It quite literally takes thick skin to be a biathlete.
The sport involving cross-country skiing and rifle shooting is held in frigid climes.
Such was the case earlier this month when Valcartier, Quebec hosted the Cadet National Biathlon Championships.
Among the 130 cadet biathletes who competed at the Myriam Bédard biathlon center March 2 to 7 were Aldergrove siblings Emmanuel and Ariel Bussani.
It was cold in Valcartier – bone-numbingly so. The first day of competition was cancelled because the temperature had dipped to minus-30ºC.
If conditions drop to minus-20 or lower, biathlon events are nixed for the safety of the athletes.
After that it “warmed up” to about minus-14ºC, and 12-year-old Ariel said, “I kind of wore a lot of layers.”
The competition itself was, as expected, as demanding as the conditions.
After skiing fast and hard, biathletes must calm themselves to take accurate and controlled shots at targets 50 meters away.
In a single race cadet competitors can ski up to 10 kilometers and shoot 20 targets.
Fresh off a bronze medal performance at the BC Winter Games in Penticton, 14-year-old Emmanuel had a fantastic few days, teamed with his partner, 13-year-old Abbotsford resident Ethan Algra.
They finished first, not only in the junior male category for patrol race but also in the open male category, bringing together all the 12- to- 18-year-old male biathletes, which allowed them to win a pair of gold medals.
The patrol, specific to the cadet biathlon program, requires athletes to stay together throughout the race.
Emmanuel and Ethan finished their patrol in 24 minutes, 14 seconds.
They also took second in the junior male relay race with a time of 47 minutes, two seconds.
The relay involves a simultaneous start of the first athlete of the various teams. When a participant completes a loop, he must pass the baton to his partner.
Ethan also took home the Nikke Keddie award, given to junior male cadet with the highest cumulative aggregates from his individual races results.
He also finished first in the junior category for mass start where all biathletes start at the same time which makes this competition nerve-racking and full of surprises.
Individually, Emmanuel placed fifth overall among junior boys.
Emmanuel said the key to his success in Valcartier was “probably just being mentally prepared and telling myself I could do well and that all my training is going to count for this race.”
The shooting aspect of the sport is something Emmanuel would like to improve upon.
“It takes a lot of concentration and lots of practice,” he said. “Your fingers and eyes, every part of your body, has to remember how to take a perfect shot. It takes a lot of muscle memory.”
Just like her big brother, Ariel won a silver medal as part of a Team BC squad that finished second overall in the competition.
Ariel and her partner placed seventh in the patrol team race and seventh in the relay team event, while in the individual race, Ariel placed 11th.
“I did meet my goal this year to get to nationals, but I was a bit disappointed I didn’t get podium place,” Ariel said. “That’s my goal for next year.”
Ariel said she’s drawn to how the sport combines strength and physical prowess with concentration and focus.
Ariel was not old enough to compete in the recently held BC Winter Games (minimum age of athletes is 13). And while Emmanuel competed and came home with a medal, it wasn’t the colour he was hoping for.
“I know I could have done better,” said Emmanuel, who was fighting a cold while competing at the Games. “Hopefully [I’ll do better] next time at the BC Winter Games.”
Biathlon is split into two parallel tracks – civilian and cadet. The Bussani siblings can compete in both because both Emmanuel and Ariel are air cadets.
Based on that performance at the provincial cadet championships (Emmanuel took home a gold and a silver, Ariel won a silver) both Bussanis were selected to B.C. team made up of 10 athletes – two junior boys, two senior boys, two senior boys, two senior girls, and two spares.
Their mom Lori said biathlon is more than just a sport, adding that her son and daughter are “the ones driving the boat.”
“They push hard; I never have to tell them to train,” Lori said.
“It’s not the medals, it’s just the journey,” she added. “They’re learning fantastic life skills. Emmanuel came in fifth [individually] and even though he wanted to get gold or silver, he still had a smile on face went up to the guys who did well and said ‘good job.’ That’s what makes me proud – the character and integrity being developed along the way.”