Today in Anchorage, World Youth/Junior Biathlon Championships Team Trials kicked off with a bang – or lots of bangs, as rifles knocked down target after target at Kincaid Park’s world-class shooting range. Thirty-eight athletes from teams in seven different states converged on the Alaskan racing mecca’s trails — which are luckily one of the few spots in the U.S. to have plenty of natural snow.
The championships themselves won’t happen until February in Kontiolahti, Finland, where youth (17 and 18 years old) and junior (19 and 20 years old) racers will compete for international titles. The U.S. will send up to four athletes of each gender in each age division, with two racers prequalified based on leading the Youth Olympic Games nominees: Sean Doherty of Saratoga Biathlon and Anna Kubek of Mount Itasca, who was also nominated to the senior IBU Cup team last week. In their absence, the rest of the team will be picked by the best two of three races as measured by percent back.
Sprint racing was the order of the day, with youth men and youth and junior women racing 7.5 kilometers, and junior men 10; Juniors are 19 to 20 years old and youth 17 to 18, although some competitors in the youth division are actually even younger. Sprints consist of only two shooting stages, prone followed by standing, for a total of ten shots for each competitor. Missed shots mean a trip to the penalty loop.
In the first race of the day, the junior men, Vermont Biathlon/Craftsbury Nordic Ski Club athlete Ethan Dreissigacker was nearly perfect on the range and skied to a 1:17 win over Maine Winter Sports Center’s Ben Greenwald. Both men missed a single shot, Greenwald in prone and Dreissigacker in standing. Starting fourth, Dreissigacker’s skiing propelled him past most of the previous starters; as he neared the finish, he closed in on Casey Smith of Methow Valley Biathlon, but the Washington athlete was able to turn on the afterburners and cross the line first en route to a third-place finish in the division. All three men were members of last year’s team, although Smith was a youth, and this is his first year racing as a junior.
In the youth men’s race, the margin of victory was a bit smaller with Sam Dougherty, Jake Prince and Nick Proell all finishing within 30 seconds; the men also had three penalties each, meaning that they skied very similar times. Dougherty, the only athlete in the field who has already competed in a World Youth Championships, ended up edging his Alaska Biathlon teammate by 22 seconds, with Minnesota Biathlon’s Proell — who will be representing the U.S. at the Youth Olympic Games in January — finishing just behind them. Two more athletes, Kyle Rutar of Casper Mountain Biathlon and Erik Rupert of the Maine Winter Sports Center, finished within twenty seconds of Proell and remain close in the percent-back rankings.
Kimberly Del Frate of Alaska Biathlon dominated the junior women’s division, winning by over a minute and a half despite two trips to the penalty loop. While three previous World Youth Championships competitors were in the field, none had represented the U.S. as a junior, and two of them — Andrea Mayo of BATCave and Silke Hynes of Vermont Collegiate Biathlon — finished at the bottom of the field. Kelly Kjorlien of Mount Itasca, a leader of last year’s youth delegation, finished second after cleaning both shooting stages, while Del Frate’s sister Amanda picked up third place with four penalties, narrowly beating out Danika Frisbie of Vermont Collegiate Biathlon.
Finally, Tara Geraghty-Moats of Vermont Biathlon/Craftsbury Nordic Ski Club won the youth women’s sprint by 1:03 despite hitting just half of her targets. The Vermonter was the only returning team member in the field, and it showed; second-place Melissa Manning of the Maine Winter Sports Center had three penalties and Jenna Ruzich of Nisswa NW four. Using the precent-back measurements, Geraghty-Moats had the most dominant win of the day.
Racing continues on Thursday with pursuit competitions.
Full results (Excel spreadsheet)