Utah Guard Biathlon Team Dominates

at Regional Championship

 

By SSG John Etheridge

 

Published December 21, 2009

 

Download Printer-Friendly Version

       

MSG Doug Bernard rests after crossing the finish line in the 15K sprint race Dec. 11 at West Yellowstone.

Photo by SSG John Etheridge

MSG Doug Bernard rests after crossing the finish line

in the 15K sprint race Dec. 11 at West Yellowstone.

WEST YELLOWSTONE, Mont. — Four Soldiers from the Utah National Guard biathlon team brought home three medals after the team traveled to the outskirts of Yellowstone National Park to compete in the CNGB Western Regional Biathlon Championship held here Dec. 10-12.

Approximately 50 biathletes from National Guard units around the Western region braved sub-zero temperatures and unfavorable ski conditions to compete in the cross-country ski and rifle marksmanship event.

The Utah team arrived with a mix of skilled veterans and hard-charging newcomers to the sport:

  • SFC Shawn Blanke, team captain, 1st Battalion, 19th Special Forces Group, has four seasons with the teamand also has the advantage of being married to a former biathlon coach.

  • MSG Doug Bernard, also of 1st Battalion, 19th Special Forces Group, is a several-year veteran of biathlon, and a back-country ski guide

  • LTC Eric Petersen, JAG officer from Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment, 97th Aviation Troop Command, has two seasons in the sport and is also a marathon runner

  • Brandom Adams, A Company, Recruit Sustainment Program, with two years in biathlon and many more in cross-country skiing, is the Utah team’s rising star.

Utah team coach SSG Jonathan Carlson scopes biathletes' shooting patterns to give them advice on their marksmanship prior to the event.

Photo by SSG John Etheridge

Utah team coach SSG Jonathan Carlson scopes biathletes' shooting patterns to give them advice on their marksmanship prior to the event.

The event started Dec. 10 with a race-prep day. Temperatures hovered around seven degrees below zero and teams converged on Rendezvous Ski Trail here to assess the ski conditions, familiarize themselves with the course and to zero their rifles with help from their coach, SSG Jonathan Carlson, A Company, 141st Military Intelligence Battalion.

The sub-zero temperatures and meager amount of snow offered the Utah team a challenging situation.

"The snow is extremely slow," said Blanke. "With the low temperatures, the snow crystals are so sharp it slows the skis down. We’ll expend two to three times more energy to finish this course than usual because the skis don’t have any glide."

After a half day acquainting themselves to the race course and perfecting their shot group at the course rifle range, the team headed back to the hotel to plan their race day and participate in workshops for the novice skiers.

MSG Doug Bernard instructs his fellow biathletes during a ski-waxing workshop in the wax hut at West Yellowstone.

Photo by SSG John Etheridge

MSG Doug Bernard instructs his fellow biathletes during a

ski-waxing workshop in the wax hut at West Yellowstone.

Because of their athletic reputation and vast biathlon experience, Utah team members are often asked to give workshops and wax tips at the National Guard biathlon competitions.

"We try to do the workshops so the novice biathletes aren’t just turned loose to figure the sport out on their own," said Blanke.

"There’s a lot of mythology and knowledge that you take for granted when you’re experienced," said Bernard, who gave a ski-waxing workshop at the event. "And when you’re a novice in the sport it’s overwhelming. What seems like common sense to me can be earth shattering for someone just starting out."

10K Sprint

"Start out fast, then take it down a notch." said Bernard, imparting his wisdom to his teammates at dinner Thursday night. "Ski a little conservative coming into the range, because it’s all uphill."

The morning of Dec. 11, biathletes prepared for the first race of the championship, the 10K sprint. Regional competitors were joined by three teams from outside the region, South Dakota, North Dakota and Indiana. Although these teams are allowed to compete in the event, they are not awarded medals or trophies for placing because they are from outside the Western region.

Before the race starts, each biathlete is seeded based on skill level and past performance. The race starts with the number-one racer leaving the gate, followed every 30 seconds by the next seeded racer.

MSG Doug Bernard competes in the relay during a driving snowstorm and single-digit temperatures at West Yellowstone.

Photo by SSG John Etheridge

MSG Doug Bernard competes in the relay during a driving

snowstorm and single-digit temperatures at West Yellowstone.

Each racer must ski three times around the course to finish. At the end of the first and second lap, the racer must stop at the rifle range and with their .22 caliber rifle, shoot to clear five targets. For each target the racer misses, he must ski a penalty lap of about 150 meters before he can continue with the race.

The race started with Utah racers seeded as follows: Doug Bernard, one; Shawn Blanke, two; Brandon Adams, eight; and Eric Petersen, 30.

Bernard started the race strong. Shooting from the prone position after his first lap, Bernard hit four targets. From the standing position after his second lap, he was only able to hit two targets. With a total of four penalty laps assessed to him, Bernard was still able to ski strong and finish second place overall and first among regional competitors.

