In Wanaka with Campbell Wright
Over the course of the last two months, the big names in biathlon have seen the fruits of their spring and summer preparations. During multiple national and international events, Eckhoff, Wierer, Boe and co. competed in Europe, testing their form and seizing up their rivals on roller-skis. While the superstars hurried towards the line at the likes of Blinkfestival, New Zealand’s Campbell Wright was focussed on a different competition: the Club Championships at home in Wanaka.
Wanaka, a town of 10,000 people located in the Southern Alps of New Zealand, is home to the only cross-country ski resort in the country (Snow Farm) and also the only biathlon training facility. For Wright, who surprised himself and many others with a 5th place in the Short Individual at the IBU Cup in Arber in January, his familiar surroundings are a welcome change from competing overseas.
“Racing in New Zealand is one of my favourite types of racing because there is no weight on the results – so good or bad races are always fun. It is super cool to see the little kids racing and getting into biathlon as well.”
Biathlon on the other side of the world
While Wright is able to spend several weeks of the year on skis, winters in New Zealand are comparatively short (July - Mid September) and as such, he often finds himself going back and forth between skis and roller-skis during his off-season.
“I have had my fair share of roller-skiing – and I am on roller-skis whenever I am not on snow. It’s especially important to get the ski strength before going to competitions in Europe.”
Tim David, Wanaka Club Secretary and Biathlon New Zealand President, and the other club members have been following Wright’s competitions closely over the course of the past years.
“As a community, we're amazingly proud of Campbell and love to watch his racing in Europe online. It's also fantastic to have him training daily up at Snow Farm where he inspires our current crop of youth skiers and coaches.”
Grass Roots and Dedication
Wright started his skiing and biathlon journey in Wanaka at Snow Farm at the age of 10 and is a direct result of the grassroots work within the club - which began with a few dedicated families and club members practicing and growing the sport.
“About twenty years ago, keen locals decided to build a biathlon range at Snow Farm with expert help from the IBU. While the 10 lane range with mechanical targets isn't very sophisticated, it is situated in a prime position, out of the weather and next to ski trails of all standards of difficulty”, David explains.
Wright himself credits the club and the atmosphere in Wanaka and at Snowfarm massively when it comes to his love for the sport and staying with it as he grew up.
“What makes Wanaka special is the people that come with it. Every single person at Snowfarm is always keen to have a chat everyone is super nice,” the 19-year-old says. “This is why I liked biathlon so much as a kid because I always enjoyed my time at Snowfarm”.
Biathlon is still a largely under-the-radar sport in New Zealand, where rugby and other sports take up the majority of national attention. But David and the club continue their efforts to provide more opportunities for training and getting people of all ages into the sport.
“For the future, Biathlon New Zealand and Wanaka Biathlon Club are working hard to make the sport grow at both the youth and adult level. We're investing time and effort into running training classes, youth ski programs and also considering how to practice the sport off the mountain and year-round. We're a small group of friendly enthusiasts, but we've got more expertise on hand now.”
Eyes on Beijing
For Campbell Wright, preparations for the biathlon season continue: now that winter in the Southern Hemisphere is over, he aims to be the first biathlete in a long time to represent New Zealand at the Olympic Winter Games in Beijing 2022 – two years after being flag bearer for his country at the Youth Olympic Winter Games in Lausanne.
“My targets for the coming season depend on my form and where I will do most of my competitions. But my main goal will be the Youth Junior World Championships in Soldier Hollow (USA) and trying to gain enough points to be sent to the Olympic Winter Games in Beijing.”
No matter where Wright will compete in the upcoming winter, he can be sure his home club in Wanaka will be cheering for him – with the hope that at some point in the future more young athletes from New Zealand might join him on the road.
Photos: Harald Deubert/IBU, Campbell Wright