The 40 centimetres of snowfall in the Austrian village of Obertilliach Monday, Dec. 28, gave Vernon’s Emma Lunder and her Canadian senior biathlon teammates a chance to play in the snow, instead of train and compete on it.
Obertilliach, located between the Lienz Dolomites and the Carnic Alps, is considered to be one of the most beautiful villages in the district of Lienz, in the Austrian state of Tyrol. Obertilliach was declared to be protected as a historic monument in 1978.
The village is Lunder and the Canadian biathlon team’s home away from home during the BMW IWU World Cup season.
“We went out sledding today and it was just a lot of fun,” said Lunder, 29, in her seventh season on the senior national squad, on a Facebook call.
Instead of a sled or toboggan, Lunder can usually be found on snow with two skis on her feet, two poles helping push her along snowy tracks, and with a rifle over her shoulder.
Biathlon is a word of Greek origin meaning “two tests,” which is exactly what the sport is – a combination test of cross-country skiing and shooting. The sport today is founded on a tradition of hunting, stemming back more than 4,000 years.
Lunder took to the snow in her native Timmins, Ont., hometown of Canadian country music goddess Shania Twain. She and her family would cross-country ski, and that continued when the family moved to Vernon when she was 12.
After spending a year in the Jackrabbits program at the Sovereign Lake Nordic Centre, Lunder followed older brother Angus’ footsteps and joined Sea Cadets, and, eventually, the cadet biathlon program.
A 2009 graduate of Vernon Secondary School, Lunder has continued to progress in the sport. She made the junior national biathlon team in 2011 and she keeps improving, leading the way as the oldest member of the women’s team.
Prior to the 2020-21 BMW IWU World Cup season, Lunder’s top-three career finishes were ninth in the sprint race in Oslo; 10th in the women’s relay at the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in Korea; and 17th in a sprint event in the Czech Republic in 2018.
Through four weeks of World Cup racing in the 20-21 season, Lunder has three top-10 results, including a ninth-place finish in the pursuit in Koniolahti, Finland, and has finished 15th or better five times this season.
She was 10th in the pursuit in Hochfilzen, Austria, qualifying for her favourite biathlon event by placing 11th in the sprint. That finish meant Lunder started 11th overall in the pursuit, trying to catch the 10 skiers ahead of her. She missed one target (out of five) in the four shooting rounds, resulting in a penalty loop ski of 150 metres.
“I enjoy chasing down people,” said Lunder. “There’s usually 60 people in the pursuit race so there’s lots of women to ski with and to try and pass.”
At the shooting stations, competitors can either fire at the targets standing up or in the prone position laying on their stomachs. Lunder prefers standing, and also enjoys the shift in focus from skiing to shooting.
“There’s lots of stress in a race, you don’t want to miss a target and you don’t want to ski the penalty lap, so I enjoy getting there and having to concentrate on the shooting,” said Lunder, who has three more World Cup events scheduled in 2021 before the sport’s world championships Feb. 11-21 in Pokljuka, Slovenia.
The dates for the 2021 worlds will be about the same ones for the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing which could be Lunder’s swan song in the sport.
She competed in 2018 in Korea, getting a taste of Olympic life, taking part in the opening and closing ceremonies, feeling starstruck by seeing a Canadian gold medalist ahead of her in the athletes’ village food lane, and helping the Canadian women’s relay team to a 10th-place finish.
Her post-Olympics World Cup results show an ever-improving Lunder, so Beijing may not be the last the world hears of Emma Lunder in the sport.
“In Korea, it was overwhelming and I was soaking everything up,” she said. “It was such a good experience. I’m seeing improvement every year so in 2022 I hope to be more of a contender and if the results keep improving, who knows?”
Lunder is the leader of the Canadian squad, taking the torch passed to her by her role models when she first joined the squad, Canmore, Alta.’s Rosanna Crawford and Brendan Green of Hay River, NWT.
“I do bring experience and leadership to the team,” said Lunder. “Rosanna and Brendan showed me the ropes and I try to emulate them.”
As for COVID, Lunder said during the World Cup season, athletes are tested every four days, and the Canadian team is wearing masks everywhere. The squad enjoyed a socially distanced Secret Santa gift exchange to celebrate Christmas.
Away from biathlon, Lunder is a fan of the TV show Grey’s Anatomy, likes reading and playing cards, and lists dogsitting and baking bread as her hobbies.