Utah Guard Biathlon Team Wins Gold

 

Written by Sgt. 1st Class Shawn Blanke

Published March 27, 2007

 

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Sgt. 1st Class Gerald Robinson, 640th Regional Training Institute, leaves the starting gate to begin his gold medal-winning race.

Photo by Staff Sgt. Jesse Peterson

Sgt. 1st Class Gerald Robinson, 640th Regional Training Institute,

leaves the starting gate to begin his gold medal-winning race.

WEST YELLOWSTONE, Mont. — Despite injuries, deployments and the addition of new team members, the Utah Army National Guard Biathlon Team won team gold recently at the National Guard Bureau Western Regional Biathlon Championships in West Yellowstone, Mont.

Biathlon is a winter Olympic sport which combines the disciplines of cross-country skiing and precision target shooting. Biathletes are required to ski over difficult terrain while carrying a rifle and then hit very small targets from both prone and standing positions. Depending on the race format, athletes who miss targets are either required to ski a 150-meter penalty loop for each miss or are assessed a one-minute penalty per missed shot.

Biathlon events are typically conducted over courses designed to make them as difficult as possible. Extreme weather conditions, along with the inherent difficulty of precision shooting with an elevated heart rate, make biathlon among the most physically and mentally demanding of all sports.

Sgt. 1st Class Shawn Blanke, 19th Special Forces Group, eyes the target as he approaches the firing line during the biathlon competition.

Photo by Staff Sgt. Jesse Peterson

Sgt. 1st Class Shawn Blanke, 19th Special Forces Group, eyes the

target as he approaches the firing line during the biathlon competition.

Utah National Guard athletes have competed in biathlon since 1975, when the first Chief of National Guard Bureau (CNGB) National Championships were held at the Ethan Allen Firing Range in Vermont.

Athletes who perform well at CNGB championships are often selected to compete internationally for the United States on CISM (Conseil International du Sport Militaire), World Cup and Olympic teams. In fact, since 1975, the National Guard is the only Department of Defense organization that consistently sends Soldiers to the Olympics.

Although Utah has a long history of sending talented athletes to compete in biathlon, Vermont and Minnesota National Guard states also boast very successful Olympic development programs, which make their teams very difficult to beat. In spite of this, during the 2005 CNGB Championships, Utah defeated very strong teams from Vermont and Minnesota to win the Maj. Gen. Cram National Championship title, a first for Utah.

Sgt. Jesse Lang, , shoots from the prone position during the Western Regional Biathlon Championships.

Photo by Staff Sgt. Jesse Peterson

Sgt. Jesse Lang, , shoots from the prone position

during the Western Regional Biathlon Championships.

At the 2006 Western Regional Championships, Utah biathletes faced the largest-ever group of competitors in an NGB sponsored regional biathlon event. Approximately 90 athletes from 5 different countries competed under conditions that included sub-zero temperatures, heavy snow and fickle winds—conditions that made shooting and skiing very difficult.

The field also included elite civilian competitors such as the Canadian National and U.S. Junior National Biathlon teams, as well as numerous collegiate and independent athletes. Many of these competitors were competing for spots on their respective country’s World Cup and Olympic teams, making the competition particularly fierce.

Utah faced tough competition from state-sponsored National Guard teams that included perennial favorites Vermont and Montana. During the team relay, California, Vermont and Montana raced off to an early lead. By the last leg of the relay, it appeared that the Montana team had built up a big enough margin to win easily. However, Utah’s Sgt. 1st Class Gerald Robinson, 640th Regional Training Institute, countered by hitting four out of five targets in rapid succession, while Montana struggled unexpectedly to hit targets on the final shooting segment.. Robinson then proceeded to out-ski the leader who was then only 45 seconds in front. He closed the gap and overtook the Montana competitor only 200 meters before the finish line to seal the win for Utah.

Warrant Officer Lynn Adams leaves the firing line and continues the race at the Western Regional Biathlon Championships.

Photo by Staff Sgt. Jesse Peterson

Warrant Officer Lynn Adams leaves the firing line and continues

the race at the Western Regional Biathlon Championships.

“With some of our strongest athletes either deployed or injured, we didn’t realistically expect to win the whole thing. But the relay team was patient and Robinson was there with a key performance when we needed it,” said Utah Coach Chief Warrant Officer Ryan Runk, 211th Aviation, when asked about the team’s success.

“One of the reasons the biathlon team has been so successful this year is the tremendous support we have received from the state G-3 shop. Our requests for critical new equipment and training support were funded at unprecedented levels,” said Sgt. 1st Class Shawn Blanke, 19th Special Forces Group, current team captain and competitive biathlete. “Last year we were constantly dealing with issues related to having very old equipment, and that was simply not the case in West Yellowstone.”

In regional competition, Robinson posted the team’s best individual result by winning a silver medal in the 10K and a gold medal with the relay team. Blanke, in only his second year of biathlon, dropped 6 minutes off of his finish time last year to finish in sixth place in the individual 10K event. Blanke also raced the first leg for the winning relay team.

Staff Sgt. Ben Dahl crosses the finish line en route to a team gold at the Western Region Biathlon Championships.

Photo by Staff Sgt. Jesse Peterson

Staff Sgt. Ben Dahl crosses the finish line en route to a

team gold at the Western Region Biathlon Championships.

Team veteran Staff Sgt. Ben Dahl, Recruiting and Readiness Command, skied the second leg for the gold-medal relay team but was pursued relentlessly by newcomer Warrant Officer Lynn Adams, 211th Aviation. Adams and Dahl finished within seconds of each other in the relay, and both placed well in the individual 10K race. Sgt. Jesse Lang, I Corps Artillery, experienced Nordic skiing for the first time one day prior to participating in his first-ever biathlon race. Lang not only finished both the individual and relay races but proved to be one of the most consistent shooters on the team.

The team also received crucial coaching support from Runk and Staff Sgt. Jesse Peterson, 19th Special Forces Group. Both Runk and Peterson directed team members during races and provided constant direction during the week of competition. Peterson, one of the strongest biathletes on the team, was unable to compete due to injury but is expected to compete again soon.

The next stop for Utah biathletes will be the CNGB Championships in early 2007 at Camp Ethan Allen, Vermont. Approximately 30 other state teams are expected to participate in 10 days of competition. Utah will again field a strong team with the goal of bringing the CNGB National Championship back to Utah.