After a series of three trials races (which FasterSkier blogged the results of earlier), the United States Biathlon Association (USBA) has selected ten athletes to represent its cause at the World Youth and Junior Championships in Obertilliach, Austria, in late January.
In contrast to the selection system used by USSA for sking’s World Junior, J1, and U23 events, USBA does not fill all four possible quota spots in every division. Instead, they use a percent-back calculation to compare performances to the top three finishers in each race and have cutoff values for automatic qualification: a 99 % average in the best two of three races for juniors, or 97 % for youth.
While some choices were obvious – for example Anna Kubek of Mount Itasca and Sean Doherty of Vermont Collegiate Biathlon swept all of the races and topped the combined youth and junior standings, despite being youths – others were not.
For example in the women’s division, youths Aleksandra Zakrsweska and Mikaela Paluszek (Ethan Allen Biathlon) were close enough to Kubek to make the 97 % cutoff, and Tara Geraghty-Moats, also of Vermont Ethan Allen, was ranked ahead of them. But as a junior, Geraghty-Moats had the higher, 99 % cutoff, and did not automatically qualify. A top-20 finisher in the youth division at the 2012 Championships who is now training at a ski gymnasium in Solleftea, Sweden, Geraghty-Moats was added as a discretionary selection, but will be the only junior woman representing the U.S.
“Whenever we have a fairly small field of juniors, we combine them with the youth in order to get a better perspective on the quality of field,” USBA Director of Athlete Development Piotr Bednarski wrote in an e-mail to FasterSkier. “We feel it’s important that we send athletes that have a legitimate chance of making the top 60 in the sprint (so they can qualify for the pursuit). We consider this an appropriate level of performance, and even if someone is the top athlete in their category, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are ready for the WJCH level of competition.”
In the men’s races, Doherty dominated, but not quite as thoroughly as Kubek had – while his female counterpart notched three and five minute victories, Doherty was limited to two and three minutes over a longer distance. As such, one junior, Casey Smith of Biathlon Elite, was able to sneak into the 99 % range for automatic selection. A top-30 finisher at previous Championships, Smith has also competed at Open European Championships and joined Doherty and Geraghty-Moats for a trip to Swedish National Championships last spring.
In the youth men’s division, National Guard Biathlon’s Jordan McElroy was the only athlete to qualify based on points. But Jacob Ellingson of TC Biathlon and Brian Halligan of the Saratoga Biathlon Club were also added as discretionary selections. Using the same reasoning, Jake Dalberg of National Guard Biathlon will join Smith in the junior races.
“In general one would expect the juniors to be stronger than the youth,” Bednarski wrote. “Of course, in this case, we have two very exceptional youth athletes in Sean and Anna. As you can imagine, we have some high hopes for WJCH’s (both Sean and Anna have one more year in the youth category!)… A junior athlete must be really close to the objective criteria, and exhibit really good ski speed, otherwise we won’t generally recommend a discretionary selection. With youth athletes, because they are younger, we give them more leeway, especially if they are showing some good ski speed. Most of the youth competitors are in their first or second year of shooting, so we expect a high level of variability in their shooting results.”
While it’s notable that only one segment of the squad, the youth boys, will have a full roster, this is certainly not the first time a dominating performance has left the rest of the American juniors out of the running. In 2010, Leif Nordgren crushed the trials field and was the only representative in the junior division, where he collected two top-ten performances. He’s gone on to World Cup success.
And that’s what Bednarski is hoping for with this next crop of young athletes.
“With WJCH in the United States next year, we really want to have a good team in all categories,” he concluded.
Honors are due to Algis Shalna, who coaches both the Vermont Collegiate Biathlon team and the Ethan Allen Biathlon club; of the ten athletes selected, four train with him in Jericho, Vermont. The National Guard biathlon program also made a strong showing, placing two athletes on the roster, showing their increasing focus on young biathletes.
Casey Smith, Methow Valley, WA (Methow Valley Biathlon/Biathlon Elite)
Jake Dalberg, Ely, MN (National Guard Biathlon)
Tara Geraghty-Moats, West Fairlee, VT (Ethan Allen Biathlon)
Anna Kubek, Duluth, MN (Mount Itasca)
Aleksandra Zakrzewska, Burlington, VT (Ethan Allen Biathlon)
Mikaela Paluszek, Farmington, NH (Ethan Allen Biathlon)
Sean Doherty, Center Conway, NH (Vermont Collegiate Biathlon)
Jordan McElroy, Truckee, CA (National Guard Biathlon)
Jakob Ellingson, Minnetonka, MN (TC Biathlon)
Brian Halligan, Gansevoort, NY (Saratoga Biathlon Club)
For results and points rankings, go to Minnesota Biathlon.
Chelsea Little is FasterSkier's Editor-At-Large. A former racer at Ford Sayre, Dartmouth College and the Craftsbury Green Racing Project, she is a PhD candidate in aquatic ecology in the @Altermatt_lab at Eawag, the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology in Zurich, Switzerland. You can follow her on twitter @ChelskiLittle.