ETHAN ALLEN FIRING RANGE, Jericho, Vt. – After falling short of sweeping both of last year’s individual races here at the Chief of the National Guard Bureau Biathlon Championships, Vermont Army National Guard Sgt. Jesse Downs was determined to vindicate himself at this year’s 28th annual event.
Last year, Downs was defeated in the 10k race by just one second by a fellow All-Guard team member, 2nd Lt. Samuel Morse. He managed to edge out Morse by 44 seconds this year with a time of 26 minutes, 34 seconds.
Downs’ time in the 20k race was 54 minutes, 28 seconds, missing only two targets.
“This race is later in the year so my fitness is good right now and that helps my shooting,” said Downs, who only missed three shots in both the 10k and 20k races.
It’s not uncommon for biathletes to begin their shooting with a pulse rate of well over 150 beats per minute.
Biathlon combines rifle marksmanship with cross country skiing. Competitors ski loops on hilly trails, returning to a 50-meter firing range to shoot at five targets with .22-caliber rifles from the prone and standing positions.
A month ago, Downs and Morse, both members of the U.S. Army’s World Class Athlete Program, teamed up to finish second in a biathlon race at the 61st CaSTA international military ski competition in Italy.
Twelve nations were represented in the competition, which included alpine, Nordic and biathlon events. The U.S. team finished in third overall.
Finishing second in the 20-km was North Dakota Army Guard Sgt. Blake Hillerson, who said it was his best biathlon race ever. Hillerson was selected to the All-Guard Team last year.
On the women’s side, Vermont Staff Sgt. Erin Graham won both the 7.5-km and 15-km races with times of 27:19.4 and 1:01:11.1, respectively.
Eighteen states sent about 75 athletes to the championships. The event rotates annually between the biathlon facilities at Camp Ripley, Minn., and Camp Ethan Allen near Burlington, Vt.
A few days before the event, temperatures in the Burlington, Vt.-area warmed and rain fell, threatening the course.
Fortunately, cold weather returned and support crews made snow and covered thin spots, said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Keith Silbernick, the chief of competition.
He said about 50 Guardmembers supported the championships as drivers, race officials and course groomers.
The National Guard biathlon program’s mission is to develop the highest levels of skiing and rifle marksmanship necessary to improve the combat ability of individual Soldiers and to represent the National Guard and the U.S. Armed Services in national and international events, including the World Cup and Winter Olympics.