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Biathlon is an Olympic winter sport, combining cross-country skiing and small-bore rifle marksmanship. The word Biathlon is of Greek origin and means “two tests.” Cross-country racing requires intense, full-out physical exertion over an extended period of time, while shooting demands extremely fine control and stability. When athletes arrive at the shooting range, they have to shoot at a very small target with a racing heartbeat and heaving chest because the clock is running even while they are shooting.
The first historically recorded Biathlon competition took place near the Swedish-Norwegian border in 1767, between companies of border guards from the two countries. Generally, development of Biathlon continued through hunting and warfare until it became a demonstration sport in the first Olympic Winter Games in 1924 in Chamonix, France under the name of Military Patrol. Since then, Biathlon has undergone many dramatic changes, including admission to the Winter Olympics as Biathlon in 1960, a change to small bore rifles (.22 inch) in 1978, and the addition of women’s competitions at the 1992 Winter Olympics.
In Canada, the sport of biathlon began under the auspices of the Canadian Armed Forced. In 1968, an all-military Canadian team participated in the Olympics for the first time. The national championships that had been held throughout the 1960’s were abandoned as the sport declined in popularity.
The change in rifle calibre in 1978 lead to a resurgence of the sport in Canada under the auspices of the Canadian Ski Association. Biathlon Canada was founded in 1985.
The first Canadian Biathlon Championships in 1965 were won by Denis Sjolie of Camrose. Biathlon in Camrose began in 1980 when Daryl Phillips and Garry Gibson heard about the sport, attended a clinic and spread the word about biathlon. They roused interest in the community which grew when the Camrose Ski Team accepted a 1981 invitation to the Wainwright Army Base.
It was in Camrose that the first meeting to organize Biathlon Alberta took place. “Biathlon Alberta was born in Camrose,” said Mr. Phillips. The first Alberta Provincial Biathlon Championships were held in Camrose in 1981. In one year, Alberta would increase its competitors at Biathlon nationals from one to nine. In those early days biathletes who represented Camrose nationally include Ken Rayment Jr., Glen Rupertus, Steven Hansen, Ingrid Servold, Susan Steward and Clarence Servold.
The momentum continued to build as Camrose went on to host the 1983 and 1984 Western Canadian Championships and the 1983 Shell Cup National Championships. The Shell Cup organizing committee was headed by Daryl Phillips and backed by Garry Gibson and Ken Rayment. The weather for the Shell Cup was ideal; the good trail and range preparation and crowd support contributed to an exceptional event. Local skiers such as Ken Rayment Jr., Hans and Joan Skinstad, and Clarence Servold did well in the competition.
Camrose again hosted the 1995 Western Canadian Biathlon Championships and the 1997 Canadian National Biathlon Championships. In the 1997 Nationals Camrose was represented by 20 Camrose Ski Club/Augustana Ski Team members.
Biathlon operates at the Camrose Shooting Sport Association outdoor range complex located about 7 km south of Camrose. The biathlon facility was developed in 1980 by the Camrose Ski Club consisting of a 5km loop with 3.75, 2.5, 2.0 and 1.25 km cutoffs and in 1992 was connected to the cross-country trail system. An 8 km roller ski loop was constructed as part of the urban parks project. A new biathlon range with space for 32 firing point was constructed in 1993.
The Camrose Biathlon trails are some of the most difficult in Canada. Due to the short steep uphills and technical downhills, a racer doesn’t have time to relax and must always be alert.
Camrose Biathlon - from Camrose Museum collection
Camrose, along with the volunteers who brought the sport to prominence, is proud to be the home town of two Biathlon Olympians; Glenn Rupertus and David Leoni. Two other Biathlon Olympians Jane Isakson and Yvonne VIsser, honed their biathlon skill while attending Augustana.
Glenn is one of those rare athletes who didn’t learn his craft at a very early age. He joined the Camrose Ski Club in 1978 at age 14. He was already 16 years old when he began cross-country skiing seriously with the Camrose Lutheran College ski team.
He had been a fine cross-country runner at Camrose Composite High School and the progression to cross country skiing seemed natural for him. His interest in biathlon began when he was 18. In 1984, he was the top Junior biathlete in Canada and became a top competitor on the Canadian Senior team.
Glenn continues his biathlon involvement as coach of the Vancouver Island Biathlon Team. He was active on the world biathlon stage as head wax coach for the Canadian biathlon teams. He has worked with young skiers and guided blind skiers. He is a lifetime member of the Camrose Ski Club. He credits Garry Gibson for much of his success as well as Hans and Joan Skinstad, who prepared him for his first Olympics.
Among his many accomplishments are 14 years of the National Biathlon team, 10 National titles as a senior and one as a junior and three Olympic Winter Games.
Other career accomplishments
Glenn Rupertus - from the Gibson family scrapbook
Born in Liverpool, England in 1982, David began downhill skiing at age five while living in Edmonton. When his family moved to Camrose he was encouraged to start cross country ski racing because of a lack of suitable downhill facilities. David joined the Camrose Ski Club and later found the addition of target shooting motivated him to train for Biathlon. Joining the Augustana University Junior Vikings program when he was eleven, David became more focused on a career in Biathlon. He remained a member of the Augustana Junior Vikings from 1992 to 1999.
He was twice the Biathlon Canada Male Athlete of the Year, five times the National Biathlon Champion, four times the North American Junior Champion, the Canada Games Gold Medalist in 1999 and six times the Canadian Junior Champion.
He represented Canada in 2006 at the Torino Winter Olympics. Racing in the Olympics had been his dream since he was nine years old. He dedicated himself to his sport. From Grade 10 onward, every waking hour was spent working out or resting or recovering. His dedication paid off. When he qualified for the Olympics, “It was pure elation. My feet weren’t touching the ground.”
After Torino, he set his sights on Vancouver 2010. But, although his skiing was improving his shooting results had declined. After a period of reflection, David decided to hang up his skis and focus on school. The grind he had become familiar with from all those years of training was directly transferable to the hard work of studying.
Today he practices dentistry in Jasper and gives back to the skiing community by hosting charity skate ski clinics.
Ski career highlights
Photo courtesy David Leoni