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Surging biathlete Peiffer shoots path to world cup

"I'm not going to decline an opportunity like this."

CANMORE – With the world cup in sight, Benita Peiffer, one of Canada's finest up-and-coming biathletes is in the fast lane to becoming a centrepiece of wearing the Maple Leaf for many years to come.

After impressive racing at the 2021 World Cup Trials in Canmore (Nov. 1-4), the energized 21-year-old Peiffer shot and skied to Biathlon Canada's top team and is travelling overseas for the first trimester next week with women Emma Lunder, Nadia Moser and Sarah Beaudry, and men Christian Gow, Scott Gow, Jules Burnotte and Trevor Kiers.

"I'm not going to decline an opportunity like this," said Peiffer, a Whistler-native who's been training in Canmore for the past three seasons. "The world cup is where I want to be one day and I really hope it's not my last world cup ... I think it's going to be tricky at the world cup, I'm not blind to see that."

Finishing third in the short individual at trials, Peiffer crossed the line with a time of 41:09.9 while shooting 16/20. In the sprint, she finished fifth with a time of 23.03.8 (7/10).

Placing ahead of the likes of 2018 Olympian Sarah Beaudry and world cup vet Megan Bankes, who's recovering from injuries, not surprising was that Peiffer took one of the four spots on the world cup team, said Biathlon Canada's world cup head coach Justin Wadsworth.

A natural with a rifle in her hand, Peiffer's shooting precision matches a quick ski speed and are what Biathlon Canada is looking for in athletes her age.

"These are the kind of athletes we really want to start to fast track a little bit for the 2026 Olympics and into the future," said Wadsworth.

"I think it's nice to have a really young female athlete that's showing some promise and can get some experience on the world cup. I think it's a win-win for Benita and even if her results aren't great it's still going to be a great learning experience."

Wadsworth added Peiffer is the type of athlete knocking at the door and pushing older athletes.

"We knew that the third and fourth spots [on the women's world cup team] were going to be a bit up for grabs," said Wadsworth. "Throughout the training season Nadia Moser and Emma Lunder had been very strong and I had total confidence that they would qualify for the team. For the third and fourth spots, there were a number of women including our third national team member Megan Bankes, who'd been injured, kind of all had a shot at those spots. So I think if Benita shot decently she would probably take one of those spots, actually."

The two-sport athlete has risen quickly in biathlon with very little experience for the most part. Originally moving to Canmore for cross-country skiing, Peiffer found the additional challenges that biathlon offered more alluring and was converted to bullet brood in April 2020.

"I think I saw a huge opportunity for myself," she said. "Obviously I grew up cross-country skiing and I was able early on to build skills in cross-country and I think I picked up a rifle and I was just drawn to it, honestly. I really liked the combo of the two [shooting and skiing]."

At 16 years old, Peiffer began experimenting in biathlon for the first time with dryland training and then taking shots at the range. She collected a container full of discarded shells as a memento on the occasion.

"The first year I did it, I raced in Europe and loved the atmosphere of the sport," Peiffer said. "Like that is one of the main things that draws me to it. In Europe, the atmosphere of biathlon is over-the-top and that just excited me to be racing there and be around that all the time."

Following the 2019-20 cross-country world juniors championships, Peiffer was ready to switch sports, but she was quickly hit with a setback.

One month after choosing biathlon onward, Peiffer tore her ACL and meniscus. The blow in her young career resulted in surgery to fix her knee in July of that year and she started the rehab process. The young woman was down, but not out, and was still able to get in some races during the 2020-21 season.

"I had to take a minute and rethink things," she said. "I was able to perform to go to Europe last year for world juniors and pulled off one decent result."

Since the opening day of Frozen Thunder, a snow loop at the Canmore Nordic Centre designed for high-calibre athletes to train on before the season starts, Peiffer looked like she'd not only be contending for a spot on the International Biathlon Union (IBU) Cup circuit, but also the world cup team.

"Coming into trials, the IBU Cup is where I wanted to plant myself – it's just a solid place for me to develop as an athlete," said Peiffer of the world cup's feeder circuit. "I've never competed in the world cup field so I have no idea where I stack up. It’ll be a huge learning experience for me ... But, ultimately, if I'm back on IBU I'm not going to be disappointed because I think that's an awesome spot for growth and learning and gaining confidence because I'm still young."

Canadians competing in the IBU Cup's first trimester include Bankes, Jenna Sherrington, Darya Sepandj and Gillian Gowling on the women's side and Aidan Millar, Matthew Strum, Zachary Connelly and Adam Runnalls on the men's.

With the season-opening world cup races set for Nov. 26-28 in Oestersund, Sweden, Peiffer's got the top circuit to look forward to, and also the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics looming in the back of her mind.

"Since I was young, that’s always been my goal," said Peiffer. "As you’re getting closer to it, my ultimate goal is to be performing consistently on the world cup, but I think the Olympics is something I definitely want to do and if it’s in the cards for me this year, that’s awesome, but I think that’s above and beyond, not even  where my goals are, but like, what's right for me right now this year, but I'm going to go there [to the world cup] and race my hardest and see what happens."

Jordan Small

About the Author: Jordan Small

Jordan Small joined the Outlook in 2014 and covers the vast world of sports in the Bow Valley. A Barrie, Ont. native, he also wrote for RMO's Mountain Guide section and the MD of Bighorn beat.
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