Sarah Beaudry’s incredible Olympic debut in 2018 would not have happened if not for the Megan Tandy’s misfortune.
Named as an alternate to Canada’s Olympic biathlon team, Beaudry told her parents in Prince George, Liesbet and Pierre, to save their money and not bother making the trip to South Korea because there was only a slim chance she would get to race.
But when Tandy came down with a fever and flu-like symptoms after her sprint race in PyeongChang, Beaudry took her place in the individual race and knocked it out of the park. With the eyes of the world watching, Beaudry nailed 19 of 20 targets and finished an impressive 29th in a field of 87.
A few days later, Beaudry also skied the lead leg of the women’s relay and went penalty free in two shooting rounds to help Canada (Julia Ransom, Emma Lunder and Rosanna Crawford) lock up a 10th-place finish that was just high enough to guarantee bonus funding for the entre team the following season.
Without a doubt, Beaudry’s Olympic performances stand out as a high-water mark in a career that now spans 95 World Cup races since her debut on the top circuit in 2014.
“Going in as an alternate you never know what can happen and you always have to be ready, and this time it’s exciting because I’ll be on the start list, I was going to say no matter what, but obviously in COVID times, as in normal life, there’s things that can happen,” said Beaudry. “But I can go in and prepare as perfectly as I can for the races because I know when they’re happening.”
The Olympics start Friday in Beijing and the 27-year-old Beaudry knows as long as she stays healthy she’s guaranteed at least three race starts – the individual event on Monday, the sprint on Feb. 1 and the women’s relay on Feb. 15. Beaudry could be in for more racing if she’s picked as one of the two Canadian women to team up with two men in the mixed relay that starts the Olympic biathlon competition on Saturday. A top-60 result in the sprint also guarantees a place in the pursuit, scheduled for Feb. 13. There’s also a mass start race, the final biathlon event of the Olympics, on Feb. 19, but it’s only open to the top-30 ranked racers and Beaudry would need a podium finish or two in China to qualify.
From the ski trails of Caledonia Nordic Ski Club in her hometown to the Olympic stage, Beaudry has flown the Prince George flag wherever she competes. She was only eight when she started following the tracks of her brother Sylvain to the biathlon range, then tucked away deep in the forest at Otway Nordic Centre. All those dark, cold afternoons and evenings on the practice range and the day-long drives to provincial and national races became a lifelong obsession that culminated in that individual race four years ago in PyeongChang.
“I remember leading up to the last Games really struggling with my shooting and then right before leaving Europe some stuff was clicking, but then getting to Korea and it being really windy and struggling with that,” said Beaudry. “Sometimes, struggling can make you focus on the right things and I think that really helped me going into the range. I knew I’d had some really big focuses to hit the targets and it worked out and it was really awesome to be able to shoot well in an individual at the Olympics.”
High on Beaudry’s list of all-time favourite races is her bronze medal win in the pursuit at the world junior championships, March2, 2014 in Presque Isle, Maine, with her family there watching, and the day she finished 12th in a World Cup sprint in Nove Mesto, Czech Republic, Dec. 21, 2018. She cleaned her 10 targets and finished just 42.7 seconds behind the gold medal pace, posting her highest-ever placing in a World Cup solo event.
The promise she showed in those races has stalled somewhat in recent years. Although she did earn World Cup points with her 39th-place in the sprint on the first tour stop this season in Oestersund, Sweden, Beaudry has not been able to replicate that feat. While her shooting remains world class, her ski speeds have not been quick enough to boost her into the upper echelon of the World Cup elite.
Beaudry broke away from the national team over the summer and hired Canmore Nordic Ski Club coach Rachel Koroscil, who has overseen her training program ever since. Even though her results have been slow to come she does not regret the decision.
“I’m definitely struggling with my skiing, which is unfortunate,” said Beaudry. “Apart from one or two races my shooting has been really solid, so that’s been really good. I didn’t do what I needed prep-wise going into the season, but it feels it’s going in the right direction. I’ve had a lot of stress this year and I think that was showing up in my skiing a lot more than I might have realized.
“After last Olympics I definitely had some big goals to achieve in the last four years that I haven’t ended up achieving but I’m happy I’m on the team and I’m happy that these last couple weeks have been going in the right direction, so I’m excited to see if I can continue that upward trend and hopefully get some good races.”
The Canadian team’s performance two weekends ago in Antholz-Anterselva, Italy raised hopes there’s more highlights on the horizon for the eight Olympians. Beaudry placed 47th in the individual race as the top Canadian and the following day she teamed up with Lunder of Vernon, Emily Dickson of Burns Lake and Megan Bankes of Calgary to finish 12th in the relay. Beaudry was second in the order and needed just the 10 rounds in her rifle clips to clean her targets. She finished her standing shooting bout with Canada in second place and they went penalty-free the entire race, ending up just 2:09 off the winning pace.
Then on the final day of competition, the men (Scott and Christian Gow of Canmore, Jules Brunotte of Sherbrooke, Que., and Adam Runnalls of Calgary) blasted their way to a fifth-place finish in their relay, Canada’s highest finish in six years. Both results bode well for Beijing.
“Emma has had a top-six this year and the men’s team had a few good races and there’s always potential in biathlon, so I wouldn’t say we’re complete dark horses as a team,” said Beaudry.
“This Olympics, with everything with COVID, it will be such a different experience than my first Olympics. I don’t think we’re going to be able to watch any other events at all, and that being said, I didn’t watch many other events at the last Olympics either, because there’s racing and training to be done. I think the whole experience without fans and a closed bubble will be a different experience. Given the situation, I that’s what needs to happen, but it will just be a different experience from the last one.”
Most of the biathlon races will start at 1 a.m. PT.
The biathlon venue is at Secret Garden at the Hualindong Ski Resort in Yanqing District, 220 kilometres from Beijing, and unlike the 2018 Olympics, Beaudry won’t likely take part in the opening ceremony. She also doubts they will be there for the closing, as she was in 2018, because athletes are to be moved within 48 hours of their final event to reduce the risk of catching COVID.