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Jean-Philippe Le Guellec scores a Canadian first with gold medal in World Cup biathlon event

Jim Morris
Eh Game

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In a sport dominated by Europeans and largely ignored by North Americans Jean-Philippe Le Guellec wrote some Canadian history Saturday.

Not only did the Shannon, Que., native become the first Canadian male to reach the podium in a World Cup biathlon event, he also won the sprint competition in Oestersund, Sweden.

The previous best World Cup event result by a Canadian man was a sixth-place finish by Glen Rupertus in 1992.

"It's a huge, huge day," Le Guellec said in a release. "I'm still surprised this actually happened.

"It's just crazy."

Biathlon combines the muscle-wrenching strength of cross-country skiing with the steady accuracy of shooting. Le Guellec shot clean while posted a winning time of 25 minutes, 10.4 seconds in the 10-kilometre sprint event.

"I was just trying to stay focused on skiing and stay relaxed," said the 27-year-old, two-time Olympian. "Until the last split the coaches just  kept saying that I was doing good.

"I was a bit surprised when they told me on the last lap that I was first."

France's Alexis Boeuf was second while Austria's Christoph Sumann was third.

Prior to the race, Le Guellec's coach told him he'd reach the podium on the day he'd least expect it. His final words of advice were to stay relaxed and shot the targets one at a time.

"The first lap I started to tense up a bit, but I told myself to just have fun, be relaxed and stay smooth," Le Guellec said. "Those were the key words for the whole race.

"It finally happened and hopefully this is the momentum for the rest of the season."

Le Guellec is far from an overnight success.

He recorded a career-best seventh-place finish in Antholz-Anerselva, Italy, in 2009. Since then he's managed several top-10 performances, including two eighth-place finishes last year. Le Guellec showed flashes of his potential at the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver by finishing in the top 15 in  all four events, including a  sixth in the sprint.

He always was confident he'd eventually reach the podium.

"I didn't think this would not happen," he said. "It has been an objective ever since the Olympics. For it to finally happen is overwhelming."

Zina Kocher of Red Deer, Alta., a two-time Olympian, is the only other Canadian to reach the podium at a World Cup race in the last two decades. She also found success in Oestersund when she finished third in a woman's individual competition in 2006.

Kocher was the first Canadian to reach the international biathlon podium since Myriam Bedard won double gold at the 1994 Olympic Winter Games.

Riding the wave of Le Guellec's success Kocher finished 10th Saturday in the women's 7.5-kilometre sprint.

"I know that I can be in the top-10, and on the podium, with 90 per cent shooting accuracy," she said. "It's a possibility every race and I know it.

"History was made today though. I was screaming at the TV watching J.P.  What a day!"

Saturday's gold medal is a promising step toward the 2014 Olympics in Sochi. Russia.

With a large number of medals available in Nordic sports at the Olympics, Own the Podium has joined forces with Biathlon Canada and Cross Country Canada to create a Nordic Consortium. The goal is  to share resources and intelligence in an effort to generate more podium performances for biathlon and cross-country ski athletes.

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