Sean Doherty knew exactly what he was in for heading into his third International Biathlon Union (IBU) Youth World Championships. The 17-year-old New Hampshire resident had been to two junior world championships before: first in 2011 in Nove Mesto, Czech Republic, and again last year in Kontiolahti, Finland.
His best individual result had been 13th, which he took in the 2012 sprint and pursuit. Pretty good, but Doherty wanted more. Last year, he won bronze in the mixed relay at the Youth Olympic Games in Innsbruck, Austria.
Back in Austria – this time in Obertilliach – Doherty proved to himself and everyone else that he was capable of not only a podium, but nearly a win, in the 2013 youth worlds opener. The Vermont Collegiate Biathlon member raced to silver in Friday’s 7.5-kilometer sprint, finishing just 3.6 seconds behind winner Fabien Claude of France.
Doherty skied the fourth-fastest time of more than 100 competitors in the men’s youth race, rising five places on the last of three laps to place second. Seventeenth after the first lap, he finished in 21:16.0 with two misses – one at each stage.
Claude, who won in 21:12.4, shot clean on the first stage and missed two on the second. Estonia’s Rene Zahkna took third, 14.9 seconds behind Claude, with one penalty.
And while Doherty’s ability to fight for first was hardly a surprise, he was still taking it all in. For U.S. Biathlon, it was the best result at IBU Youth and Junior World Championships since national-team member Jay Hakkinen won gold in the 1997 sprint.
“It is hard to believe that I have worked all of this time towards this goal,” Doherty said in a U.S. Biathlon press release. “Now it is here I am still a little bit in shock.”
His game plan had been relatively simple: start in control then pick up the pace. He felt good throughout the race, but expected that after starting conservatively, he wrote in an email.
“The shooting went well but not flawlessly,” Doherty explained. “The last lap came around and I got a split from our coach [Vladimir Cervenka] that I was very close to medal contention and I just really turned up and went as hard as I could.”
While the sprint went exceptionally well, it wasn’t an event Doherty had especially eyed.
“Honestly I try very hard to go into every race I do without expecting a number result,” wrote Doherty, who lives in Center Conway, N.H. “But I am extremely satisfied with this result. … I am focused on all of these events equally. I mean it is the Junior world championships so I am focusing every race.”
Doherty said he’ll try to “keep calm” in Sunday’s 10 k pursuit and approach it like he would any other race, aiming to have a good one.
“We are very exited about Sean’s race today,” Cervenka said in the press release. “He did great and according his plan he saved his best for the last loop. It will be fun to watch the pursuit on Sunday.”
Also notching a top result on Friday, Canadian Stuart Harden made it into the top 20 in 20th, 1:02.6 behind the winner with two misses, both on the second stage. Harden had the fourth-fastest time after the first lap. Also for Canada, Carsen Campbell was 30th (+1:31.7/0+2), Arthur Roots was 59th (+3:07.3/1+2), Matthew Strum was 69th (+3:40.3/2+3).
For the U.S., Jakob Ellingson was 62nd (+3:25.5/3+1), Jordan McElroy was 79th (+4:08.0/2+3), and Brian Halligan was 88th (+5:09.2/4+5) of 108 finishers.
In the women’s 6 k sprint, American Anna Kubek of Duluth, Minn., was the top North American in 34th. She had two penalties, both on the first stage, and was 3:18.2 back from Russian winner Uliana Kaisheva, who completed the course in 18:08.7 (0+1).
Canada’s Sarah Beaudry was 36th with three misses (+3:24.2/1+2). Teammates Leilani Tam Von Burg was 71st (+5:34.3/1+1), Emily Dickinson was 75th (+6:05.7/2+1) and Charlotte Hamel was 80th (+6:50.4/1+1).
For the U.S., Mikaela Paluszek was 65th (0+4), and Aleksandra Zakrzewska was 84th (2+4).
— Audrey Mangan contributed reporting
Alex Kochon (email@example.com) is the former managing editor at FasterSkier. She spent seven years with FS from 2011-2018, and has been writing, editing, and skiing ever since. She's making a cameo in 2020.