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Local biathletes excited for Soldier Hollow world championships

Credit Vincent Bonacci
Vincent Bonacci (29) competes in the 2021 IBU Junior World Championships pursuit race in Obertilliach, Austria.

More than 400 athletes from 32 countries are arriving in the Heber Valley this week for the 2022 youth and junior biathlon world championships. For a handful of the competitors, it’ll be a competition at their home course.

Wes Campbell and Vincent Bonacci first got involved in winter sports as kids. As teenagers, they found their passion when the Soldier Hollow Nordic Center first offered a biathlon team in 2017.

Next week, in the 2022 International Biathlon Union (IBU) World Championships, they’ll return to their home course to compete against the top youth and junior athletes in the world.

Campbell’s a senior at Park City High School who will represent the Soldier Hollow youth team. He says watching international competition at the highest level first attracted him to the sport.

Wes Austria - 12.5k Individual.jpeg
Credit Wes Campbell
Soldier Hollow biathlete Wes Campbell rounds a turn at last year's youth world championships in Obertilliach, Austria.

“What drew me into skiing, I saw a biathlon on the winter Olympics eight years ago,” Campbell says. “I wanted to do that, but I was too young to shoot a gun, so I started skiing, and then four or five years ago finally got into actually biathlon.”

Early in high school, Campbell took extra classes so he has more time now to devote to his sport.

He’s traveled to other international competitions, such as one in Slovenia last month. There, in the IBU Junior World Cup, he finished in the top 20, competing in the 19 to 21 age group as an 18-year-old. Last year, he competed in the 2021 IBU Youth and Junior World Championships in Obertilliach, Austria.

Since graduating from Soldier Hollow’s youth program, Bonacci has moved to Bozeman, Montana, where he now trains full-time for the Crosscut Biathlon Club and works at a bike shop.

He’s also had several races at the junior and senior levels in Europe already this year and last year, including in Norway, Slovenia and Poland.

He says it’s a rare privilege to compete so close to his home of Salt Lake City.

“I’m super happy that it’s here in town,” Bonacci says. “It’s awesome that my family gets to come and watch an international biathlon competition that I get to participate in. It’s just awesome to see a bunch of familiar, friendly faces when I’m out there, considering this is one of the only opportunities I will ever get to have that. So, it’s just exciting.”

Many competitors arrive this week to acclimate to the altitude, as well as to get familiar with the course. Bonacci says he has a head start.

“Preparation-wise, I was lucky to get home from my last trip in Europe a few weeks ago, so I was able to put in a really solid block of training between then and now to really get my body all ready to go,” he says.

Both Bonacci and Campbell say their strengths are in the skiing side of the competition. So, they say they’ll focus on shooting well and skiing like they have been in recent competitions and not worry about results until after the race.

Another Soldier Hollow youth biathlete who’ll compete is Sidney Bennion from Midway. Lina Farra of Heber City, who’s been with the National Guard junior club since ending her time with Soldier Hollow, has withdrawn from the IBU World Championships.

Youth competitors ages 16 through 18 will compete first on Wednesday, February 23. The next day begins races for juniors ages 19 through 21.

Races will take place every morning and afternoon, other than a training day February 28. They’re open to the public to watch, and on festival days the first weekend after races begin, Soldier Hollow will host activities like ax-throwing on-site. The European Broadcasting Union will televise the races.

For more information, visit soldierhollowbiathlon.com.

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