When 16-year-old Chloe Levins of Rutland, Vermont, arrived in Belarus for the International Biathlon Union’s World Youth Championships, it wasn’t under the best of circumstances.
Levins had won the U.S. Biathlon Association’s trials race series in Mount Itasca, Minnesota, at the end of December and was thus the top pick for the U.S. team to the Championships. But since then, she competed in some high school ski races but got sick and missed a block of training.
In the opening competition of the Championships, a 10 k individual race, Levins missed eight of 20 shots and finished 55th.
“The individual competition was a very challenging race for me mentally and physically,” she wrote in an e-mail. “It was difficult to expect myself to be fast on the skis and sharp on the shooting range because of the lack of ideal preparation. I was not intimidated by the competition, but more internally hesitant. I missed 8 targets and did not ski up to par.”
But Levins is a fierce competitor: besides being a winning cross country skier and biathlete, she is also a state champion golfer. She mentally reset for the sprint competition scheduled for Friday.
“My goal was to stay focused on the process as much as possible,” she wrote.
The result was a success: Levins knocked down all ten targets and finished the 6 k sprint 18th, one minute and 35 seconds behind race winner Darya Blashko of Belarus and the top North American.
“It was surreal to clean today!” she wrote. “It was my first time shooting clean in a race! I wasn’t very surprised to clean-maybe because I imagined myself hitting all of the targets last night. Also, I have shot well in previous sprint competitions, so it was a reasonable possibility.”
She was one of only six women to clean the competition, despite describing that conditions on the range were calmer than in the individual competition.
Levins skis for Mountain Top Nordic Ski Club and her high school in Rutland. Her brother built her a one-point range in their backyard, but for the rest of her biathlon training she has to travel over an hour and a half – each way – to Jericho, Vermont, the home of the Ethan Allen Firing Range.
“I train at Ethan Allen, but I am not a part of Ethan Allen Biathlon Club,” Levins explained. “Algis Shalna is my shooting and skiing coach. This is my third year training with Algis. I meet him in Jericho about 2 times a week during the winter. It is a lot of travel, but I learn at least one new thing every time I train with Algis, so it is worth the car ride. For the days that my mom and I aren’t in Jericho, I follow Algis’s training plan.”
Shalna has a history of taking athletes with no strong biathlon club in their hometown and teaching them towards international success; he also coached New Hampshire native Sean Doherty, who finished 14th in the junior men’s individual race on Thursday.
Doherty is a multiple gold medalist from previous seasons when he was a youth competitor, has the most World Championship medals of any U.S. biathlete in history, and competed at the 2014 Olympics. He’s also headed to his first senior World Championships in Finland in March.
So it was the process-based focus preached by Shalna and the rest of the U.S. staff that led Levins to her clean shooting in the sprint.
“I controlled the things that I could control very well, and the things out of my control cooperated nicely,” Levins explained. “It was the best I could do today, but not the culmination of my skiing potential.”
In Sunday’s 7.5 k pursuit, Levins will be in a good position to move up the results sheet if she can continue her clean-shooting ways.
“It will be a 1.5k loop that we will complete 5 times, so shooting well will be very important,” she wrote. “It is difficult to make up skiing time on such a short loop. Beyond that, I am going to stay dedicated to my process and have some fun!”
Levins’ teammates Amanda Kautzer (Loppet Nordic Racing/Minnesota Biathlon) and Siena Ellingson (Mount Itasca/Minnesota Biathlon) finished 39th and 41st, with two and three penalties, respectively, and Hannah Streinz (Maine Winter Sports Center) finished 54th. All four will appear in the pursuit.
Bryn Robertson led the Canadian youth women in 40th place, accruing two penalties and finishing 2:45.1 behind Blashko. Megan Bankes was close behind in 45th. Both athletes compete for Foothills Nordic.
In the youth men’s 7.5 k sprint, Jonas Uglem Mobakken picked up a ten-second win. The top North American finish belonged to Canada’s Pearce Hanna (Rocky Mountain Racers), who placed 34th, two minutes and 19 seconds back with two penalties. He was the only Canadian entered in the event; with Canada Games running concurrently in Prince George, British Columbia, only a skeleton team was sent to Belarus.
For the U.S., Paul Everett (Methow Valley) led the way in 36th, four seconds behind Hanna.
The rest of the American team will miss the top-60 pursuit cutoff. Sam Zabell (Auburn Ski Club) placed 69th, and Cam Christiansen (Nisswa NW) 81st and Alexander Kilby (Skiku Biathlon) 82nd.
Racing continues on Saturday with junior men’s and women’s sprint competitions.
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.