CANMORE – The sights are set on Beijing, but Biathlon Canada's national team will first take aim at the world cup.
Starting this weekend in Oestersund, Sweden, the world cup begins and the Canadians are "itching for a podium" in the buildup to the 2022 Winter Olympic Games.
"I think our athletes are more prepared than ever to do that," said Justin Wadsworth, head coach of the national team. "I'm not going in hoping for top 10s – I'd like to see a bit more, but then again athletes just have to do what they do in training. If they can do that, we'll be there."
During the first trimester, the races before the new year, Canada's top bullet club team consists of Christian Gow, Scott Gow, Trevor Kiers, and Jules Burnotte on the mens' side, and Emma Lunder, Nadia Moser, Sarah Beaudry, and world cup newcomer Benita Peiffer on the women's.
A particularly exciting development for Biathlon Canada has been Moser's progression and what it could mean for individual and mixed relay results.
Moser, a 24-year-old from Whitehorse who trains in Canmore, has taken a "monumental step forward."
Fighting to crack the top 50 at the world championships earlier this year, Moser's racing has blossomed and she showed off skills at November's trials in Canmore where she went toe-to-toe with Lunder, Canada's top female biathlete.
"We're really excited to see Nadia's ranking on the world cup this year just because she has really taken a step forward that you don't see that often from athletes; it's actually been that big," said Wadsworth. "She's got Emma as a training partner, and we know she's a top 10, top 15 athlete on the world cup."
For Lunder, 30, coming off her best and most consistent season ever, she's looking to keep it rolling in the first trimester while eyeballing the podium.
"One of the biggest changes is we did a team program with our sports psychologist where it was a daily mental training program throughout the summer and I think for me it helped shine a light on where I could turn some weaknesses into strengths," said Lunder, who has been experimenting with holding her breath while on shooting to shave some seconds off her range time.
Last season, COVID-19 played games with the emotions of many athletes and if races would be axed. When Lunder's season was salvaged, she was overjoyed and said her best races occurred while she was in that grateful mindset.
"So I kind of want to go more into it with that mindset: happiness to be back in Europe and back racing," said Lunder. "If I focus on the right things and the process, hopefully everything else falls into place."
On the men's side, Christian Gow, much like Lunder, his long-time partner, is aiming for podium results.
After a season of personal bests on the world cup and at the world championships, which the 28-year-old marksman credits to a lack of being ill with all the enhanced health protocols, fighting for the podium is the marker set.
"That's my big goal and my big aim and I think I've done the work to do that," he said.
"This year, I feel more ready to really go and hopefully throw down some top results. ... I think this year I have a lot more conviction and bigger goals of what I want to achieve and I think that just comes from coming off a successful season last year and learning from what went well and doing more of that."
For 31-year-old Scott Gow, a staple on Biathlon Canada's national team, has already seen a major difference at the start of this season.
Last year, the 2018 Olympian's comfort level was thrown off during the first trimester while recovering from foot surgery resulting in poor results. He picked it up, though, in the second and third trimesters, which accumulated to finishing the season off with a bang and snagging a personal best 10th at the world cup.
"It was fun to finish with such good results, especially going into an Olympic year," he said. "Obviously there is still good potential so I'm motivated to maintain it and hopefully improve."
Going into the first races this weekend (Nov. 27-28) in Sweden, Scott thinks that himself, and the team, know they're at a higher level than they were at the end of last season.
He wants to start the season strong to show as much.
"I think our whole team has trained really well this year, better than previous years," he said. "We've made noticeable gains in both shooting and skiing, so I think that is positive, obviously, but it's a big confidence boost."