Aiming for safety and success

Biathlon instructor teaches marksmanship to youth

March 2, 2015

Students at Chief Paul Niditchie School improved their aim and enhanced their knowledge of rifle safety thanks to the counsel of gold medal biathlete Pat Bobinski last month.

“It’s amazing how much better they got after two hours with proper coaching compared to when they started,” said principal Darcy Douglas. “They’re shooting from about 25 yards at a target one-inch in diameter and they’re putting them in the black.”

Some students were already comfortable with rifles, while for others it was a new experience, he added.

“They became very experienced in a hurry,” he said. “I was really impressed with Pat. He was very efficient, yet really relaxed at the same time. The results were remarkable, actually.”

Bobinski brought five compressed air rifles for the nine Tsiigehtchic students to practise with Feb. 20.

They learned how to safely aim and fire the German-made single-shot and five-shot Feinwerkbau air rifles, which range from $1,800 to $3,000 each. The rifles emulate the firearms fired by Olympic athletes and are used in professional air rifle competitions.

The senior biathlete and former coach of Hay River Olympian Brendan Green also led free workshops for students and members of the public in Tuktoyaktuk and Aklavik last month, in which close to 150 people took part.

The workshop series, presented by the NWT Biathlon Association, was supported through a grant from the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs’ Territorial Sport Association Funding Program.

“We find the workshops very worthwhile because, after all, guns and firearms are part of the culture,” said Bobinski.

He added he aims for the workshop to instil an understanding of safe firearm handling practices and encourage marksmanship skill development and an appreciation of biathlon.

“We absolutely start with safety and anything else is a bonus,” he said.

Bobinski, president of the NWT Biathlon Association intermittently since it was established in 1978, started his competitive career as a target shooter. Shortly after moving to the NWT in the early 1970s, he trained under Olympic coaches at a course in Fort Benning, Ga., where he became an internationally certified instructor.

Bobinski’s career highlights include winning a silver medal in the .22 sporting rifle Canadian National Championships, where he represented his home province of Manitoba and the NWT numerous times throughout the 1970s.

“My claim to fame is winning a gold medal at the Arctic Winter Games in snowshoe biathlon in Yellowknife on my 50th birthday,” he said. “I really liked the comments of the other competitors. They all muttered, ‘Who’s that old bastard?'”

It was one of the last years adult athletes were permitted to compete in the sport at the games, he added.

Proud as he may be about his trophy case, his passion for sport truly shines when he talks about the current generation of NWT biathletes.

Bobinski coached Brendan Green when he was just a nine-year-old novice to the sport.

“It’s so rewarding,” he said of watching young athletes succeed. “It’s so humbling.”

Next week, the instructor plans to coach Fort Smith biathlete Calista Burke, 17, as she competes in the National Biathlon Championships in Hinton, Alta., from March 10 to 15.

In the meantime, he is scheduled to lead another marksmanship workshop in Fort Good Hope that residents of Norman Wells, Deline and Colville Lake have also been invited to attend.

By the end of the season, he said he estimates 300 NWT residents will have participated in his workshops.