WEST YELLOWSTONE — An unknown biathlon team from the Midwest found itself matched up against two teams stacked with the best members from the U.S. biathlon team. But rather than pack up their guns and go home, they pulled off the biggest upset of the season with a national championship win in the biathlon relay event.
"This is sweet," said a tired but elated Ryan Cameron of Minnesota who led his three-man relay team to a first-place finish in 62 minutes 35 seconds at the U.S. Biathlon Association National Championships.
Unlike typical biathlon competitions, the relay is a team event with three biathletes on each team. A shotgun sends the first member of each team racing on a 7.5K course. The skiing is interrupted by two rounds of shooting, once prone and one standing. And then the first member tags the second, who repeats the order of skiing and shooting, and so forth. The first one to cross the finish line wins.
On Sunday, all eyes were on the two teams composed of members of the U.S. team, all of whom are considered favorites to make the team for the 2002 Winter Games.
But a Minnesota team consisting of Dan Campbell, Andy Erickson and Cameron jumped out to an early lead and never looked back, finishing 12 seconds ahead of Jeremy Teela, Sergei Vinogrodov and David Gieck.
"I'm glad the Minnesota guys did well," said Salt Lake City's David Gieck. "This is the highlight of their season."
Finishing in third place, 23 seconds behind the winners, was a team composed of Lawton Redman, Dan Westover and Scott Doughty. Redman won individual competitions on Thursday and Saturday, while Westover finished second in both of the individual events.
Their performances earlier in the week left them fatigued, and when Westover found himself trailing Gieck and Cameron with 2.5K left, he just couldn't make up the lost ground.
"Realistically it's tough to make up more than a couple of seconds," Westover said. "But it made it interesting."
On the women's side, a team led by Kristina Sabasteanski — who won national championships on Thursday and Saturday — won the relay with a time of 77 minutes 5 seconds. That win came despite a disappointing start that left them trailing in fourth place at the start of the last 7.5K leg.
"All three of us were scrambling," Sabasteanksi said of her teammates Haley Johnson and Sarah Riley. Good shooting allowed the team to sweep from behind, finishing 30 seconds ahead of a team composed of Andrea Nahrgang, Jaime Mueller and Bethann Ellingson.
The relay marked the end of the 2001 biathlon season. Most of the nation's top biathletes, including some who did not compete at the national championships, are now residing in Utah where they will soon begin intense training for the Olympics under the tutelage of U.S. team coach and former gold medal winner Algis Shalna.