With the U.S. bringing just two junior men and one junior woman to the World Youth and Junior Championships in Obertilliach, Austria, relay day isn’t going to mean much for the oldest athletes on the team.
Instead, Casey Smith, Jake Dalberg, and Tara Geraghty-Moats had their last crack at the Championships on Wednesday, competing in the 12.5 / 15 k individual races: four shooting stage, a minute time penalty per missed shot.
After an impeccable pursuit race that saw just one penalty in four stages, Smith couldn’t quite keep pace in the individual, collecting one missed shot in each of the first three stages and then two in the last stage. Nevertheless, he was able to move from 42nd as he left the range the final time up to 37th by the finish.
“The individual went okay, it was not a great race but not bad either,” he wrote in an e-mail to FasterSkier. “Especially in an individual, with five misses you can’t expect to do great. Of course I would have like to hit more, but that is part of biathlon and what makes it fun and exciting.”
Teammate Jake Dalberg actually shot much better, collecting only three penalties, but was hampered by an early crash. As he spun around in the snow, he managed to lose all four bullet-filled magazines that usually tuck into a rifle stock. Arriving at the range, he realized he had nothing to shoot with, and had to wait for about 45 seconds while an official brought him new ones.
Dalberg ended up 52nd, but with the 45 seconds subtracted he would have been about even with Smith.
“I shot that prone really fast, and honestly I am a little surprised that I hit 4 of 5,” he wrote in an e-mail. “So I was not so focused in that shooting, but the next three I was locked in and just paused too long on the last shot of each standing. I think as I have become more and more comfortable with the range I have been improving my averages in both training and obviously today in the race.”
Geraghty-Moats faced bigger challenges on the range, where she missed a painful 11 shots and wound up 63rd, over 13 minutes behind the winner, Laura Dahlmeier of Germany.
Like Geraghty-Moats, Dalberg failed to qualify for the pursuit race on Sunday, leaving him with just two starts in the series. He wasn’t exactly frustrated, but had hoped to gain one more race-worth of experience out of the trip.
“I wouldn’t say that I am disappointed with these races too much, but I definitely was hoping to make the pursuit,” he explained. “My ski speed overall just was not there I felt like, just kind of missing that top end. It may be the altitude, or the fact that I had a pretty intense cold in between trials and coming here.”
It’s Dalberg’s first trip to World Juniors, although he has international race experience as part of the National Guard biathlon team competing at military events. Those past races helped him prepare for this event – to an extent. Racing a military event in Italy still isn’t the same as World Juniors in Austria, with fans loudly cheering and booing in German for each shot on the range.
“Having been to Europe to race before definitely helped, but I still had some nerves going into the sprint,” Dalberg said. “I think too some days training on the range it was so busy, that I lost some focus while shooting at certain points.”
Staff Seargant Sarah Lehto, Dalberg’s coach, was nonetheless impressed at his performances this week.
“This is by far the biggest international race series for Jake in his career,” she told FasterSkier. “He’s competed internationally for the past two seasons but nothing at this
level. I’m extremely pleased that he was able to qualify for the team after narrowly missing the youth qualification last year and how he performed in such an atmosphere like these World Championships in Obertilliach… he’s now gained a ton of experience at this level which will help his development and expectation level for future racing.”
She also acknowledged that Dalberg’s skiing wasn’t up to his usual level, but that she hoped he wasn’t too disappointed. The racer himself is hoping to get back into shape next week, when he heads over the border to Italian Military Championships.
“For my first World Juniors, I would say I am happy with it, but felt like I could have had some better ski times,” he explained. “The competition was very tough, I knew it would be but the top several juniors I believe have been competing on the World Cup/IBU Cup, so I felt like the top end was very competitive, and I think overall the fields were pretty large this year compared to past years.”
Smith is also hoping to carry on in the coming weeks; he’s waiting to hear whether he is accepted to a trip to U26/Open European Championships, where he thinks he can keep up this level of racing.
“My skiing is feeling good,” Smith said. “I think that my training for the past few weeks leading up to now went well my coach had a pretty specific plan written out for me and I tried to follow it as close a possible which really helped me.”
But unlike Dalberg, who has one more year of junior eligibility, Obertilliach was truly the end of the road for Smith. A four-time World Youth and Junior Championships competitor, he looked back on both this and other editions with fond memories.
“I am happy with the Championships as a whole, like I said the other day I had my best ever Junior Worlds finish here in the pursuit which I was really happy about,” he said. “It is nice to see that I am continuing to improve especially since I am moving up into the senior ranks next year… I have definitely enjoyed all of my Junior Worlds and had fun at them, but I am ready to move on and continue.”