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Pete’s Point: Area youth making big strides in Biathlon

Cam Christiansen enjoys cross country skiing and also shooting at the rifle range. The 17-year-old Pequot Lakes resident is able to combine both those activities in the sport of Biathlon, which features cross country skiing mixed in with rifle sh...

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Pequot Lakes' Cam Christiansen was the top qualifier at Mt Itasca in Coleraine. He will advance to compete in Belarus in February. Submitted phot

Cam Christiansen enjoys cross country skiing and also shooting at the rifle range.

The 17-year-old Pequot Lakes resident is able to combine both those activities in the sport of Biathlon, which features cross country skiing mixed in with rifle shooting at targets.

In less than three years, Christiansen has worked hard at developing his skills in the sport and is currently one of the top biathletes in his Youth division (ages 17-18) in the United States.

Last month, Christiansen became the top qualifier of the four-man United States Biathlon Association Youth team competing in the World Youth and Junior Biathlon Championships in the Republic of Belarus (located just east of Poland) on Feb. 17-25.

“I’m pretty excited since this is my first trip to Europe,” said Christiansen, who qualified for the trip after being the series point leader at the recent trials at Mt. Itasca in Coleraine. “My goal is to be the top U.S. finisher and finish in the top 20 overall. I would like to be one of the top finishers, and advance to the Swedish Nationals (starting March 23).”

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Christiansen, whose parents are Julie and Pelle Christiansen, probably never thought about traveling around the world when he first became interested in the Biathlon.

“I saw my neighbor (Zean Baker) training for the Biathlon,” he recalled. “I was interested, and talked with my dad, who has done a lot of cross country skiing. We went to the Northland Arboretum in Brainerd and found a coach (Bill Meyer). I was 15 years old, and quickly became hooked on the sport.”

Meyer, who also lives in Nisswa, began working with Christiansen on the technical aspects of the Biathlon.

“Cam is very coordinated and has a lot of natural ability,” Meyer said. “He had played some hockey, and some of those skills transferred to the skiing side of Biathlon.

“There are a lot of good skiers, but to rise up in the sport you have to shoot well. And Cam is good with a rifle. He’s a natural shooter and works hard several times a week to improve. He only missed five of 40 shots at the trials.”

Shooting is Christiansen’s favorite part of the Biathlon. The rifles used are 0.22 match grade target rifles. The range is 50 meters and the targets are 45mm diameter in prone and 115mm in standing, which is similar to a silver dollar and a CD disk.

“I started off being a better shooter than a skier, but now its balancing out,” explained the 5-foot-7, 140-pound Christiansen. “The key is controlling your heart rate while you’re shooting. You don’t want to be trying to catch your breath when you’re shooting. You want to come to the range with a fairly high and consistent heart rate. But if you ski too hard into the range, then your vision gets blurry and it’s hard to focus on the target. I like to take one breath between shots and finish the five shots in about 40 to 45 seconds.”

Christiansen, a Pequot Lakes High School junior who is taking classes at Central Lakes College, began traveling to competitions.

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Last year, in his second year of competition he finished sixth in the U.S. Senior boy (age 16) division in Presque Isle, ME. Christiansen continued to improve this winter, and recently won a MNCup event in Duluth. Baker, who inspired the younger Christiansen to join the sport, finished third at that same Biathlon.

“Usually I go to two or three races per month, but this winter has been slow without much snow,” Christensen said. “Even the qualifying races were moved to Coleraine since Anchorage (Alaska) didn’t have enough snow. The Coleraine course makes snow and had three feet.”

Christiansen said he logged more than 600 hours of practice time in 2014. He practices skiing at the Arboretum and French Rapids in Brainerd while shooting at a private range in Nisswa. Summer training includes biking, running and roller skiing, along with shooting. Strength workouts both in the weightroom and on roller skis is also crucial, according to Meyer.

“I put in a lot of hours training,” Christiansen said. “Being on the (United States) World Cup or Olympic team has been a goal of mine since I started. I’ve fell in love with the sport and I will see where it takes me.”

Christiansen has one more year to compete in the Youth division before moving to the Junior (ages 19-20) level.

Biathlon, which originally had roots in Scandinavia and Finland, has been part of the Winter Olympics since 1924. The USBA hosts events in the United States, with similar rules to international competition.There are also a variety of shooting sequences and race distances and formats in Biathlon competition, including individual, sprint, pursuit, mass starts and relays.

In Belarus, Christiansen will compete in a 12.5 km Individual, a 7.5km sprint, a 10km pursuit based on the results of the sprint, and finish with a 7.5x3 relay. About 30 nations are expected to have teams at the event.

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