After a week and a half of training, biathlete Lanny Barnes is itching to compete. She’ll do so Friday under the lights in her first race of the Sochi Winter Olympics.
The three-time Olympian from Durango is in the 15-kilometer individual race, which begins at 7 a.m. MST (6 p.m. Sochi time). NBC’s schedule lists the event as one that will be featured during its Friday afternoon coverage, which begins at 2 p.m. MST. (It’s also possible to watch some events live online at stream.nbcolympics.com/live-extra).
“I’m just real anxious to get out there,” Barnes said Tuesday night after watching the women’s 10K pursuit with her teammates in the U.S. biathletes’ cabin next to the Laura Cross Country and Biathlon Center.
A recent poll put biathlon as Russia’s No. 2 winter sport behind hockey. While crowds at some Olympic sports have been slack, Russians have come out in droves to biathlons, according to several news accounts. That’s no surprise, Barnes says. For World Cup events in Europe, crowds average 30,000 or more.
“It’s super exciting here in Europe to race under those kinds of conditions,” Barnes, 31, said. In some German venues “you can’t even hear yourself breathe or even shoot because it’s so loud.”
She said she uses the noise as motivation.
“There’s a lot of athletes who wear earplugs to block the noise out, but I think it helps me. I actually enjoy the commotion and the cheering.”
The 15K individual, which has become Barnes’ best event, consists of five 3-kilometer cross country skiing loops interspersed with four stops at the shooting range.
Shooting is done alternately from prone and standing positions. Athletes take five shots at each stop. For each missed target, a 1-minute penalty is added to the competitor’s time.
The U.S. has never won an Olympic medal in biathlon, which has been contested regularly since 1960. Barnes placed 23rd in the 15K individual at the Vancouver Olympics in 2010, and that was considered a great result for a U.S. skier.
A top U.S. contender in Sochi is Susan Dunklee of Vermont. The 27-year-old Dunklee finished 14th, just 20 seconds out of a medal, in Sunday’s 7.5-kilometer sprint. Dunklee placed 18th in Tuesday’s 10K pursuit.
After several days of practice, Barnes said she likes the course. It’s at relatively high elevation for a world-class event (5,900 feet), and it’s a difficult venue with steep hills.
“There’s some slalom-like downhills, and having grown up downhill skiing that’s sort of an advantage for me over the other girls who tend to snowplow or take the corners a lot slower.”
Coaches have not informed team members what other events they will participate in, Barnes said. The other women’s races are a 12.5K mass start on Monday; a first-time Olympic event called a “mixed relay” that features two women and two men, set for Feb. 19; and the 4x6K relay Feb. 21.
Another possible inspiration for Barnes: Her twin sister, Tracy, is scheduled to arrive in Sochi this evening. The two have not been together since Jan. 12, the day that Tracy informed Lanny she was declining her Olympic spot so Lanny could go.
The twins’ gun sponsor, Advanced Technology International, paid for Tracy’s plane fare, and U.S. Olympic officials were able to secure housing for her.
“I wish she was here already,” Lanny Barnes said Tuesday. “It’s only two days out now, so I’ll be patient.”
The twin sisters grew up playing soccer and other sports together, and began training and competing in biathlon in 1997. Tracy earned a spot on the Olympic team during U.S. trials – held in conjunction with a European race in Italy. Lanny was ill and did not compete that weekend.
The story of Tracy’s sacrifice for her sister captured worldwide attention, and Tracy has spent the last month traveling and talking to media from several countries. And she’s also found time to travel with the Durango Nordic Ski Club – coached by her husband, Gary Colliander – to Steamboat Springs and Soldier Hollow, Utah.