Mind Blowing Biathlon & fun Finns

It’s another sunny and frosty start to the morning. ..is there any other type of weather in the Dolomites?

We are on our way to see a world cup biathlon in Antholz about 1.5 hours drive to the north of us. Graeme in particular has always been fascinated by Biathlon ever since he helped Dave Pickard build some target ranges for the Snow Farm. Studying the form guide for the athletes we were surprised to see very few Scandinavians. The sport actually seems to be dominated by German and French competitors.  We also learnt that the Biathlon has been around since the 1700’s!   Initially it was a primarily a military competition and it didn’t become a civilian sport until the 1950’s when the modern nordic format was adopted.

We had originally intended to go to this event yesterday, but we were still in the grip of Mr Lurgy.  It’s now Saturday and we are a bit concerned about the traffic. It’s always the worst day to be on the roads in the alps.  And…yup about an hour into the trip were stuck in a jam. Gina is predicting about a 7 min delay. We are starting to think that maybe we have under-estimated the crowds at a Biathlon.  There are about 50 buses in the queue ahead of us?

Fortunately Gina’s predicted delay was correct and it wasn’t long before we were on the road to Antholz. The stadium at Antholz is set in a picturesque valley whose end to the north is a pass over into Austria.  We really were not sure what to expect, but being a World Cup event, everything was super organised.  We were directed to a huge carpark (field) about 2km from the stadium and then jumped into a waiting bus to take us the remaining distance. We were were anticipating traffic chaos, but rather it was a demonstration of precision people moving.

We didn’t realise it at the time, but there will 25,000 people (yes 25,000!) at this event today.   Given our complete ignorance about the world popularity of biathlon and nordic sports in general we naively thought it would be a smaller crowd than the World Cup GS race we saw in La Villa. Tickets to the main seating area where you can see the rifle range, and start/finish lines were sold-out in August last year we were informed by the lady at the ticket office.  So we just bought a pass which entitled us to wander around the course.

Huge crowds
Huge crowds

It was now about 10:30am and the first race – the women’s  12.5km was not due to start until after 1pm.   We had experienced the chaos of the “food tent” at our previous GS World Cup event, so we thought we’d better eat early.  Predictably, the party was already in full swing in the beer tent!   The piano accordion is alive and well and “rockin'” in the Alps it seems.  Our band this morning is a real hit in the hills!  They had their own program on all the tables, advertising their upcoming gigs and all the CD’s you could buy of their music. I’m dying to know if my friend Guenter has heard of this band?   They had over 40 CD’s in their catalog!  Perhaps they use them in Guantanamo Bay to assist with terrorist interrogation??

Back out on the course, we found ourselves a good spot by the fence and near the big TV screen so we could see the athletes up close as well as watch the screen for the shooting.  As it happens, I saw a lone Finnish couple a little way from us waving their little blue and white flag.  There was a Finnish competitor Kaisa Mäkäräinen in the Women’s 12.5km race.   Now I figured that since we were surely the only ANZAC’s at the event, and this Finnish couple were also in the minority, it might be worth saying hello.  Also because their own language is not spoken anywhere else in the world,  Finn’s always speak English well.

Good bet.  A delightful couple.  We hit it off right away and spent the rest of the afternoon with them.  Ari & Arris were here for a long weekend. [ I’m not entirely sure I have their names correctly..it was a little hard to hear over the commentary and crowd noise..hopefully they’ll make contact and I’ll be able to correct it.]   They live about 100km north of Helsinki and they are having their floors sanded back at home, which provided a good excuse to escape for the weekend to watch a biathlon.   They are nordic skiers at home and Ari has tried biathlon before, but as he explained…”the rifle range is impossible!…even when the guns are set in permanent rests I couldn’t hit one target”.

It turns out that where we had both chosen to stand was good for watching the practice circuit but not the race.  Poor Arris was desperate to see Kaisa.  Big tall Graeme and Ari did their best to “muscle-in” in through the crowd at the fence near the race course but with not much success. The best Graeme could do was use his height to try and take photos above the heads of the crowd.  But we had a cunning plan sorted by the time the Men’s 7.5 x 4 relay started.  During the break between races Gra found a good viewing spot and protected it for Arris until we returned from trying to buy some gluhwein.  An impossible task given the size of the crowd. But no matter, our Finns were interested to learn more about NZ and Australia and we also about Finland and we filled in the time between races in lovely conversation.

The Men’s relay turned out to be a very exciting photo finish between Norway and Germany with Germany making a desperate lunge for the line in the last possible second. It was thrilling.  For anyone who may like biathlon here’s the link to the race. It’s a german commentary but if you’re an enthusiast you can get the gist of it.  It’s certainly a race and an event that we will remember for a long time.

We were sad to say goodbye to our Finnish friends at the end of the day.  I have their email address and have sent them our photos from the day.  You never know, we might hear from them again.

Despite our dose of “P” wearing off, we have done remarkably well today.  We have been warm all day despite a top temperature of -5C (in the sun!!) and our head colds are getting better.    Time to put the skis back on tomorrow in Arabba.

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