North·AWG 2018

Russian biathletes get a taste of Canadian kindness after locals lend rifles

Russian biathlon athletes were stripped of their rifles at the Russian border last week — risking their chances of competing at the Arctic Winter Games.

Hay River and Fort Smith locals scrambled together 16 rifles to lend to Russian biathletes

Milena Tsaranenko, a Russian biathlete, says she's grateful for the rifles that were lent to her team. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

A group of Russian athletes risked being scratched from the Arctic Winter Games, but ended up winning several gold and silver medals thanks to the kindness of Canadian strangers.

Russian biathletes, en route to the Northwest Territories for the games, were stripped of their rifles at the Russian border last week due to confusion over documents.

That hold up risked their chances to compete, but locals in Hay River and Fort Smith, N.W.T., didn't let that happen — jumping at the chance to help their international guests.

"Late [at] night, I got a call … informing me that the Russian teams were stuck at an airport, without guns," said Robert Plamondon, an AWG official for the snowshoe biathlon.

"Basically got dressed, ran outside, and started going through all the guns right away."

Russia's Yamal biathletes, en route to the N.W.T. last week, were stripped of their rifles at the Russian border, risking their chances of competing at the Arctic Winter Games. Thanks to locals, they ended up winning gold and silver Ulus with their borrowed rifles. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

Plamondon said he rummaged through the Hay River Ski Club's inventory and found some rifles. He said a group of locals made several phone calls to eventually secure 16 rifles for the Russian teams — borrowed from former athletes and other residents.

The Russians ended up winning three gold Ulus and four silvers in Monday's biathlon events, thanks to their borrowed rifles.

'Thank you,' says Russian athlete

The kindness was met with gratitude from the athletes, who are from the Yamal Peninsula in Russia's Far North.

"On behalf of Yamal, I just want to say thank you to the organizers here, actually being able to get together that many guns in a very short period of time. And helping us to keep the games going. It's a very big deal for us," said Milena Tsaranenko, one of the Yamal athletes, through a translator.

Tsaranenko noted how awkward it was to adjust to the new rifles — the one she borrowed was shorter, lighter and has a different stock, she said.

A Yamal biathlete shooting a borrowed rifle at the Games Monday. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

"It's actually quite different," said Tsaranenko. "It's not my gun."

Biathlon coach for Team N.W.T., Chuck Lirette, said it's difficult for athletes to adjust to different gear.

"It would be really devastating for the kids, because you get a feel for your rifle," said Lirette, who's also an AWG biathlon official.

"[Like] golf clubs. You have a feel for your golf clubs, and if you use somebody else's set … they have a different feel."

On Tuesday, Lirette said he joked with one athlete from Yamal about giving Lirette one of his two gold Ulus.

"I said one for you and one for me — one for athlete, one for [our] rifle," Lirette said. "He actually undid his coat and he was actually going to take one off and give it to me."

Lirette said the athletes were very appreciative of the gesture.

With files from Philippe Morin, Joanne Stassen


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