Hugh Pritchard, Biathlete

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Hugh Pritchard
Biathlete.co.uk

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2002/03

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Gear

What I use and what I think of it.

Rifle

My rifle is an Anschütz-Fortner.

Barrels: Anschütz make barrels in 2 weights (standard and sprint) and 3 materials (standard, stainless and nitride steel) for biathlon.

I had a standard stainless steel barrel. These were very popular a couple of years ago, but are less so now. I don't know how they compare for accuracy with the standard type, but they are much easier to maintain. I never put oil in my barrel, and therefore never had to clean it out before firing. I now have a Sprint nitride steel barrel: very hard and durable, and seems to be just as accurate; whether it is as easy to handle as a heavier one I am not sure.

The Fortner is the most commonly used biathlon action. It is quick to use and causes minimal disruption to the position, which is the most important factor.

The Baikal action (as used by Frank Luck and many others) is very similar in use, perhaps requiring less finger force, but an extra movement with the thumb. The Baikal barrel is said to perform badly in cold conditions - but you can get a new barrel easily enough, and the rifle will still cost less than half the price of a Fortner. I don't know why they are less popular.

The Suhl action (as used by Sven Fischer and Andrea Henkel) looks very fast, but requires a lot of movement of the right elbow, which I imagine is why it is not popular.

Rifle Stock

The Anschütz stock is expensive and complicated, and is designed so that one stock is adjustable to fit all users. There are many alternatives.

I had a Larsen stock, with the magazine housing at the back. This was poorly thought out and amateurishly executed, with very poor finish quality. I rectified some of the failings, but others are fundamental. However, the basic geometry is good, and the stock is light enough, and a lot cheaper than Anschütz's. Larsen told me when I bought it that it was guaranteed against breakage, but when I tried to take advantage of that it turned out that he was lying.

The new Anschütz stock has lots of adjustment in it, in particular, the angle of the butt-plate is adjustable around two axes, and the cheekpiece can be removed without losing its adjustment. This latter allows you to remove the bolt to clean the barrel or insert a dry-firing adapter without taking the receiver off the stock - very handy. However, the stock is expensive, and has a tendency to break where the harness attaches (noted at the British championships, where a lot of people fall).

Both Anschütz's and Larsen's current models take full advantage of the 9cm limit on vertical forestock depth, which makes them easier to use standing than the old Anschütz.

I now (2001-2) use a stock made by someone near Ruhpolding; it is very light and of a very soft wood, so I don't expect it to last.

The stockmaker in Zinnwald makes beautiful, strong-looking stocks which are lovely to shoot with, entirely tailor-made.

The stockmaker in Oberhof makes solid-looking stocks, but quite expensive (the wood blank alone costs€250).

There are plenty of stock-makers around, and it seems to be just a matter of asking whenever you see a stock you like.

Rifle Bits

I use a blinder that I bought from a rifle shop, made of latex and in natural latex colour. This has the advantage over my previous versions that I don't have to move it each time I shoot, and is soft enough to be comfortable when the rifle is on my back. Most people prefer black.

Harness: Anschütz, with the rope replaced with elastic. Anschütz now do an elastic version. Larsen's harness is probably just as good, and is leather rather than fabric. I much prefer elastic for getting on and off in a hurry.

Handstop and sling: Anschütz. Larsen's is easier to adjust, but once you have it right, Anschütz is probably marginally more solid.

Cuff from Core Sport of the USA (velcro-fastening: so much easier than the disgraceful version supplied by Anschütz). Larsen also makes an excellent one; so do a couple of others, while many people used home-made cuffs.

Ammunition

Eley Tenex mostly, because the British team has a good source for it. This was the predominant target shooting ammunition but Eley's reputation had a knock a couple of years ago and now it is not so much used. Perhaps that is why we get it. It performs fine for biathlon, but it is worth wiping the wax off the bullets as in cold conditions it gets very hard to push the waxed round into the chamber, and the extra shove required disrupts the position and hence slows shooting.

We tested quite a lot in Kiruna in 1997when it was very cold (-20°C), and it was fine - apparently not affected by the cold.

Skis

I now use Rossignol skis. Because of changing advice from the reps I have some 1.9m and some 1.8m (I weigh about 73kg). The top men all appear to use 1.8m.

Rossignols have great stability (meaning that they tend to run straight when you put them down), and a feeling of liveliness - or even springiness.

Madshus have a similar stability, but without the springiness. I used to use Fischer, but although I had a couple of good pairs, abandoned them because they were not nearly as stable as Rossi - and Fischer were getting too hard to deal with.

 

 Poles

I use Exel Avanti for skating, Swix RC1/Star for classic. No particular reason for this.

There is little to choose between the pole shafts; both are stiff, light, and strong enough that I have never broken one. Perhaps the Swix are slightly lighter.

For biathlon I use plain old-fashioned straps, which are quick and easy to get on and off. A couple of people use wraparound straps, but they take a lot of practice to get up to speed.

