Mid Kids Radio Club Interviews Winter Olympic Athlete – Parts 1 and 2
As the spectacle of the 2022 Winter Olympics plays out in China, did you know that Highland County is home to a former Olympic athlete? I didn’t, until during a chance encounter with Judd Bankert, who lives in the remodeled mill in New Hampden, I learned he had competed in a past Games as Guam’s first Olympic athlete. The Highland Mid Kids Radio Club set out to find out more about the story.
“Thank you for joining us today. Mr. Bankert. I’m Jordan White – could you tell us a bit about yourself?”
“I’m 72 years old, long past my prime as a biathlete. I was born in Michigan and that’s where I learned to cross country ski – I began shooting with the NRA Gun Club back in my hometown of Lake Orion when I was about nine years old, so I was familiar with cross country skiing and rifle shooting from that.”
“After leaving my hometown, I went to Michigan State and then later University of Illinois, and I ended up, I was a certified public accountant at the time, and I took a job to the island of Guam. And that was where I live for seven years with my wife and daughter. And that precipitated my competition as Guam’s first Olympic athlete.”
“Hi, my name is Holden Chambers we understand you were a Winter Olympics athlete – could you tell us which games and what category you competed in?”
“The games were the 15th Winter Olympics. They were held in Calgary in 1988. And the event that I participated in was the biathalon, which is a combination of cross country skiing and target rifle shooting. And in 1988, there would have been three biathlon events – they were all male events. So it was a 20K, where you raced over five sections of the course and shot four times at five targets, and if in fact, you missed a target, you were penalized a minute. And then there was the 10K and in that for you race three sections of the course and only fired twice, in the prone position and standing, and that was the event that I competed in.”
“Mr. Bankert, my name is Luke Baxter. What made you want to be a biathlete?”
“I had lived on Guam for a little over five and a half, six years when this idea came into fruition. And Guam is a US territory out in the Pacific on the other side of the dateline. While I was on Guam, I participated in some segments of triathlon events, and Guam was struggling to get recognized as an Olympic nation and one of the ways to get recognized is to make affiliations with various international sporting groups. There was no such thing as a triathlon group back then, but there was an organization called the Union of Modern Biathalon and Pentathlon. Pentathlon is a summer games – pistol shooting, running, swimming, horseback riding and fencing. We had at West Point pentathlete living on Guam. And once we made an affiliation with the Union, any swimming or running event we had for a triathlon would qualify as a qualified event and we wanted to get as many qualified events as we could to give Guam its recognition as an Olympic nation.”
He continued, “Well, that was accomplished and we were all excited about preparing for the upcoming summer games when a letter arrived. And it said because of our membership, we would be eligible to send an athlete to the Winter Olympic Games. When the laughter stopped, we realized that along with that would come a stipend which would allow a coach and athlete and two support people to travel to Calgary and participate. It’s in the Winter Games when the Summer Games are planned, and normally nations come there who were going to participate in the next Summer Games – send a planning delegate, but we had no money to fund that. So it was decided the best way for us to fund that trip would be to find someone who was willing to participate as a biathlete.”
“We had a number of people on the island who were physically fit enough – well trained, could do the distance, even familiar with shooting, but there was none in our club that were familiar with skiing. That, along with the decision that my wife and I had made to leave the island after a little over six years, I became the natural candidate. So I ended up taking 15 months to train to prepare for the Olympics.”
Stay tuned for Part Two of this story, where we learn more about Mr. Bankert’s Olympic experiences.
For Allegheny Mountain Radio, this is the Highland Mid Kids Radio Club.
In Part Two of this story, the Highland Mid Kids Radio Club learns more about Judd Bankert, former Winter Olympian residing in Highland County.
“Hello, my name is Elijah Good. What was your Olympic experience like?”
“Extraordinary, humbling, scary, rewarding, – certainly was probably the most scared or worried I’ve been in my life, and that was would I be able to compete; would I be allowed to compete; would I injure myself and then not be able to compete – and then some of the most rewarding experiences of my life.”
“I had been an athlete in high school, so I was familiar with some of the joys of athletic competition. But this was something else altogether. Of course, you could imagine walking in the opening ceremony, 80,000 people cheering you – people close to the track where we were walking shouting your name, shouting, ‘Guam, Guam, Guam.’ And then the final ceremony, carrying the flag in and realizing that in fact for me, because at that point in time, 38 years old, this was going to be probably the last major athletic competition I would ever be in.”
“Hi, my name is Meckenzie Lambert. What did your training look like and how long did you do it to prepare?”
“Basically, you’re trying to develop cardiovascular endurance so that you can ski for 7 to 10 minutes flat out and then get your pulse back down to shoot. I did quite a bit of training in a warm weather climate on the island of Guam. And there I had injured myself, so running was something that I couldn’t do a great deal of, but I swam, lifted weights, and at that time, roller skated with ski poles, because I wasn’t familiar with rollerblades.”
He continued, “So that would typically be later on when I moved back to the states and moved to upstate Washington to train with the Western Washington University ski team and Richard Domey, who had written the training manual for the US biathlon team, I was fortunate enough to get Richard as my coach, and he worked extensively with me with the shooting. Richard and I focused on not only hitting the target, but there’s a whole process of skating into the range, taking the rifle off, clearing the snow guard, setting yourself up, and that had to become almost instinctive. So it was a combination of training to be able to ski hard and then also then get your heart rate down and shoot.”
The skiing, I really only was on snow for about five months. Matt Eichenberger who was the top skier for Western Washington’s cross country ski team, he and I trained just about every day on Mount Baker. So I got there, as is normally the case, with a lot of help from a lot of other people who sacrificed a lot for nothing other than just to help somebody’s dream come true.”
“Hi, my name is Mary Anne and I wanted to know what advice you would give somebody if they wanted to be in the Olympics?”
“I’m not going to talk specifically about the Olympics – I can’t tell somebody how to prepare to be a swimmer in the Olympics or a gymnast or any of the other events, but I’ll tell you about the biathlon And actually where we’re living in Highland County would be an ideal environment for someone to train for the biathlon.”
“The first criteria, and usually what separates people, would be to be a marksman, probably be familiar with firearms anyway and probably shot from a relatively young age. Then the second thing is to develop cardiovascular endurance. Bicycling is excellent training for that; in line skating, with ski poles; swimming; weightlifting, – developing strong shoulders and back because you’re going to be using your ski poles to push yourself a lot.”
“This would be a great environment for someone who decided they wanted to take up the biathlon and wanted to train for it. And if anybody is interested, I would be glad to talk to them and maybe get them associated with some people with the US National Team.”
For Allegheny Mountain Radio. This is the Highland Mid Kids Radio Club.