Shooting Star would have been an obvious title. But Deep Purple’s classic hit is more appropriate for Léo Grandbois, one of Biathlon Canada’s most promising athletes, and his “race it to the ground” personality.
We were told about Léo a while back. The Youth Biathlon World Championships were approaching and Léo, a rugged 17 yo from Sherbrooke, QC (6′-180 lb), had just won some home races. Confidence reigned in the Canadian clan.
Léo had already earned some credits. He was the 2015 and 2016 Senior Boys Canadian individual race champion (10 km). He also finished 22nd in the sprint at the 2016 Youth Olympic Games in Norway.
Living up to more than expectations, Léo mastered the 12.5 km (individual race) course in Bresno-Osrbli, Slovakia, and shot clean (20/20) for the first time in his career. At the Worlds! He also clocked the 3rd skiing time. A gold medal almost 1 min 15 s in front of Russian with a German rounding up the podium.
Since then, it’s been a flurry of praise in the small world of North American biathlon. His coach in Quebec, Sandrine Charron, says unequivocally: “Léo is a remarkable athlete. He works hard, has an impressive strength of character and an incredible desire to win.
“He’s living proof that when you want something, give yourself the means to achieve it and put the necessary energy into it, you can reach the unattainable and realize your dreams.
“With his explosive nature, physiological attributes, and physical and technical skills, Léo is one of Canada’s top biathlon prospects.”
Eric de Nys, High Performance Director at Biathlon Canada last season, said he is a good skier and a “fantastic shooter under pressure”.
“Under pressure” is what’s most significant here. Negotiating the approach to the range, controlling your pulses, not losing a fraction of a second of concentration, keeping cool, calm, and collected on the trigger and so on, all these elements mount to excruciating pressure that’s extremely difficult to contain.
Managing this well at 17 calls for great potential.
The appeal of x-c skiing
So, here is a promising career taking shape in biathlon, right?
Not so fast.
Upon his return, Léo registered at the Canadian Cross-Country Ski Championships in Canmore. Again there, he kicked ass. He crushed the competition in the 10 and 15 km freestyle Junior B events. Freestyle, or skate, is the only style used in biathlon.
Although it was a younger category, it should be noted that in the 15 km, he crossed the finish line with a monstrous advance of 1 min 23 s.
“But that’s not it, it’s not that,” he told us in an interview at his home in Sherbrooke, QC. It’s my results in classic technique: I finished 3rd in the 7.5 km and 2nd in the sprint. I had never skied in classic technique before last fall! Maybe 10 times in total before the Nationals.”
Well, well, well, we’re dealing with a thoroughbred!
On the other hand, this brings up second thoughts.
“I’d rather ski than shoot, he says. I also like to shoot, but I think I’m more of a skier than a shooter. But I have all the abilities to become a good shooter, with a little work.
“It’s a matter of willpower, in my opinion. If you decide you’re going to be a (good) skier or a shooter, you’ll become one.”
So when you have great potential in both sports, which one to choose? Alex Harvey for one has preferred cross-country skiing to mountain biking (he has been to the UCI Mountain Bike World Jr Championships).
Léo candidly asks himself: “In which of the two sports do I have the most potential? Even those who know me well can’t answer. It’s going to have to come from me, what I like most.”
At 17, that’s a legitimate question common to a number a young talented athletes.
Regarding skiing, Léo is associated with the Mont-Orford National Park Club and its well known coach Gilles Lefebvre. Gilles is the best person to describe Leo the skier. “Leo is a competitor at heart, he can’t stand the thought of having someone in front of him . This pushes him to constantly surpass himself!
“His technique improved a lot last year and even in classic, he learns very quickly, so everything is possible if cross-country skiing brings him a new challenge.
“His physical development is quite advanced for his age. He will therefore need to focus on strategies and refine his annual preparation in order to keep progressing and thus reach his full potential. Olympic athlete… certainly!”
“Cross-country skiing is not at all the same thing,” says Léo. You can start all out, forget the pain, switch your brain to “off”.
“Biathlon is more cerebral. The approach to the range is more touchy. It’s more like a chess game. There is the wind, there is the sun, your pupils grow or shrink.
“The challenge is more fun in biathlon, but in cross-country skiing, it’s a more warrior attitude. That can’t work in biathlon. You’ll arrive all worked-up at the firing range!
“At the Worlds (where he won the gold), the preparation to arrive fully concentrated, it took two weeks. I was thinking about it all the time. What I had to do, what I should not do. I became totally concentrated, nothing could disturb me.”
Léo has also undertaken to adapt his fiery style to the more cerebral style of biathlon. “In normal life I’m quite calm, but that can change rapidly when the going gets tough!”
Sandrine Charron confirms: “He was able to transform his enthusiasm, which was a little out of control younger and sometimes would hurt his performances, in great strength from which he draws his energy in his quest to climb on the podium at the Olympics.”
“He has the power of the tiger and also the roar, adds Gilles Lefebvre. He needs to channel this energy as he gets older!”
Leo gives himself at least another season before he makes a decision. He remains a biathlete for now, but would like to take part in a few x-c ski races next winter, whenever possible.
In any case, Léo Grandbois is a name to remember in either Canadian biathlon or cross-country skiing.
Alex Harvey, who plans to retire from the active competition in 2019, will leave big shoes to fill.
At 17, Léo Grandbois already wears 11 1/2.