Hugh Pritchard, Biathlete

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Hugh Pritchard

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Hugh Pritchard

Born 1 March 1968, in Kent, the Southeast corner of England

Education: King's School, Canterbury; St Catharine's College, Cambridge (Natural Sciences)

Professional Training: Chartered Accountant, trained at Price Waterhouse (London Office)

Interests: white-water kayaking, opera (as consumer), cooking (as consumer and performer), theatre, literature, languages. And spending quality time with my brother, John, and sister, Carol. They are fabulous.

and, of course, biathlon.

My first passion for competitive sport was in canoeing. At prep school, aged 11, I was introduced to white-water via school canoeing trips to France (of the kind that are illegal now), and raced at Kent Schools events. I found that the best way to get on white-water was to persuade my parents to drive me to slalom competitions, and my career progressed slowly through that. Aged 14 I was the best slalomist in East Kent, and at 16 the best in Kent - which is not saying much, but it meant that there was no-one I could learn from, so I was more or less self-taught. I eventually got into the British Junior Team in 1985, and straight after my A-level exams went out to the European Junior Championships in Austria; the Winter training weekends were all far away in the frozen North, and I felt unable to ask my parents to take me so far. I did not make the smaller team the following year, but continued to improve slowly throughout my time at university.

I quit training about Christmas 1988, for reasons I no longer remember. I trained about once a week and raced at Nottingham in April 89, and came 7th - my best ever result: I thought it was a timing error as I did not believe I could go so fast on so little training. Then I raced on the Tryweryn in June, and came 10th and 11th; I realised then that I had twigged how to go fast (I think by concentrating on the mental preparation, as I knew I could not rely on my fitness, and my technique was rusty). But the passion had gone, and I did not race again.

For the next few years I did no serious sport. I first skied cross-country in 1993 (yes, aged 25), through the HAC (Honourable Artillery Company - my Territorial Army regiment). This consisted of arriving on a Saturday afternoon, trying out the kit, doing a 'selection race' on Sunday and a race on Monday, and various cross-country and biathlon races over the next week, while shovelling snow between races to try to provide a track. I did the same trip the next two years.

I first had technique coaching in December 1995, in Pontresina, Switzerland, for two weeks under the guidance of Dave Belam, who is/was the most successful British cross-country skier to date. I qualified for the 1996 National Championships at Les Saisies in France, where I had a great time but did not trouble the record-keepers. I think I was around 60th in the 15km classic, and similarly half-way down the field in all the races. I had to leave the championships early to catch my flight to Chile for a kayaking trip, but that is another story.

1996-7 I intended to be my swansong season. I managed 5 weeks of training, went to the Nationals at St Moritz and got places between 13th and 20th. I was told that if I was 10 years younger I would be in the national biathlon squad.

So I had to do another year. In 1997-8 I again was on snow from the beginning of December in Pontresina, and went to the Nationals at Ruhpolding/Reit im Winkl. Here I managed to astonish everyone, myself especially, by coming second in the 15km classic, and winning the 10km skate pursuit race. I was then invited to join the biathlon squad (there being no national cross-country team), and competed on the European Cup circuit for the rest of the season.

So I had to do another year. In 1998-9 I trained part-time with the squad through the Summer, while working a 40-hour week as a management accountant near London. I went on the Arctic training camp in Kiruna, Sweden, in November, and raced the European Cup with no great distinction.

I got a bit of a shock in April when I was informed that the team no longer required my services, for reasons that depended on whom I asked. I got fed up with asking and decided to have nothing more to do with it, and got a job as an internal audit manager in the NHS.

Well, perhaps one more season, just for fun. I made some flexible arrangements with my employers and spent a lot of odd weeks skiing - holidaying rather than training. I got to the 2000 Nationals and found that despite my lack of training (especially shooting training) I was going easily as fast as my former biathlon squad colleagues - relatively, a little faster than the previous year.

So, I could hardly leave it there. I had never done any genuinely planned training, even when I was with the squad, and I would never get over the wondering if I did not try:
so here I am.