Conditions for the first race of Swedish Biathlon National Championships weren’t exactly wonderful in Solefteå, Sweden on Friday.
“The weather has been really bad with warm temps and wind,” U.S. National Team Head Coach Per Nilsson told FasterSkier. “It was on the edge to hold the races… today was deep slush, gusty wind and challenging conditions for everybody.”
It showed: in the senior division, Helena Ekholm and Carl Johan Bergman took the sprint titles with three and two penalties, respectively. Ekholm has been one of the World Cup’s most accurate shooters for years, and the two ended up ranked fifth and sixth in the World Cup total score this season. If they struggled on the range, then who wouldn’t?
Luckily, the three U.S. juniors who were competing in Solefteå as part of an exchange program arranged by Nilsson, who is Swedish, had a secret weapon.
“It seems to be the same on your side of the pond,” Nilsson said.
That was true, said Tara Geraghty-Moats of the Craftsbury Nordic Ski Club, who is the lone girl on the trip.
“Conditions were a bit windy but not bad,” she explained. “The course was basically in the same condition that Casey, Sean and I have been racing in for three weeks now, at [cross-country] junior nationals and biathlon nationals, super soft and warm. I think it might have given us a little edge over the home teams because we are just used to the slow conditions.”
Sean Doherty, a New Hampshire native who races for the Saratoga Biathlon Club and trains with Algis Shalna in Jericho, Vermont, led the pack by posting a 38-second win in the youth (17- to 19-year-old) sprint. That came despite having four penalties in the two shooting stages – and the fact that he won’t turn 17 until June.
“Sean did a really good race,” Nilsson said. “He was strong and had good technique in these conditions.”
Success isn’t new for Doherty, who represented the U.S. at the Youth Olympic Games in January, where he turned in a pivotal leg in the bronze-medal mixed relay. He has competed in two World Junior Championships, and at junior nationals for cross country he placed fourth in the mass start skate and skied a leg on New England’s silver-medal J1 relay team.
Doherty relied on that ski speed on Friday; he left the field in the dust even though the next three finishers had fewer penalties than he did.
Geraghty-Moats, racing in the same age division, finished fifth in the women’s race, 41 seconds behind Hanna Öberg. With five penalties, the Vermonter told FasterSkier that she was not satisfied with her performance.
“I wasn’t very happy with my shooting – the range approach here is the hardest I’ve skied all year,” she said. “You come off a long hard hill and go straight into shooting. I think I might have taken the last hill a little too hard, and paid for it with 50% misses.”
Nilsson agreed that the range approach was tricky, saying the “approach here is tough.”
But despite Geraghty-Moats’ struggles on the range, he was impressed.
“Tara was one of the fastest females out there today,” he said.
The last U.S. racer, Casey Smith of Methow Valley Biathlon, raced in the 20- to 21-year-old junior division, where he placed eighth with four penalties.
In Saturday’s relays, Geraghty-Moats teamed up with Swedish national team member Anna-Karin Strömstedt and Estonia’s Regina Oja to place sixth in the senior women’s division. Smith and Doherty joined Erik Ögren to place fifth in the senior men’s relay.
Racing continues on Sunday with a pursuit based off of Friday’s sprint.
“Hopefully I’ll be able to move up in the results a little more, but I’m pretty happy with my fith place,” Geraghty-Moats said.