Shooting for Olympic spot

IAN BUSBY -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 7:16 AM ET

He was just 12 when his burgeoning biathlon career locked up with a jammed rifle.

David Leoni turned to his coach at the time, seeking help with the problem. But his mother knew little about fixing one of the most essential tools in the sport that combines cross-country skiing and target shooting.

In walked Glenn Rupertus, a Camrose, Alta., celebrity from his years on the Canadian Olympic biathlon team.

A few quick clicks and adjustments and Rupertus sent Leoni away with a healthy gun and enough inspiration to one day become an Olympic biathlete himself.

Yesterday, a mere 10 years later, Leoni and Rupertus are good friends as the former takes his first shot at the Canadian senior national team and the World Cup.

"It's hard to convey just how much inspiration I drew from that," Leoni said yesterday at COP, where the team was officially unveiled. "For a kid, it's amazing. I was overwhelmed. He gave me a picture and signed it. That's the greatest thing in the world.

"I showed the photo to him a few days ago," Leoni said with a laugh about Rupertus, who was a wax technician for the national team last year. He's got this big mustache in it."

At 22, Leoni is the youngest member of the Canadian senior team, which also includes Calgary's Sandra Keith, Red Deer's Zina Kocher and Ottawa's Robin Clegg.

Biathlon Canada is still in a rebuilding mode. Clegg was the only one to compete in the 2002 Salt Lake Olympics after the entire team from the 1998 Games retired.

And Keith and Kocher are the result of a talent development program devised after Biathlon Canada evaluated its talent in 1999.

Technical director Roger Archambault knows there are far too few stories like Leoni's out there where someone else draws the athlete into the sport.

"Alberta is the mecca of biathlon in Canada," Archambault said. "There's a very structured system here. There are pretty solid biathlon programs in almost every good sized town, so that works pretty well. Every year, they come up with a crop of athletes.

"Across Canada, it hasn't been that way. Biathlon Canada has been more proactive in the last few years identifying talent. The club approach has worked in Alberta and a little bit in Quebec."

Nothing works better for recruiting than success, which Leoni knows. He first tried biathlon at age nine when Myriam Bedard was winning medals for Canada at Olympics.

"Myriam proved that if you were talented enough, you could make it work in Canada," said Leoni, who will try to qualify for the 2006 Olympics in Turin, Italy.

"It hit home to a lot of people."


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