Megan Imrie knows what it’s like to toil in athletic obscurity.
The Canadian biathlete is heading her second Olympic games in Sochi — where the spotlight will shine on her as it hasn’t since the Vancouver Olympics four years ago.
Elite biathletes in Canada are used to a lack of prominence and enjoy the sense of family and camaraderie their small numbers and lack of media attention brings, said Ms. Imrie, adding that not all biathlete have the same experience.
“Biathlon is a different world in Europe. It’s the number one televised winter sport,” said Ms. Imrie. “The German biathletes are bona fide rock stars there; they can’t walk through a crowd of fans, they’ll be absolutely mobbed.”
A typical biathlon race in Europe will draw thousands of spectators along with with a festive atmosphere of beer tents, food and live music. In Canada, there may be nothing more than the soft sound of skis gliding on snow and the sharp crack of rifles at a race.
“I guess it’s just a lifestyle we (Canadian biathletes) have all chosen. We embrace the quiet when we’re at home and then embrace the noise and the crowds over there,” said Ms. Imrie.
And although it may be nice not be under glaring scrutiny, there are some definite perks beyond fame for European biathletes — notably their strongly-developed national biathlon programs with solid financial backing. Biathletes in Canada, on the other hand, are usually stuck footing their own bills.
The cost of sweating to Olympic glory in a pursuit far outside the limelight can be considerable.
A year of being an elite biathlete comes with a price tag of $40,000 to $50,000, with up to $20,000 just on training fees and equipment. Being an athlete of that calibre leaves precious little free time, let alone enough time to work to offset some of those costs.
“It’s next to impossible for national athletes to hold jobs. The training is such high volume and such high intensity that it takes up almost your full day. And when you come home from training days, you barely have enough energy left to eat before you sleep. A typical nine-to-five (job) is defintely out. We need to look at alternate funding sources,” said Ms. Imrie.
A typical training regimen for Ms. Imrie involves an intense three-hour group workout session starting in the morning, another individual workout session — often just as intense and just as long — in the afternoon (roller skating, hitting the gym, biking) and squeezing in physiotherapy, massage treatments and chiropractor visits wherever possible. This she does without fail six days a week.
The costs can escalate in the build-up to the games as athletes tinker with special equipment adjustments or new physiotherapy treatments as they seek any extra advantage.
“In an Olympic year especially, you don’t want to leave any stone unturned and say ‘Oh, I missed the Olympics because I couldn’t afford this training course or that equipment,’” said Ms. Imrie, whose valley connections have come in quite useful in funding her drive to Sochi.
She is good friends with Luxor Corrals owners Cheryl Condy and Doug Goodwin. The couple have known Ms. Imrie since she was a little kid. Ms. Condy and Ms. Imrie are both originally from Falcon Lake, Manitoba, and Ms. Condy apprenticed with Ms. Imrie’s father, who ran a trail riding ranch, and lived with Ms. Imrie’s parents for about a decade.
The Luxor Corrals couple held a “Ride with an Olympian” fundraiser on their ranch near Spur Valley earlier this year.
“The fundraiser has been really critical to my success,” said Ms. Imrie. “It was wonderful, we raised close to $1,000 in a few hours, met some great people and had a blast.”
Another fundraising boon was the two-month campaign on the crowdfunding website Pursu.it, which brought in more than $10,000 for Ms. Imrie.
Even with funding secured, Sochi was not sure bet. She needed a top-30 finish in a World Cup race to qualify.
Two years ago Ms. Imrie had a stand-out season with several top-20 finishes, but she struggled last year and was sick, overtrained and consequently extremely tired most of the time.
“I was totally out of it (last year),” she said. “Going into the fall, I had no idea how I would do this year.”
She’s been careful to make sure she rested more this year, and clearly the strategy paid off as she came 22nd in her first World Cup race of the season.
“I was ecstatic,” she said. “It feels fantastic to finally realize the dream of competing in another Olympic Games and to make good on all the promises I made to people who helped support me.”
Ms. Imrie calls the Vancouver games the most exciting event of her life, but said she was overtired and didn’t finish well there.
“In four years, I’ve matured a lot as an athlete. I’m far better able to manage the training and the mental aspects of the game. I feel way more relaxed, but way more confident going into Sochi,” she said. “I think that’ll bring better results in the end.”
Ms. Imrie said the Sochi games will likely be her last Olympics and she’ll be content with a top-30 finish, although she knows she’s capable of a top-20 or even top-15 result.
Her finest result may be as a member of the women’s relay team, which managed a best-ever fourth place in December.
“We were a handful of nobodies a few year ago and we’ve come up and can challenge some of the top nations,” she said.
Ms. Imrie will also probably be part of the mixed relay team. In the individual events, she’ll be in the sprint, likely the pursuit (top 60 sprint racers qualify) and possible the mass-start (top 30 racers are chosen).
As Ms. Imrie guns for glory, you can be sure her progress will be intently tracked at Luxor Corrals.