Two local cadet biathletes will be representing Ontario in a national competition after winning silver medals at the 2016 Cadet Biathlon Provincial Championship in Sault Ste. Marie on Sunday.
Simon Beckett, 14, and Cassandra Breckenridge, 13, of the 2310 Army Cadet corps used mind tricks to achieve their second place ranking in the Junior Male 4.5km relay race.
The pair came in just 0.7 seconds behind the winning team.
Beckett and Breckenridge were coached and trained by Alex Shea, an ex-cadet biathlete who not only won the cadet-level nationals when he was younger, but also competed in the International Biathlon Union and represented Ontario at the Nor-Am Cup.
Shea said one of the most difficult parts of biathlon is switching from the high speed racing mindset of the course into the clearheaded and calm mindset needed for accurate marksmanship on the gun range.
He teaches his athletes mental tricks that will help them stay focused throughout the race.
“It goes from a racing mentality to an every-shot-counts mentality where you need to take your time. We focus a lot on that and we push our athletes to be mentally stronger,” said Shea.
Shea said he spent a lot of time coaching Beckett on his skiing while the focus with Breckenridge was more on her shooting.
“When Simon gets tired and on he’s on a hill he might just want to waddle up it but instead of doing that he focuses on doing a strong offset up that hill which in the end keeps him at the front of the pack and then he’s not rushed when he’s on the range,” said Shea.
As was reported previously on SooToday, Shea taught Breckenridge to tell herself positive messages like ”Yeah, you can do this” and “let’s go” before entering the shooting range.
Breckenridge said these confidence-boosters helped her come back from a rushed first-lap that led to her missing all but one of her target in the first round of shooting.
She said she decided to focus and use her positive-thinking techniques and that helped her calm her mind down so she was able to get a perfect second round of shooting and then carry that confidence into the rest of her skiing.
“(In the second round of shooting) I got five for five and I just had a big smile on my face and it just got me going so that my last lap was really fast,” said Breckenridge.
Ninety-six cadets from different Army, Sea, and Air Cadet corps and squadrons around Ontario travelled to Sault Ste. Marie for the weekend competition.
The Provincial Championship was actually supposed to be a full two-days but -31 °C temperatures on Saturday prompted organizers to move the competition relay races to Sunday and cancel the originally planned “camaraderie team-spirit building race” so that the competitive aspect of the weekend was not effected.
Public Affairs Officer Capt. Roy Harten said that, because wind temperatures and the risk of frostbite is high for skiers on a course, Cadets Canada will not race in conditions colder than -20 °C with the wind chill.
Instead of racing on Saturday the cadets did rifle exercises, other training, and watched movies at the Armouries in Sault Ste. Marie.
The other local cadets that competed on Sunday were Seth Mason and Maxwell Robinson.
The pair ranked 4th in their race and will not be proceeding on to the Cadet National Championship.
The event was held at the Algoma Rod and Gun Club Biathlon range and skiers did 1-2 km loops and used .22-caliber rifles to shoot sets of five falling plate targets in the range stadium.
Breckenridge said that the amount of female-athletes available meant, for logistical reasons, she had to race in the Junior Male category.
Shea, who is from Sudbury but now lives in Sault Ste. Marie, will be coaching the Ontario team in Collingwood before they go to the National Championship in ValCartier, Quebec on March 2-7.