CASPER, Wyo. - The Colorado National Guard Biathlon Team competed at the National Guard Western Region races held Jan. 13-15, 2023, in Casper, Wyoming.
The three-day competition consisted of one training day and two individual races: a sprint race and a pursuit race. The event included 34 Guard members from six states, including Colorado, California, Montana, South Dakota, Washington, and Wyoming.
Biathlon combines a form of cross country skiing mixed with interval target shooting on a 50-meter range with a special .22-caliber rifle.
The Colorado team has a mix of experienced and novice athletes. U.S. Army Capt. Bailey Bullock, 217th Space Support Company, Staff Sgt. Lisl Lefevre, 3650th Maintenance Company and Sgt. William Felts, Company B, 1st Battalion, 157th Infantry (Mountain), members of the team for several years, form the core of the team’s experience. U.S. Army 2nd Lt. Alexis Tousignant, Company D, 572nd Brigade Engineer Battalion, Sgt. Joshua Drews, Company C, 1st Battalion, 157th Infantry (Mountain), Sgt. Sage Hamilton, D/572BEB, and Spc. Zachary Schmid, C/1-157IN, experienced their first opportunity to participate in biathlon.
The first day of the event focused on ski instruction and marksmanship training, with the experienced athletes introducing the newcomers to the sport.
“This experience was far better than I could have imagined. I came into the weekend very nervous, as I have only cross country skied once about 12 years ago and did not know how I would do technically,” said Tousignant. “I was worried that I would be slow and fall at every turn. However, I was pleasantly surprised that, with some one-on-one coaching with Staff Sergeant Lefevre, I was able to pick it up quickly.”
First-year competitor Hamilton added that the coach and experienced athletes were very supportive in helping him get comfortable with the rifle, skate skis, and competition mechanics.
Day two kicked off the racing with the sprint race, where athletes skied three loops of the racecourse with a shooting bout between each loop. For each missed shot, the athlete must ski an additional 150 meters in the penalty loop.
The Casper Mountain race venue provided a demanding environment for returning and novice athletes alike. The biathlon range sits at an elevation of 8,130 feet, and the race course is a mix of winding descents and steep climbs. New snow and steady winds caused drifts on the race course, testing the racers’ skiing skills.
“Conditions were slightly challenging with gusty winds and snow drifts, but it made for a great learning and teaching experience for novice skiers to see the ins and outs of biathlon.” Lefvere said. “I loved getting to race as a seasoned athlete and also getting to teach new Soldiers the fundamentals of the sport.”
Hamilton’s race experience caused him to pause for some introspection.
“The margin of error for shooting was much smaller than what I am used to in a military qualification, so I found myself having to leave my ego behind and review my shooting fundamentals,” he said.
The final day of the competition was the pursuit race. Longer than the sprint race, it requires athletes to ski five loops and shoot four bouts. Athletes start in the order they finished the sprint race, so there is the added motivation of trying to catch the racer in front.
Felts and Bullock had good showings in the senior men’s races with third and fourth finishes in the sprint and pursuit races respectively. Both Soldiers will lead the men’s team at the National Guard Biathlon Championships in February.
Lefevre placed first in both senior women’s races with a total hit percentage of 77 percent, hitting 23 of 30 targets.
“I look forward to biathlon season each year and will continue to do so with races such as these with such awesome people,” she said.
Drews summed up his biathlon experience stating that he had a great time competing in the Western Regional Biathlon race.
“The coaching and mentorship has been top notch as well as the camaraderie among the team members,” he said. “Movement and marksmanship are critical elements of the light infantry unit. Biathlon requires that you can be proficient at both.”
The team’s next competition is the 2023 Chief National Guard Bureau Championships at the Ethan Allen Firing Range, Jericho, Vermont, Feb. 17-22, 2023. They aim to have as much success as last year when the team took third place over all in the team competition.