The biathlon demonstration at Dawn Mountain on Jan. 18 gave Goldenites a taste of a sport that enjoys an immense following in Europe, namely in Germany, Austria and Scandanavia. Local Victoria Wilson, originally from Newcastle, got her first taste of the unique sport that combines cross-country skiing with rifle shooting as a member of the British Army as part of a training regimen.
“I didn’t learn until I was 21…but I had the bug and it all kind of built up from there,” Wilson said.
It’s not often that a person in their 20s can pick up a sport and later compete on the world stage with the best, but Wilson proved to be a natural. She began to post times that were on par her male counterparts, leading to the creation of the first British women’s biathlon team. Soon she was competing in the Europa Cup series of races, and eventually she reached the highest level of competition on the World Cup where she competed in front of thousands of rabid fans across Europe.
“It’s huge in Germany, you go to a World Cup and it’s 40 or 50 thousand people there in the venue. You’ll have 10,000 people behind you in the stands watching,” Wilson said. “The first time going to warm up I was scared I was going to get off the track and fall of my skis, but you get used to it.”
Leading up to the 2002 Winter Olympics, Wilson was in a position to potentially earn a berth to compete in Salt Lake City, which would have made her the first woman from Great Britian to compete in biathlon at the Olympics. Unfortunately, injuries and illness led to her having limited opportunities to qualify and she didn’t manage to post good enough results in the end for qualification. Because it takes a long, four year commitment to prepare for the Games, Wilson decided to retire at the end of the 2001-2002 season. Coming so close to competing in the Olympics is something that was on Wilson’s mind for quite some time later.
“It took a long time to stop thinking about it and the ‘what ifs’. It would have been very nice to have gotten there but I know that some of the people that are there now are there because we started it,” Wilson said. “When I started racing the very first year there were only five British girls racing…I’m really glad to say that I was a very small part in watching a great sport develop.”
Wilson had a hand in organizing the demo day at Dawn Mountain and hopes that the opportunity will get more people in Golden interested in the popular European sport. Currently the closest biathlon club is nearly two hours away in Canmore.
“[The demo day] was fantastic. I think there were about 60 people there, lots of enthusiasm and lots of people having fun,” she said. “If you like cross-country skiing and you throw in the challenge of shooting, it just adds a whole new dimension to the sport.”