ZHANGJIAKOU, China (Reuters) – Canada coach Justin Wadsworth expects the unpredictable winds at China’s National Biathlon Centre to play a huge part in deciding the medals at the Beijing Olympics, which start on Friday.
The biathlon events kicks off with the mixed relay on Saturday and Wadsworth, a three-times Olympian as a cross-country skier, says the wind will be “the story of the Games” as Canada chase a first Olympic medal since 1994.
“The athletes are really just trying to dial in the wind, and I think that could be an advantage for our team,” Wadsworth told Reuters following his team’s practice session as gusts blew through the mixed zone.
“We do more of what’s called ‘shading’, where the athletes don’t make corrections — they just feel where the wind is, and they just move the sight over a little bit, so I think they’re going to be faster and more accurate as the wind switches around,” Wadsworth said.
Canadian biathlete Sarah Beaudry explained how competitors use the small flags on the range to calibrate where the wind is coming from and the effect it will have on the .22 caliber bullets they fire at a target 50 metres away.
“It’s just making sure you know what you’re zeroed for, and how to come in and react and make adjustments for the wind,” she said.
“It’s definitely one of the biggest challenges of this venue, that it’s really windy. Gusts, you just have to be ready for them and to react.”
The eight-member Canadian team, made up of four men and four women, will need their shooting to be at its sharpest if they are to bring home their first Olympic medals since Myriam Bedard bagged two golds in Lillehammer in 1994.
“It’s a little science and a little art, like a lot of things,” Wadsworth said.
“The precision of the rifles and everything is the precision part, positioning and when to actually squeeze the trigger is the art. Maybe they wait for the gusts to die down, or they wait until it’s a bit more steady in the one direction.”
The athletes will get plenty of practice in, but that won’t make it any easier to predict the wind, Wadsworth said.
“It can change after the first shot, it can change after the third shot … I think that’s why biathlon is one of the sports that is the least predictable.”
(Reporting by Philip O’Connor, editing by Ed Osmond)