I hope you have all had a wonderful Christmas and set for some new year celebrations! Away from the partying this time of year is always a great chance to reflect on the previous year, for the BBU it has flown by as we have tripled our athlete base and activity levels!
There is much I could share from 2022 but I will focus on my top three highlights that I believe have set some strong foundations in which we hope to build upon in 2023! These have been centred around developing, uniting and growing British Biathlon.
This year saw the sad retirement of Amanda Lightfoot and despite just missing out on her third Olympics she did not leave us disappointed as she concluded over a decade of International representation with historic performances this season; shooting clear she came 5th in the IBU Cup Sprint at Brezno, and in many ways bettered this with a career best 20th place (just one miss) at the Antholz World Cup Individual. I was there the first season Amanda Lightfoot competed, and was almost there for the last International race of her career at the Oslo World Cup! The sport captured both our hearts from the start, and throughout her performance journey it has been a real privilege to watch her grow into an incredible Athlete. Her relentless drive, determination and true grit to succeed despite the challenges is inspiring to our next generation of talented Athletes and all those in the biathlon community.
It has been an exciting year where we have seen the impact of our 2021 Talent Campaign coming to fruition. Having accelerated the development pathways for a number of these Athletes, many have now competed internationally on the IBU Regional Cups and the IBU Junior Cups this season. With the majority of these young Athletes having another 3-4 years in the Junior field they are on a positive trajectory of growth, as they gain more race experience and build on the technique and skills required for Biathlon.
We have been continually learning on this journey with the Athletes; initially navigating COVID, seeking to find the balance between education, and then finding the best training opportunities to develop them. The journey has demonstrated that British talent is out there to be nurtured and developed through our system and in June we launched another Talent Search. Last week this new cohort saw their first collective training week on snow with the group making great progress. The majority of these talented Athletes will be competing at the British Championships where we hope to see many of you.
The Talent Campaign also reached our British Athletes living overseas with some great access to snow and local club training. We have worked hard to build relationships with their in-country coaching structure and embedded them into a number of our camps to build a great team spirit and ethos.
Without a doubt the future is looking promising with some impressive performances on the junior cup already. This included a historical 14th place in the single mixed relay by Shawna Pendry and Sean Benson just before Christmas. It certainly is an awesome time for the BBU, and to share the start of the journey with many of these Biathletes is a privilege, and I cannot wait to see them develop over the coming years.
Following ‘The National Snow Show’ the word that kept circulating in my mind was collaboration! Biathlon is a small sport in the UK, as is Nordic and Para Nordic skiing, so finding ways to unite is key for all of us to ensure pathways into our sports exist and opportunities continue for the next generation of Athletes. Many have not heard of the sport, let alone tried it, but the Snow Show provided a platform for visitors to interactively engage in the sport with the chance to meet Athletes from all three sports, shoot and roller ski!
I also had the opportunity to host a panel ‘No lift Pass Required’ on the Crystal Ski Stage with a panel that represented; the future of British Biathlon, Nordic, and Para Nordic, and it really excites me! The panel brought together a generation that are lifting all in the sport as they seek to grow and inspire those coming through the pathways, as well as, encouraging the British population to try the sport! The passion that ran through the conversation as the panellists discussed how to access the sport and just what is possible when you do was fantastic. There was also some myth’s busted to; ‘We are not the flat skiing! We earn our downhills’! What I also really loved was the shared utmost respect for those that do Biathlon, Nordic or Para Nordic as there is a shared understanding of just how tough these sports are!
The next step is how to grow these collaborations as we enter the next Olympic and Paralympic Cycle? How do we encourage more to get involved? How do we gain the financial support to transform the Biathlon and Nordic landscape in the UK? All these are unanswered questions, but what I am certain about is that alone we can do a little, but together we can move mountains!
It has been a great year of growing relationships internationally with our wider National Federations and the International Biathlon Union. There really is a Snow Family out there supporting us and daring to dream with us! Without them much of the activity you have seen this winter would not have been possible, from support through development grants, training camps, coaching pathways, educational webinars, mentorship programmes, provision of kit, collaborative training camps with Biathlon Canada, regional competitions, the list could go on, but all has helped to transform our ability to reach an entire new cohort of talented Athletes and grow awareness of the sport for all. I would like to thank everyone that has believed in us and supported us!
We have also grown our UK presence with representation at the GB Roller Ski Series this Summer where we have seen Athletes at all levels from Biathlon, Nordic and Para Nordic come together to race across the country. We have also launched an in-school’s campaign where we have been providing taster sessions for pupils to try roller skiing and laser shooting. The children have been so engaged in these sessions and excited to try something new. Some were a little disappointed that it wasn’t quite as easy as ‘Fortnite’ to shoot, but by the end of the session all were shooting clear.
Launching taster sessions for Scouts, Cubs and Cadets has also been great fun, and as part of a Decathlon Stores Winter Campaign we have been running taster sessions in their flagship stores too. Each session sometimes feels like a very small step in promoting the sport, but the culminating effect we hope to see is more youngsters in roller ski clubs and they could potentially be our talent campaign Athletes of the future.
‘The Year Ahead’
What a year 2022 has been, and the start of next year is going to be equally jam packed with racing action as we compete in the; European Youth Olympic Festival, World University Games, British Championships, IBU Open European Championships, three IBU Cups, the IBU Junior Cup, IBU Junior Open European Championships and the World Youth and Junior Championships.
Happy New Year and thank you for your continued support. Biathlon is not only a sport, anyone that has been involved knows it gets you in your heart, it builds a family, it ignites a passion, and grows friendships based on respect for anyone that takes on one of the most difficult physically and mentally demanding sports out there! Once you are hooked there is no going back, even on the toughest of days it makes us want to strive for more, push ourselves harder and faster everyday.