CAMP RIPLEY, Minn. - The North Dakota National Guard biathlon team won first place out of 19 teams in a 22.5-kilometer regional biathlon relay competition in Camp Ripley, Minn., Jan. 16. The team finished about 5 minutes faster than the second place team from South Dakota.
This was the N.D. team's first time winning this biathlon competition. The relay team consisted of Cpt. Eric Nordgren of Duluth, Minn., Sgt. 1st Class Kent Pulst, Devils Lake, and Sgt. Blake Hillerson, Fargo, with Spc. Jordan Becker, Devils Lake, as their coach. Pulst's son, Spc. Brandon Pulst, Grand Forks, was a fifth member of the team, though he didn't compete in this regional race.
To complete a circuit of a biathlon relay, a team member must ski a 7.5-kilometer loop, then attempt to shoot five 50-meter targets with a rifle from the prone position using eight rounds. Any targets missed require the competitor to do a penalty lap. They must then race another 7.5-kilometer loop to arrive back at the shooting range for five more targets, this time while standing. After they finish firing, they must do one final loop, then tag the next team member to begin their circuit.
"The North Dakota team did a tremendous job and I'm proud of every one of them," said Maj. Gen. Dave Sprynczynatyk, North Dakota adjutant general. This was the first biathlon Sprynczynatyk has seen.
Sprynczynatyk said he and his wife ski on occasion and he was glad he could attend the race. "It's great to be out here and see how well they competed," he said.
The N.D. team started off with Nordgren who hit all five targets, giving him the advantage of not having to ski a penalty lap. Next in the relay was Pulst, followed by Hillerson. Each missed one target during their circuit. Becker said that while the other teams had their fastest skier first, he chose to save Hillerson for last. Hillerson is also on the All-Guard Biathlon team hosted by Vermont and has traveled to several countries competing in biathlons. Hillerson has been participating in biathlons since 2002 and has spent more than 700 hours training, and shooting more than 20,000 rounds with his .22-caliber rifle.
As the final competitor on the team, Hillerson said he enjoyed watching how well his teammates did. "We've never won a relay as a team so that was great," Hillerson said. He said everyone performed so well, it gave the team an advantage. He added that because he was at the end, he understood where his team was placed, and so "being the fastest guy on your team takes a ton of pressure off."