(Note: This is the first 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 North American Rollerski Biathlon Championships, held in Jericho, Vermont last month, were the last in a series of qualifying races for U.S. athletes hoping to compete at the Youth Olympic Games (YOG) in January. While YOG as a whole includes athletes ranging from 14 to 19 years of age, skiers and biathletes must be born in 1994 or 1995 to be eligible for competition, which includes the high-level debut of a mixed cross-country and biathlon relay event.
After nine races in the qualifying series, Sean Doherty of Conway, New Hampshire had racked up six victories and sat atop the list of 20 boys who had entered at least one of the races. Of the four team members selected by USBA Doherty is the only one with international race experience; this year he represented the U.S. at World Junior Championships even though he was actually a year younger than the defined age of a youth. While competing against boys up to three years older, he raced his way from 50th starting position (based on sprint results and time gaps) to 37th in the pursuit.
Doherty only competed in a single Junior Olympic Qualifier and doesn’t have a USSA license, but he’s no slouch on the trails. Instead of aiming for the national scene, he skis for his high school team while also focusing on biathlon. Last he skied to victory in the New Hampshire Series, the biggest ski race in the state, while representing Kennett High School. Then, as a member of the “Live Free or Die” state’s high school squad, he swept all three individual races and the relay at the NENSA J2 Festival and helped New Hampshire secure third place.
FasterSkier caught up with the talented Granite Stater after he was nominated to the team.
FasterSkier: Can you tell me a little bit about your history as a skier?
Sean Doherty: I have been skiing nordic and alpine since I was four. My neighbors introduced me to skate skiing when I was seven. I also love telemark skiing and started this when I was nine.
FS: What made you want to take up biathlon?
SD: I have friends who have competed or who still compete and I thought it was interesting – I enjoyed the added challenge and the nice people I met.
FS: Am I right in thinking that you don’t have a biathlon club where you live? How do you train and get coaching?
SD: You are right, there are no biathlon clubs in this area. I did a couple of Maine Winter Sports Center camps. I now work with Algis Shalna out of Jericho, Vermont. I train over there when I can. I am a member of the Saratoga Biathlon Club, Mount Washington Nordic and Eastern Slope Ski Club. All these clubs have been very supportive.
FS: It seems like last year you prioritized biathlon more than skiing; how did you focus on biathlon with relatively few resources in New Hampshire?
SD: Biathlon is all about skiing. I enjoy all nordic sports – classic, skate and biathlon. I don’t feel I have limited resources living where I do. I get great support from my local clubs, and support with training through the USBA and the National Guard in Jericho VT. I still race for my high school when I can and really enjoy all kinds of local races when they are available.
FS: Of all the members of the team, you’re the only one who raced at World Juniors. How was that experience and how do you think it prepared you for the Youth Olympics?
SD: I think it was beneficial to get international competition under my belt. The racing experience at the World Juniors was fun.
FS: It’s pretty unusual for athletes to know this far ahead of time that they have made the team for a major international event. Has this changed your plans for the summer, fall, and early winter at all?
SD: No, you still need to be ready to race in January whether it is in Austria, New Hampshire or somewhere else.
FS: Not all of the teams have been announced yet, but here are some pretty fierce athletes already named to their country’s rosters. How are you feeling about the competition?
SD: Your competition is going to be your competition. This is a new year and lots can change. I don’t focus on the other competitors. I just focus on my race.
FS: What are you looking forward to most about the trip?
SD: It will be pretty exciting to go to Austria and be part of the first Youth Olympic Games. I just want to race at the highest level. That’s why I’m going there.