Volume 103, Number 21 - January 25, 2007
brought to you online by Pinedale Online
Pinedale biathlete makes U.S. Development Team and heads to Europe to compete
by Nikki Mann
Jason Ray came back from a cross-country race in Idaho on Saturday and is headed to international-level biathlon competitions in Europe on Monday as a member of the U.S. Development Team. He still has a few chores left to do, like packing his equipment and his clothes and, oh, trimming his horses’ feet and giving them a de-wormer.
Ray is not just an ordinary Olympic hopeful. Growing up on a ranch, and with a father who is a very avid outdoorsman and hunter, has given him excellent marksmanship, a fierce work ethic, and an extreme love of the outdoors.
Ray competed in cross-county skiing very successfully at both the high school and NCAA collegiate level. Yet for Ray “hunting ruled my life,” so it seemed a somewhat natural step to combine his two passions, skiing and shooting, into one sport – the biathlon.
An average biathlon race consists of two events held over two days. On the first day, athletes compete in what is called the ‘Sprint’ race, which favors stronger skiers rather than shooters. The athletes skate-ski a total distance of 10K, with two stages for shooting set up within the course. At the first shooting stage, the athletes shoot at five targets from a prone, or laying, position. They shoot from a distance of 50 meters (approximately 55 yards) at little circles a mere 4.5 cm (approximately 1.77 inches) in diameter.
At the second shooting station, athletes again shoot at five targets from a distance of 50 meters but this time the targets are 11.5 cm in diameter (approximately 4.5 inches). On most courses, for every target an athlete misses they have to ski a penalty loop, which takes around 30 seconds.
On the second day of a biathlon competition, athletes race in a pursuit or individual race. The total skiing distance is 15K but there are four shooting stations. Athletes shoot at the first two stations from the prone position, and at the last two stations from the standing position. Again, every time an athlete misses a target they ski a penalty loop, although in some races there is no extra skiing, but a set amount of penalty time that is automatically added to the athletes score every time he or she misses a target.
Biathletes have much the same equipment as cross-county racers with the addition of a very modified .22 caliber rifle that they wear slung vertically on their back. Ray’s new .22 has a massive but beautifully hand-made wood stock. There are only a couple of guys in the U.S. who make stocks for biathlon rifles. Ray had his made this fall by a guy in West Yellowstone. The barrel is a German-made Anschutz with a push-pull action that allows Ray to never change position or move when he is bolting. Because biathlons used to be a military competition, the rifles were traditionally very heavy. To meet specifications in today’s biathlon competitions the .22 must be at least 7.7 pounds, but most rifles are between 8.5 and 10 pounds. A lightweight rifle is much easier to ski with, but is less accurate and forgiving. Ray’s .22 weighs 8.5 pounds, and seems to be a good balance for him between weight and accuracy.
“You feel the weight and going up the hills it’s pulling on you,” Ray smiled. The athletes are only allowed to shoot with peep sites on their rifles, although they look a little strange because of the bulky snow covers that are critical for keeping snowflakes from blocking the small sites and freezing in place.
When Ray shoots prone, he lies down on his stomach and turns his skis sideways. He then hooks the sling on his rifle to an armband he wears on his left arm. This gives Ray added stability, although he found that while most people were more accurate shooting from the prone position, he was the opposite.
“I shoot off-hand so much in my life hunting, that I was good shooting standing,” Ray said. When athletes shoot from the standing position, their tired and shaking legs generally make them much less stable. When biathletes shoot from either position, they have to work really hard at drastically slowing their heart rate.
Biathletes ski as fast as they can between stations, but have to slow down their skiing and mentally focus enough to lower their heart rates to shoot accurately. Still, they have to learn to shoot steadily with heart rates of 170 or 180. It is not uncommon for biathletes that race in the top 30th percentile in the world to never “clean”, or shoot all targets on both days of a race, in their entire career. Ray’s own career as a professional athlete may not have come about if he hadn’t been raised in Pinedale.
Ray was born on the west coast of Oregon, and feel that if he “had stayed there I never would have been anything more than a recreational skier. Growing up in Pinedale is why I’m doing this. It’s the outdoor lifestyle.”
Ray’s love of the outdoors, hunting, hard work and dedication have paid off. This past spring, Ray made a call to the Development coach of the U.S. ski team and made the Development Team. He left on Monday to head to Europe for a month of competition. “If I do really well, I’ll make it to the U.S. ski team,” Ray said. He will be skiing on the Europa Cup circuit, essentially the equivalent of the minor leagues in baseball. If Ray does as well as he hopes, he will start skiing on the World Cup circuit and make a bid for the 2010 Olympic games.
“I’m going for the 2010 Olympics and I’m gonna make it. I’m representing,” Ray smiled. Ray couldn’t stress enough how important his sponsors were for helping his dream.
“I would like to thank KS industries, Shell, Dave Smith, Rollin and Bettina Sparrowe, John Sulenta, Tom’s Saddle Shop, D and M Wire Rope, and Bill Fiant.” Jason Ray will be sending updates on his adventures in Europe to the Pinedale Roundup via email.
Photo credits: Nikki Mann, Nikki Mann
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