As he takes aim at earning a fifth trip to the Winter Olympics, Kasilof biathlete Jay Hakkinen also has his eye on the future of his sport. And in his mind, that future includes track stadiums and lasers.
Hakkinen, 34, will host events on the Kenai Peninsula this weekend and next that could foretell the direction biathlon is headed.
A two-day clinic Friday and Saturday will include a preview of a race format using laser rifles, and Saturday, May 12, the track at Skyview High School will host the state's -- maybe the country's -- first laser track race. Competitors will run, not ski.
"It is my hope to generate some biathlon momentum, both in traditional biathlon but also perhaps giving the kids a fun alternative to getting dizzy on the track," Hakkinen said in an email.
Hakkinen said he was inspired by two European biathlon trends when coming up with the idea for a summer laser-rifle biathlon race on a 400-meter track oval.
The first is the use of laser rifles, which is considered a safe and less expensive way to introduce and develop the sport in places in Europe where owning a rifle isn't even legal.
The second is the growing popularity of the sprint-race format, which already is a staple of World Cup cross-country skiing -- it's the format that made a star out of Anchorage's Kikkan Randall.
Sprinting isn't part of biathlon's World Cup schedule yet, but invitational sprint biathlon races are gaining a following, Hakkinen said. This past season he competed in a sprint race held in a German soccer stadium in front of 60,000.
"I just put 1 and 1 together, or 1 plus 1 in this case, and then also realized there are track stadiums everywhere, and often not being used," he said.
The race at Skyview will consist of three laps around the 400-meter track. After the first lap, the competitor shoots at 10 targets from the prone position. After the second lap, he shoots at 10 targets from the standing position. Like cross-country sprint racing, there will be a preliminary race followed by heats.
"Eventually (the format) may need to change or simplify, but I am looking forward to testing the athletes' biathlon skills with a nice variety," Hakkinen said.
Besides introducing a way to make biathlon a year-round sport, Hakkinen sees this week's clinic and next week's race as a way to give back and to support biathlon on the Peninsula.
"I really want to see a permanent biathlon range built on the Kenai Peninsula," he said. "There are some very committed kids who have been (training) without any official biathlon facilities. I also want to educate as many people as possible about basic biathlon."
Reach Beth Bragg at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4335.