Lithuanians Alone on a Quiet Day in Obertilliach
Of course, the Germans, French, Norwegians and Russians are all training hard for the new season on the #roadtopyeongchang. Yet, there are many other teams like the Lithuanians doing the same thing every day in relative obscurity, training hard and hoping for something special in the new season.
Five World Cup Athletes and a Few Youth
Obertilliach is one of the busiest training centers during the summer; the shooting range is almost always filled. The Norwegians and Italians among others were here recently and the Polish women arrive in a week. Yet, as September starts, just five World Cup athletes from Lithuania were toiling away on a cloudy, cool morning. The only others on site were a four young Austrian biathletes, and a few primary school students out on the roller tracks learning the basics of rollerskiing from their coach. It was quite a contrast: the Lithuanians were literally flying around the tracks and dropping the targets with skill. The young Austrians shot slower, missed more, but at the same time listened intently to the coach every time she spoke.
Wandering Lithuanian Team, Far from Home
The Lithuanian team is one of the many wandering teams that spend the summer training months in two-week camps far from home; Vilnius Lithuania is 1627 km from the Austrian village of Obertilliach. Coach Meelis Aasmäe explained, “We do not train too much at home. This year our camps included Otepää and Pokljuka and now here in Obertilliach. After this, we will go to Raubichi for a camp and the Belarusian Championships, then to Ramsau in mid-October to ski on the glacier. Just before the season starts, our on-snow camp will be in Sjusjøen.”
Normal Training Day
With the shooting range virtually to themselves, the two women and three men plowed through a 2.5 hour training session. Biathlon training has become so universal that it could have been any team in the stadium. It was the daily routine of warm-up, zeroing, a few drills and then the real workout. “Today, we are doing long intervals with bursts of intensity, with shooting.” The five athletes got plenty of attention with two coaches on the scope while the physio was doing periodic lactate tests to make sure the intensity was correct and no one was over their limit. It is not hard to go over the limit at the Osttirol Biathlonzentrum, at 1450 meters high; the air is a bit thin, especially for athletes from a country where the highest point is Aukštojas Hill at the dizzying height of 294 meters!
Teams like Lithuania flock to Obertilliach for the pleasant summers, the clean clear air and the various training options. The roller tracks are a big draw, cutting up steep hills through tall pine forest and winding across a small stream in the valley just below the shooting range. Aasmäe added, “This is one of my favorite places to bring the team, but the athletes really like it too. I also like Raubichi with their new roller tracks. In our two weeks here, we will do some hiking up in the mountains, classic roller skiing and a lot of shooting and roller skiing.” Tomas Kaukenas agreed with the coach, “I especially like it here. The tracks are very good and the mountains are nice. I trained here before Sochi and had one of my best results.”
Improve; No Margin for Error
The goal for a team like Lithuania is to improve. Their men and women finished 22nd in the Nations Cup last season. “I think we are improving. This is an important camp for us, doing some speed before we go to Raubichi. I watch all of the athletes very closely. We have three World Cup starts and two starts at the Olympic Winter Games. We have just enough athletes in the A and B team to fill those World Cup spots and the WC relay. If an athlete gets sick or injured, we cannot start the relay; there is no margin for error. So I have to be very careful.”
Training done; dry shirts and jackets on; the team headed back to town for lunch. Chalk up another solid training day for one more team on the #roadtopyeongchang.