Blanke, in the number-two spot, started the race 30 seconds after Bernard. Hitting six of ten targets between his two rounds of shooting, Blanke finished the race eighth overall and fourth for the regional competition.

SFC Shawn Blanke, left, crosses the finish line with teammate SPC Brandon Adams in the 10K sprint race.

Photo by SSG John Etheridge

SFC Shawn Blanke, left, crosses the finish line with

teammate SPC Brandon Adams in the 10K sprint race.

Adams, despite hitting a total of only three targets and skiing seven penalty laps, his superior skiing abilities enabled him to catch up and cross the finish line with Blanke. Adams finished the race sixth overall and third in the regional competition.

Petersen, seeded with the intermediate skiers, hit three targets and after skiing his three laps and seven penalty laps was able to finish with the pack and finish 31st overall.

Relay

On Saturday morning Dec. 12, racers arrived at the course for the team relay. Temperatures were warmer than the previous day and a few of inches of new snow had fallen overnight. Flurries continued during warmups and were forecasted to last throughout the race.

SPC Brandon Adams skis his way to a third-place finish in the individual 10K sprint event Dec. 11.

Photo by SSG John Etheridge

SPC Brandon Adams skis his way to a third-place

 finish in the individual 10K sprint event Dec. 11.

"Falling snow always makes the race interesting," said Blanke, showing a bit of concern about the conditions. "Many times it can fall into the sights on your rifle, and then you have a problem."

For the relay race, each team consists of three skiers. Each must complete a total of three laps around the course. At the end of the first and second laps, skiers must shoot targets from the prone position after the first lap and from the standing position after the second lap.

For both the prone and standing positions, skiers have eight rounds of ammunition to hit five targets. If a shooter misses any targets, they must ski one 150-meter penalty lap before continuing on the race course. When finishing the final lap around the course, the skier must hand off by touching his teammate before his teammate can continue the race.

For the Utah team the relay racers were: Adams, Blanke and Bernard.

SFC Shawn Blanke taps anchorman MSG Doug Bernard in the relay race as Utah enjoys a sizeable lead.

Photo by SSG John Etheridge

SFC Shawn Blanke, right, taps anchorman MSG Doug Bernard

in the relay race as Utah enjoys a sizeable lead.

Adams, Blanke and Bernard represented the Utah team with Adams starting the race, moving quickly to the front of the pack. At the end of the first lap, he hit two targets while shooting from the prone position and had to ski 3 penalty laps.

When Adams came around to the range from his second lap, he also hit two targets shooting from the standing position and had to ski three more penalty laps.

"It motivated me to ski faster," said Adams afterwards, showing a bit of frustration about his shooting.

After his third lap, Adams’ hard skiing put his teammate in good position as he handed off to Blanke, five minutes behind the overall leader, South Dakota, and a minute and a half behind Alaska, the regional leader.

Shooting from the prone position after his first lap, Blanke made quick work of the targets by hitting all five. Without any penalty laps to ski, Blanke was able to pass the Alaskan team and close the gap on the team from South Dakota.

MSG Doug Bernard prepares to hit 5 out of 5 from the prone position in order to solidify Utah's lead at the Western Regionals.

Photo by SSG John Etheridge

MSG Doug Bernard prepares to hit 5 out of 5 from the prone

position in order to solidify Utah's lead at the Western Regionals.

In the standing position, after his second lap, Blanke shot four out of five. With only one penalty lap, Blanke continued to gain on the leader.

Because of his excellent shooting, by the end of his third lap Blanke had made up nearly five minutes for his team as he handed off to their fastest skier, Bernard, now about 40 seconds behind South Dakota.

By the time Bernard finished his first lap, he had already passed and taken the lead from South Dakota. Shooting from the prone position, Bernard hit all five of his targets. With no penalty laps to ski, Bernard skied on, solidifying the Utah lead.

After his second lap, shooting from the standing position, Bernard hit three of his targets. Incurring two penalty laps, Bernard skied on with the nearest competitor about three minutes behind him.

Coming off his third lap, Bernard crossed the finish line securing the first place win for the Utah team, the nearest competitor three and a half minutes behind.

LTC Eric Petersen listens to his coach give him tips before he shoots from the standing position during the sprint race.

Photo by SSG John Etheridge

LTC Eric Petersen listens to his coach give him tips before

he shoots from the standing position during the sprint race.

Saturday afternoon, after the end of the races, the biathletes gathered at the Bear’s Den Cinema here for the regional

championships award ceremony. At the ceremony, Bernard was awarded the 1st place medal and Adams was awarded the 3rd place medal for the 10K sprint.

The Utah relay team, Adams, Blanke and Bernard were also awarded the first place trophy for their relay race win.

"As a team, I think our performance was strong," said Blanke. "While it is hard to argue with beating the next team in the West by over seven minutes, there is room for improvement."

"Our chances at Nationals are excellent if we can send our best to this event, but with deployments looming, that is going to be one of our biggest challenges," said Blanke, looking forward to the CNGB National Biathlon Championships later this season.