Do you want a good news story about a small sport? Here it is! It is the tale of two Australian Championships weekends, the first in 2010 and the second in 2016.
Six years ago, the Whiskey Flat Range at Mount Hotham, site of the only biathlon range in Australia, was in need of TLC. A lot of it. In addition, the number of participants was small, with 18 on the Australian Championships Saturday, and 16 on the Sunday.
Things were not looking promising for our microsport Downunder.
Six years on, what a different half a dozen years make! Range improvements, active recruiting and an investment in new technology, our laser training systems, have paid off handsomely. You can see this in the pictures of the range, and the number of race participants across all age groups, including Masters athletes, our largest group of athletes.
Critical to our success has been laser biathlon, introduced three years ago. These training systems allow those under 12 to participate, which was never possible before, due to Firearms legislation. In addition, biathlon training is now possible outside traditional rifle ranges, including the summer biathlon events at METEC in Melbourne, schools (Wodonga, Alexandra and Melbourne) and East Gippsland, along with on snow activities at Lake Mountain and Falls Creek.
In 2010, there were 18 racers on the Saturday and 16 on the Sunday. Flash forward six years and there were 120 registrations for the weekend! Not only were there lots of Under 12s enjoying laser biathlon with the same bibs as the Big Guys, many of the laser kids have now moved on to regular .22 biathlon.
You will see from the pics that the range looks a little different, too. Volunteers have given hundreds of hours each year to upgrading and maintaining the only biathlon range in Australia. This includes the regular Easter Working Bee (see earlier report), as well as countless hours spent at other times. There is a considerable amount of behind-the-scenes-work going into our 2016-2017 Range Development Project, see: https://asf.org.au/project/australian-biathlon-range-development-2016-2017/. The range will be extended to allow 15 lanes at International Biathlon Union (IBU) specifications, with the plan to hold international competitions.
We are delighted to acknowledge the ongoing support of our major stakeholders who help make this possible, namely the Victorian Department of Sport and Mount Hotham Resort Management, who assist our sport with grants, advice, snowgrooming and other support. In addition, the IBU supports our development, including grants to allow an international expert for a review of our facilities and programs in 2014, followed by the first-ever IBU-IOC Development Camp held in Australia, in 2015.