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RAPID RACING – Romeo Champagne competes in the U20 Men’s 15 km Classic Technique race at the 2022 XC Nationals at Whistler Olympic Park on March 20, 2022. Champagne finished 19th in the race. Photo courtesy of DOUG STEPHEN

Romeo Champagne competing at World University Games

Whitehorse biathlete Romeo Champagne is competing at the World University Games in Lake Placid. The Games run from Jan. 13 to 22.

By Morris Prokop on January 16, 2023

Whitehorse biathlete Romeo Champagne is competing at the World University Games in Lake Placid. The Games run from Jan. 13 to 22.

The opening ceremonies took place Thursday.

The Star spoke to Champagne in Lake Placid Thursday.

“Things have been pretty hectic so far, trying to get everything organized and figuring out all the little details,” he related.

This is Champagne’s first University Games.

“I’m really excited to compete against so many different countries. It’s pretty cool to see all the different team jackets walking around the range and on the ski trails and hearing all the different languages is also pretty interesting.”

Champagne is going to the University of Calgary, where he is in his third year of Bio-Mechanics.

“It’s a mix of kinesiology and engineering. I quite like it,” said Champagne. “I want to get into designing prosthetics and orthotics. That’s the career I want to get into but a lot of people get hired out by Nike for designing running shoes and ski boots. There’s all sorts of purposes. It’s the physics behind the body, basically.”

Champagne said he may be competing in a number of events at the Games.

“There’s a maximum of five events that are offered for biathlon and three of those you have to qualify for. So the first one being the single mixed relay that we’re doing. There’s only one team per country that’s allowed to be put in. So that’ll be one male and one female athlete racing together. We’re a team of six guys and six girls so we still haven’t quite decided how we’re going to choose the athletes for that.

“And then after that, the pursuit race that is run after the sprint race, you have to be in the top 60 to qualify for that one, and then the final race on the last day is the mass start and you have to be in the top 30 to compete in that race. So our first races on Saturday will be the individual race. And then I think we have a day off.”

There is a sprint on Wednesday, and a pursuit on Thursday before the mass start race (next) Saturday.

Champagne explained how he qualified for the Games.

“In November we had selection races for all sorts of biathlon events. There was a World Cup and IBU (International Biathlon Union) and junior tours and this was one of the races that was up for grabs on there as well. So we’ve known for a couple months now that we’re coming to this. That was the first week of November.”

That event took place in Canmore, Alberta.

“It’s called Frozen Thunder,” said Champagne. “It’s like, the manmade snow that they store over the summer, so it’s the first race of the year pretty much, which is pretty cool.

“They have a huge pit and they fill it with snow over the winter. They make a bunch of snow and pile it all up in there. And then they cover it with sawdust. As soon as it gets pretty cold in October they start dragging it all out and then you can ski.

“It’s an expensive project, but it’s pretty cool to see in action.”

Champagne had mixed results, but has bounced back this season.

“There were definitely not my best races, the first races of the year and I had been sick for awhile. But another part of the criteria for University Games is that you have to be a student enrolled at the university, so amongst that category I did qualify quite well I guess.

“And then did some more races after that. Just little local races and then I just got off a weekend of really, really good racing in Sovereign Lake (near Vernon, B.C.) Those were also some selection races. Pretty cool.”

Champagne identified a key to his success this year.

“I think time management between school and training for sport is obviously a big skill to have. I am in four courses. You’re normally only allowed to take five. So it’s a lot of school to manage. But I think I got the right balance this year, which is exciting.”

Champagne feels like he’s representing the north at the Games.

“It’s really cool to know that you’re from way up north. There’s a lot of athletes from way up north in Norway and Finland and Sweden here so it’s pretty cool to kind of have something in common with them. It’s pretty cool to be one of the few from up north like that and yeah, to bring those experiences to the Games is definitely something special.”

When asked how well he thinks he’ll compete at the Games, Champagne replied “I still haven’t seen a start list. I don’t even know what the level of racing is here. So definitely pretty anxious times and waiting to see until the first race gets underway, where everybody stacks up. But I think everybody’s kind of trying to – today at training you could see a couple of the teams were there and you’re just trying see who looks fast and who’s shooting well. I’ve never raced against probably everybody here so I think it’s gonna be definitely a wide range of experience.

“I saw a couple of Beijing Olympics stickers on people’s gear today. So there’s definitely a lot of levels of racing that are here.”

Champagne hasn’t really set any goals for himself, other than performing well and qualifying for as many races as he can.

“I just came off some really good races at Sovereign and so I’m really hoping to keep it up – I shot really well in those races and I was skiing quite well as well, finally got into shape. So definitely hoping to keep that level of racing up. I want to really look at these events as all learning events. It’s not often you get to race against such a big group of international athletes.

“The age cap I think is 25. So there’s definitely some older, more experienced folks here but the bottom age of the bracket is first year university. So there’s a wide margin for that as well. And so no, I’m not too sure. One of my goals is to qualify for the mass start, top 30, to be able to compete in the last day,” said Champagne.

He added “Thank you to Biathlon Yukon for bringing me up to where I’m at as a biathlete and to the super supportive community in Whitehorse that’s helping skiers and biathletes like me get to where we’re at.”

Champagne came in 31st in the Men’s 15 km Short Individual race on Saturday afternoon at Mt. Van Hoevenberg. He finished in a time of 53:27.9, 10:50.5 behind the leader, Vadim Kurales of Kazakstan. Oerjan Moseng of Norway finished second in a time of 43:20.0 and Axel Garnier of France came in third in 43:53.9.

Of note, Champagne was one of four Canadians who finished in order in the race. The others were Simon Gauthier, 28th in 52:45.9, Lance Sekora in 29th in 52:47.7, and Zachary Demers in 30th in 53:10.9, exactly 17 seconds ahead of Champagne.

The top Canadian in the race was William Moineau, who finished 26th in 52:00.9.

One other Canadian competed in the race, William Wei Lin Ng, who finished 35th in 56:25.1.

Canadian Shilo Rousseau came in first in the Women’s 12.5km Short Individual biathlon Saturday in a time of 42:52.9, a spectacular result for the 22 year old from the University of Ottawa.

Canada’s Anna Perry had a strong showing, placing 11th in 47:14.4, 4:21.5 behind Rousseau.

Danika Burke finished 28th in 49:48.4.

Isabelle Casa came in 38th in 53:39.2, followed by Cara Pekos in 39th in 55:15.3.

The Single Mixed Relay is taking place today in biathlon. Champagne isn’t entered in the race. Canada has only one pair entered in the race, Rousseau and Moineau.

The Star will have more results from the World University Games as the week goes on.

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