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U.S. Biathlon president touts Heber Valley events, potential to grow sport

Vincent Bonacci of Soldier Hollow's biathlon team crosses the finish line at the Shutzenski Festival.
Ben Lasseter
/
KPCW
Vincent Bonacci of Soldier Hollow's biathlon team crosses the finish line at the 2022 Shutzenski Festival.

While there’s no snow at Soldier Hollow yet, biathlon and cross-country roller-skiers are already competing for an upcoming World Cup event there.

The Schutzenski Festival this weekend is just one major competition happening at Soldier Hollow this year. In Spring of 2024, the former Olympic site will headline the season’s events with the International Biathlon Union World Cup.

The IBU has announced it wants to grow the sport’s popularity in the American market, and the United States Biathlon Association recently announced it will move its headquarters to Soldier Hollow in Midway.

U.S. Biathlon Association President Jack Gierhart said on KPCW’s Local News Hour he thinks the Heber Valley is an ideal location to recruit more athletes and offer fun events for local audiences.

“We just really appreciate the Midway and Heber City communities welcoming us here,” he said. “We're moving our headquarters office to Soldier Hollow, and we're really looking forward to helping them build the sport here and support the Utah Olympic Legacy Foundation, our partner, and get to know the community, so we hope to see you all out at the range.”

He said biathlon, where athletes shoot targets in between long-distance ski racing like cross-country, is a fun spectator sport, and locals who haven’t experienced it can check out Schutzenski events this weekend and others coming to Soldier Hollow.

“So, there's this constant sort of excitement of who can take over the standings, and the crowds are incredible getting into it,” he said. “It goes from total silence to cheering to total silence to cheering, and everybody is rooting for pretty much all the different athletes. In some of the countries in Europe, it's the second most popular sport, next to soccer. And this statistic is from the ‘22 Winter Games: The American spectators totaled about 30 million viewer hours, which is, like, number three in the world.”

More information about this weekend’s festival and competitions and other events at Soldier Hollow is available here.

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