To be successful in biathlon is to be patient, focused and have stamina to keep up with the competition. Combining the endurance of cross-country skiing with the marksmanship of shooting, biathlon is arguably one of the toughest sports at the Winter Olympics.
Yet for Canadian Jean-Philippe Le Guellec, all the elements an athlete needs to win in biathlon may come together for him today in the men's 10-kilometre sprint, being held at the Laura Biathlon & Ski Complex in Krasnaya Polyana.
Originally born in Kingston, Ont., Le Guellec — he's nicknamed Tiji — became the first Canadian male to win a World Cup biathlon event when he won the 10K sprint in Ostersund, Sweden, in December 2012. This will also be Le Guellec's final Olympic competition.
While Le Guellec's facing big challenges in his quest to land on the podium in Sochi, the three-time Olympian is looking like a real contender in an especially strong field.
"I think podium is definitely possible. Everything has to fall into place, for sure. You have to have a good ski, you have to have a good shooting," says Le Guellec. "You don't need to be the fastest skier out there, you don't need to be the fastest shooter. But it's an alchemy of both of them."
Canada's also got two other competitors in the 10K: Nathan Smith of Calgary, Alta., and Brendan Green of Hay River, N.W.T.
The 28-year-old Smith is competing in his first Olympics in Sochi, and he's feeling good about competing this time around after missing out on qualifying for Vancouver 2010.
"This is my first time here. It's really quite a spectacle. All the money and work that went into it is impressive. Seeing it in person is amazing."
Despite the optimism, today won't be easy for the Canadians. They're competing against the most decorated biathlete of all time — Norway's Ole Einar Bjørndalen. Now attending his sixth Winter Olympics, the 40-year-old Bjørndalen is gunning for his seventh Olympic gold medal today.
Norway's got more than just Bjørndalen to contend for gold today, though: Emil Hegle Svendsen, a biathlon sprint specialist, is looking to take his third Olympic gold after winning two golds in Vancouver 2010.
Svendsen's closest rival is France's Martin Fourcade, who also comes into the 10 kilometre as a medal favourite. The winner of the 2011-2012 overall World Cup title, Fourcade — he also has an older brother, Simon, that's competing in the same race — won the silver medal in the 15 kilometre mass start in Vancouver 2010 and is looking to upgrade to gold in Sochi.
There's still more competition for the top contenders, such as the home crowd's favourite, Anton Shipulin of Russia.
Yet the biggest competition for the athletes might be the Laura Biathlon & Ski Complex itself. Le Guellec describes the biathlon course as very tough.
"The Russians have been boasting for quite a while now that it's the toughest course out there. Toughest course in the world. And you know what? They're absolutely right," says Le Guellec. "They have vicious climbs and really technical downhills, which I absolutely love."
Smith agrees that it's a really challenging course.
"This is my first time here and everyone told me it had a lot of hills - and it does. It's really impressive."