BY BILL PHILLIPS
Megan Tandy’s season is off to a good start.
The three-time Olympic biathlete won the Canadian National Team Trials held in Canmore, Alberta, earning her a spot on the World Cup team.
“In a way, those are the most important and stressful races for me during the year because they really determine the trajectory of the entire season,” she said, during a short trip to Prince George after the races to visit family.
Tandy, who has lived in Germany for the last eight years, had to travel from Europe for the trials. Not did she have to deal with jet-lag, but with adjusting to the 1,500-metre altitude and some nerves as the season gets underway.
“I couldn’t think of a better way to start the season,” she said. “Trials are important. It means a lot to me to have performed there. It’s a great confidence booster, it establishes my spot on the team in terms relay starts and gives me the opportunity to choose start positions within the 100-woman field on the World Cup. However, it’s really just the first stepping stone to the season.”
The season gets underway December 2 with the opening World Cup races in Slovenia, which will be a mixed relay and then it will be off to races in Austria and the Czech Republic.
Most of the World Cup races are in Europe, however this year there will be a World Cup race in Canmore and one in Soldier’s Hollow in the United States.
“It will be cool to turn the tables on all those European teams and see them deal with jet-lag and deal with them on home turf,” said Tandy, who also stopped by to see one of her major sponsors, John Brink of the Brink Group of Companies while in Prince George.
“Biathlon isn’t a huge mainstream sport in Canada,” she said. “That means athletes like myself, even with a given amount of funding from the government, couldn’t pursue the sport on a world level without sponsors.”
The Brink Group of Companies paid for her international flights to attend the Canmore trials.
“It’s kind of a natural ebb and flow in our sport,” she said. “Post-Olympic years are often a little more difficult for sponsorship, the hype goes a little bit down. Afterwards the interest is less.”
Tandy had a tough year last year. She was sick during the Olympics and had to miss some of the races. Fellow Prince George biathlete Sarah Beaudry filled her spot.
“That combination of a post-Olympic year, rough season, starting from the bottom with health issues, it made it all that much incredible that Brink decided to stay with me this year.”
Tandy said that her sickness last year was due to a virus that infected her heart.
“It was really a serious situation,” she said. “I had 10 weeks of no activity at all. I was seeing cardiologists and experts in Germany. There was a small window of time where I wasn’t thinking about professional sport. I was really scared because I was wondering if I’d done myself long-term health damage, whether I’d be able to enjoy recreational sport.”
Fortunately, she had completely recovered and is obviously back to training and competing at a high level.
“I didn’t want to leave the sport because of a health issue,” she said. “When I choose to retire it’s going to be on my own terms. I’m totally excited about the comeback I’ve been able to make.”
It was around July or August she started to feel that she was getting back in the shape she needed to be to compete at the international level. She describes her training regimen as ‘high risk,’ as she pushed her limits in terms of volume and intensity of the training, combined with short but ‘intense’ rest phases.
“I feel like we managed it really well. By the time we got to September/October, I starting thinking ‘I’m back to the best shape of my life.’”
There will be nine World Cup, plus the World Championships. Each consists of three races, so she could get between 30 or 40 starts this year. The World Cup schedule entails three weekend races in a row, in different locations, and then a two-week break.
“It’s exhausting, but it’s also wonderful,” she said.
Living in Germany also helps because she can get home to her family between racing.
“Living in Germany is kind of a mixed bag of benefits and disadvantages,” she said. “The major disadvantage is that I train a lot alone. This year I’ve had no support from Biathlon Canada, so no training plans, no bio-feedback. On the flipside, I also have a family and I’m way more flexible than if I was with the national team.”
She can race and then go home in between and, at times, bring her kids with her to races.
“I can also accommodate the needs of a young family,” she said. “It gives me the ability to be a mother and a full time athlete … It does make for a busy home life.”