By Dan Jensen –
The Augustana campus of the University of Alberta will be well represented at this year’s World University Games in Erzurum, Turkey.
Betsy Mawdsley, Kathryn Stone, Lauren Brookes, Jennifer Paterson, Kai and Jon Skinstad and Jonny Forward will make up seven eighths of the Canadian biathlon team that will be leaving Canada January 21 and returning February 8.
Qualifying races for the games were held at Canmore in early December.
"I’m really excited about going," said Mawdsley, who was an alternate for the Canadian biathlon team two years ago. "I’m shocked that I am actually getting the chance to go overseas and race."
Mawdsley, from Fort Smith NWT, is a fourth-year Viking who spent a year attending a university in British Columbia before deciding to come to Augustana. She’s been training for this biathlon season since last May, matching a lot of male athletes in terms of the number of hours spent in training.
"It is a full-time job," she said. "You have to do your training and then you have to fit in all your school work as well. It’s a lot of work but it is the kind of work you want to do."
Brookes, who is from Camrose, is a third-year member of the biathlon team. The environmental studies student has been competing in biathlon since she joined the junior Vikings’ program eight years ago and has, just this year, decided to do both biathlon and cross country.
"The fact that I am going to Turkey is slowly sinking in," said Brookes. "I want to soak up as much international experience as I can because I have never raced outside of Canada before."
The Augustana biathlon team has been putting up good results in all of its races so far this season. Mawdsley placed first and second in the first North American Cup/Alberta Cup race and second and third place in the third North American Cup race, while Paterson and Stone have made it to the podium a couple of times as well.
Brookes has competed in just one biathlon race – the one in which she qualified.
"We have a strong team," said Mawdsley. "The guys, Jon and Kai, are doing phenomenally as well."
Forward will be attending the Universiade as an Augustana alum. Under the existing regulations, alumni are allowed to go as long as they qualify in the same year as they graduate.
The only member of the Canadian biathlon team who isn’t from Augustana is Jamie Rob, a former Olympic athlete who attends UBC.
"[U of A] Augustana is the only university in Canada that has a biathlon program," said Mawdsley. "The program here is great because we have so much financial support going in. It is difficult for other teams that don’t have that financial support."
The biathlon program is supported as well by the university’s professors, who make allowances for the biathletes with their term papers and midterms.
"We have a lot of people backing us up and helping us to get to where we want to go," said Mawdsley.
The team is coached by Hans and Joan Skinstad, both of whom have years of experience at the national and international level. Hans got his start in biathlon by serving in Norway’s Biathlon National Guard. He holds 32 national championship medals as an athlete, and skied in two world championships. He represented Canada as a cross country skier at the 1976 Olympics at Innsbruck, Austria, and served as Canada’s biathlon team head coach at the 1988 Olympics in Calgary.
"They really back us and their experience is unmatchable," said Mawdsley.
While Brookes is going to the games with the goal and attitude of doing the best she can, Mawdsley is more specific in what she wants to accomplish. "My personal goals are to get into the top half, as well as to get into all five races," she said. "Three of the races require strong performances in the first two in order to move on. The contingent that we are sending, especially some of the older skiers on the team, are really strong this year so I am expecting to see a great relay performance from Canada, as well as some record-setting performances."
The World University Games will be held in a mountainous region of Turkey, high above the desert.
"We were joking about the fact that in Turkey, the temperature is going to be plus 15 degrees, but we know that the environment we are going to be in will be quite a bit cooler," said Mawdsley. "The Universiade has several outdoor venues and Erzurum is going to be able to support them all. They are in the nidst of preparing for a cross country World Cup event next year so they must have something going for them."
The World University Games will be followed by the Canadian Nationals, which are scheduled to be held in New Brunswick in March.
The World University Winter Games, also known as they World Universiade, are held every two years under the auspices of FISU, the International University Sports Federation. The games are second in size only to the Winter Olympics and comprises of competition in 12 snow and ice sports.