup tour this season, the Americans will build on their decent skiing for the sprint, pursuit and relays this Friday through Sunday. With members of the Canadian IBU Cup team rebounding from the third illness to strike the team so far this winter, the Canadians hope to sharpen up their speed leading into the weekend as well.