(Note: This is the second in a series of interviews with athletes who will be competing at the first-ever winter Youth Olympic Games in Innsbruck, Austria this winter. The first interview was with Sean Doherty.)
Of all the biathletes set to compete at the Youth Olympic Games in January, Anna Kubek of Duluth, Minnesota, might have the least experience: she only picked up biathlon in 2010, and hadn’t even skied before that point.
But to count her out because of her late start in the sport would be a mistake, says coach Vlad Cervenka.
“Anna is clearly the best talent that I have ever coached,” he told FasterSkier in an e-mail.
That’s high praise from a man who has coached the junior national team for years, including Junior World Championships medalist Leif Nordgren, who anchored the sixth-place U.S. relay at senior World Championships this winter.
“Anna knows her body very well, so she can correct her ski technique quickly,” Cervenka wrote. “It is fascinating to see her improving so fast. What is probably the most impressive is her motivation and drive to train. She always likes when practice is hard and more challenging.”
Besides gaining experience on the trails, Kubek revealed herself to be a naturally good shot.
“Last summer when she started, after only one month of training she missed one target out of ten in the sprint competition in the Summer Festival in Jericho,” Cervenka explained. “I can say after a few shooting practices whether an athlete is talented or not, but Anna exceeded all my expectations.”
Kubek gave FasterSkier a quick interview from Minnesota last week.
FasterSkier: What made you want to take up biathlon?
Anna Kubek: I was a gymnast for almost 10 years, but continuous injuries forced me to stop. So one of my good friends invited me to a biathlon practice and I really enjoyed it.
FS: Did your family ski together when you were growing up?
AK: I started to learn the basics how to ski when I was first introduced to biathlon in May of 2010.
FS: When did you start shooting, and how is that portion of the sport coming along?
AK: I started shooting in May of 2010. My biathlon rifle was the first firearm I had ever shot. It took awhile to get used to shooting with a high heart rate and being accurate at the same time, but it is coming along very well. Every practice I feel I have progressed.
FS: What club do you train with now?
AK: I train with Mount Itasca Biathlon which is based in Grand Rapids, MN.
FS: You are probably very strong from your days as a gymnast; are there any other physical advantages you think you’ve had because of your past training?
AK: My previous high intensity gymnastics training has definitely helped me in areas of balance, endurance, and upper and lower body strength.
FS: What about mental issues – does the focus you need to have as a gymnast to do difficult or scary moves translate at all to the focus you need for shooting?
AK: Yes, it is comparable. I need only to focus on what I have been trained to do and be oblivious to what is going on around me.
FS: Would you say you’re a stronger skier or shooter at this point?
AK: They are both pretty equal. It seems as my skiing technique improves, my shooting speed and accuracy increase as well.
FS: Have you ever raced internationally before?
AK: I have never raced internationally before.
FS: Has making the team changed your plans for the summer, fall, and early winter at all?
AK: It has just put more training sessions in my schedule and I have been traveling to different states for training camps. I will be away more for races this coming winter than last. We also tried to accommodate my school schedule so I can remain a full time student at Duluth East high school.
FS: Not all of the teams have been announced yet, but both of the Canadian girls raced at World Juniors last year and many of the other competitors will probably be quite experienced on the international stage as well. Is that scary?
AK: I do not feel intimidated. I have been training very hard and my practices and training camp races are preparing me to face any future competitions. I also have confidence in my coaches for teaching me the skills required to perform well on an international level.
FS: What are you looking forward to most about the trip?
AK: I am looking forward to the international racing experience, getting to know more athletes my age, and traveling to different countries. I am very excited and honored to represent the United States at the Youth Olympic Games.