The biathlon season may have ended in North America a few weeks ago, but that hasn’t stopped a group of U.S. juniors from racing their way from to the top. Sean Doherty (Saratoga Biathlon), Tara Geraghty-Moats (Craftsbury Nordic Ski Club/Ethan Allen Biathlon Club), and Casey Smith (Methow Valley Biathlon) flew to Solefteå, Sweden as part of an exchange organized by U.S. Head Coach Per Nilsson.
While the main focus on the stay was more to train and familiarize the young athletes with the structure of the sport in European programs, the trio also competed in Swedish national championships while they were there.
Doherty had the most success. After winning the opening youth men’s sprint by 38 seconds, he extended his lead to almost three and a half minutes in the pursuit and picked up his second win of the series, sweeping the individual races in the 27-man field.
“Sean made a big impression here on everybody,” Nilsson wrote in an e-mail after the Sunday pursuit. “Two victories: today he won the pursuit by 3:24!”
Doherty’s closest competitors from the sprint, Victor Olsson and Martin Ponsiluoma, each struggled mightily in the pursuit, racking up ten penalties apiece in the 20-shot race and slipping to fourth and fifth, roughly five and six minutes back. Instead, Fredrik Ögren and Robert Sjöström stepped up to fill the podium. But after starting in fourth and sixth position, more than a minute behind Doherty, they couldn’t come close to the win.
Part of their difficulty came on the range, where they were unable to best the New Hampshire native: Doherty and second-place Ögren each missed four shots and Sjöström five.
But more than that, Doherty outpaced them on the trails, putting another two minutes into Ögren despite having identical shooting scores. Nilsson wasn’t surprised given the American’s speed earlier in the series.
“Yesterday Sean had fifth-fastest leg time in the relay for seniors,” Nilsson explained.
U.S. Biathlon Association staff were universally pleased to see Doherty’s success.
“Not too shabby,” Athlete Development Director Piotr Bednarski said of the relay effort. “And Sean kicked some butt again in the pursuit.”
In the youth women’s pursuit, Geraghty-Moats moved from fifth up to fourth thanks mostly to strong skiing; that race was filled with shooting errors. The sprint victor, Hanna Öberg, missed nine shots, and ended up third; Geraghty-Moats matched that performance but gained 20 seconds on Öberg. Anna Magnussen moved from fourth up to the top with just three penalties, followed by Emma Nilsson, who maintained her second-place position with four. The sprint bronze medalist, Sofia Henriksson, slipped to seventh with a devastating 14 misses.
“Tara was one of the strongest women on the course all day,” Nilsson said of Geraghty-Moats’ skiing after the race.
In the junior men’s race, Smith moved from eighth up to sixth with only six penalties, the second-best shooting in the race.
Nilsson said that the high point of the championships for the lone junior came in the relay, when he used just a single spare round over two stages to clean his ten targets – and that helped the Americans make an even bigger impression than they had from Doherty’s wins alone.
“After two legs, Sean and Casey were the second team in the senior relay,” he wrote.
After sightseeing in Stockholm, the juniors are returning to the States on Wednesday.
“I think and hope that they learned and enjoyed the exchange here,” Nilsson concluded.