Every time Natalie Benoit hits the biathlon course at Telemark Nordic Club in West Kelowna, she does so to have fun.
“When you go into a race or competition with a mindset that it’s all about winning or all about making a personal best, even though that’s great, it just ruins the competition and it ruins the fun,” said Benoit, of the sport that combines skiing and shooting and was first included in the Olympic Games in 1960.
The Summerland Secondary student will use that same approach when she competes in the Penticton 2016 BC Winter Games, Feb. 25-28. The 14-year-old believes that mindset will help in her Games debut. While she admitted she doesn’t put much thought into the competition, she joked that her mom Shendah’s competitive side puts thought into the competition for her.
“Personally, I just go out there and I just think I’m going to have fun and these people are awesome,” said Benoit. “I don’t focus too much about the actual race or before the race.”
Rather than focus on her chances of winning, the teen is striving for her best performance.
Competing in the Games is exciting for Benoit as it’s her first big event. She qualified at a regional zone race at Telemark and her coach Chris Halldorson said she performed very well, shooting 90 per cent. She had the fastest overall time of all the competitors, regardless of gender, on the 4.5-kilometre course finishing in 23 minutes, 49 seconds.
Qualifying for the Games has been on her mind since summer, when she learned she was eligible.
“Going into that race, my mindset was just to try your hardest,” she said. “If you don’t make it, well, at least you know that was all you can do. It was just always seen as a challenge, something fun I could do — some cool way to get to meet the other racers.”
With the biathlon event being held at Telemark for the BC Winter Games, Benoit said it creates more excitement as she will have friends and family watching. She doesn’t believe, however, competing on her home course gives her an advantage. She pointed out that missing one target can change the entire race. For each missed target, athletes are assessed a time penalty, adding a minute per missed target or a 150-metre penalty loop.
Halldorson said Benoit has put in a lot of effort developing her ski and shooting technique with him, other coaches and athletes. She practices three times a week for nearly six hours. She also cross trains with the Orca Swim Club three times a week for an hour and a half each time.
“I’ve been very impressed with her shooting as well as her skiing,” said Halldorson. “She has also been working hard during the summer months doing triathlons, which has really helped her physical conditioning.
“Natalie is great to coach because she always wants to know what the next drill is, or which trail we are going to ski on,” he continued. “She is very focused during practice, which helps a lot in a sport like biathlon.”
Benoit got into the sport four years ago as her friends were doing it. As a youngster, she cross-country skied with her family at the Nickel Plate Nordic Club in Penticton above Apex Mountain resort, which will host that sport during the Games. The family then decided to go to Telemark since it was closer to home. Natalie started to learn how to skate ski, which is the form of skiing used in biathlon.
“I thought it could be a neat challenge, something exciting to try,” she said.
Natalie loves biathlon because it is a demanding sport.
“It’s really unique. I guess it’s really cool because you get to meet so many people in different races, different events,” she said. “They all have that one thing in common with you. They love to do the sport. They love racing. I really like that. I love racing, it’s exciting.”