For cross-country, whether training or racing, the modern velcro-fastening wraparound straps are far superior to plain ones. Swix and Exel's systems look pretty similar, and it is probably just a matter of personal preference. Strap systems seem to change more or less each year.

 

Boots

I use Alpina, which I find very comfortable. I had a pair of skate boots a size too big, so I put an insole in them: they performed perfectly, and were also extremely warm. Now I am using the correct size and wondering whether it is in fact better to go too big. I find that I need custom insoles to support my high arches (in all footwear).

Rossignol boots are lighter, but much thinner and harder. They probably give more positive control, but I found they were not the right shape for my feet.

 

Bindings

Rottefella, because they and Alpina were kind enough to give me a very good deal when I was buying a lot of skis a couple of years ago.

I find the construction of the old Rottefella binding a bit more convincing than that of the Salomon Profil or Pilot, but in terms of performance there is little to choose between them. As far as the new skate bindings are concerned, I never suffered from the problems that the Salomon Pilot is supposed to avoid, and I cannot discern any advantage in the new Rottefella binding that came out in response. Perhaps I am just unperceptive.

I have now twice lost a ski during a race, with the new Rottefella binding. This is obviously unacceptable, and I have changed the bindings on the offending skis. I think the problem is that it is quite difficult to get the toe bar right into its slot, and tempting to force the closure lever to push the bar down. Because there is already quite a gap between the two clamps holding the toe bar, it takes very little forcing to bend it and enlarge that gap enough to make it insecure. The moral is never to force the binding closed, and to inspect them for widening gaps. The old version does not suffer from this as the clamps interlock very positively.

Heart monitor

I use a Polar Accurex Plus, with interface for downloading to my computer.

This is a very good piece of kit: precise, with very little of the wild fluctuation that my previous HRM had. It also has plenty of memory for recording long or multiple sessions. The software (1998 version) is a little inflexible but does the job. I don't know whether having all the pretty graphs on my computer makes me any faster, but it appeals to my scientific bent.

Fuel - in-race

In marathons it is best to carry a highly concentrated fuel as races generally provide water or other drinks. A gel or bar contains more energy per ounce than a drink, which is important if you are carrying it.

On the other hand, if you carry your fluid then you have the choice of when to drink it - the uphill feed stations at the Tranjurassienne are quite hard on the legs, and in a big race like Engadin it can be tricky to get to the feed stations without tripping over somebody.

The fuel must be very easy to swallow - chewing each mouthful forty times is impractical when you are out of breath. Gels are therefore easier than bars.

The packaging must be such that you can access it very easily. I found gel sachets slightly tricky and in the Arctic Race ended up with a lot of plastic between my teeth; you also need to consider what you are going to do with the empties, as you should not really leave them by the track. Gel bottles (with a top openable with the teeth), especially if carried on a belt designed for the purpose, look ideal.

Whatever you use, it will get harder in the cold; at -22°C even a gel sachet takes some chewing; a Power Bar is like glass, but harder. A heat sachet (like a teabag full of iron filings) in the bottom of the carrying pouch helps enormously.

In biathlon, we usually take fuels during Individual races (20km for men, 15km for women and juniors), which can take over an hour on a bad day. A liquid fuel works best for this, preferably with a little electrolyte as well. Obviously it has to be very palatable as one is working at high intensity. The Brit team is pretty individualistic, everyone using a different drink.

You also have to consider the container when you have a helper handing out drinks. Some of us use tiny bottles; I prefer a normal drinks bottle with a nozzle so that I can squirt it into my mouth rather than throwing my head back.

I also take a little fuel 15-20' before the start: usually a carbohydrate gel sachet (with a little water) as they are easy to use. Liquid fuel as above would do equally well, but is difficult to organise if I have to give the bottle to the drink-holder some time before the start - and I'm not prepared to scrub out two bottles.

Fuel - post-race

My understanding is that it is important to get about 50g of carbohydrate and some water in as soon as possible after racing or training, ideally with about 20g of protein (this initial dose within 20' of the end of the session), and a meal within 2 hours.

I have convinced my team of the importance of the immediate post-race refuel. When we were racing in Serre Chevalier in 2000, we would compete for the prize of most bizarre refuel. At the finish of one race I was presented with a sandwich consisting of an entire baguette filled with jam, Nutella, dried bananas and plain chocolate. I ate it with delight.

Generally, after a race or hard training I take a recovery drink immediately, at the moment a High 5 one (mixed with milk) because we got a free supply, but the requirement is for a very palatable mix of water, 20g protein, 50g carbohydrate. I then eat a jam sandwich (no butter, of course) a little later, when I can cope). When I remember I sometimes add a teaspoon (5g) of creatine, which I understand helps the recovery process (distinct from the power/bulk-building regime of daily doses). Bananas and other fruit are probably just as good if you eat enough of them.