Editor’s Note: This ‘Pros of Tomorrow’ series, brought to you by the generous support of Fischer Sports, aims to highlight some of the most notable up-and-coming athletes around the world, which may or may not be Fischer-sponsored skiers. Have an idea for a top-notch skier you’re itching to read more about? Email firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line: Pros of Tomorrow. Ideas for intriguing juniors or collegiate skiers, or lesser-known athletes are welcome as well — subject line: From the Pack.
Jakob Ellingson has made some changes this year. The 20-year-old biathlete from Minneapolis finished high school, switched to training full time, revamped his approach to shooting, and attended training camps in Lake Placid with the national team.
“I’m actually feeling really good at this point,” he said of a year where he’s increasing his training volume.
Seems like it. Ellingson turned heads last weekend in Jericho, Vermont, with a pair of strong finishes in the North American Rollerski Cup races.
Missing three shots in the sprint, he placed seventh; in the mass start the next day, he placed second behind World Championships silver medalist Nathan Smith. He two penalties over 20 shots represented the best shooting of any of the 80 or so athletes competing, male or female, in any age category.
Landing as the top American in his first year competing as a senior surprised even Ellingson.
The last time he had talked to FasterSkier, it was after a frustrating sprint race at 2015 World Junior Championships, where he missed five shots and placed 65th, just outside the cutoff for the pursuit.
So the changes have certainly made a difference.
“Really, I shouldn’t have been surprised because all I did was that I didn’t rush it and just did what I had been practicing,” Ellingson said in a phone interview last week.
Part of the result came down to a specific race-day plan. The range approach in Jericho can be tricky, with a long but gradual uphill leading into the shooting range.
“Sometimes I think people go faster than they should because they don’t realize that it is, yeah, a pretty challenging approach,” Ellingson said. “Coming up that hill, Vlad [Cervenka, Ellingson’s coach] was telling me to just calm down and do what I had been training. To not worry about those other guys.”
But lots of athletes go into races with a plan. Having the ability and presence of mind to follow that plan – particularly in the psychologically tough sport of biathlon – shows a level of maturity.
“I was very impressed by his performance,” United States Biathlon Association Chief of Sport Bernd Eisenbichler said after the competitions.
Ellingson said that having trained with the national team athletes in the spring gave him confidence.
“I know that most of those guys will shoot faster than me,” he said. “But I know that when they shoot fast, especially early in the year like this, they can make mistakes. So it’s okay if I take my time and make sure I hit them.”
He also was grateful to end up skiing behind Sean Doherty, a World Junior Champion who has been on several international racing trips with Ellingson as a youth and a junior. A 2014 Olympian and now a World Cup racer, Doherty has experience that Ellingson doesn’t.
But he was a known quantity.
“Skiing behind Sean was nice,” Ellingson said. “He was trying to do the same thing, to control the range approach. And he’s obviously faster than I am and a stronger skier, but I’m getting closer.”
Ellingson has been training primarily with Cervenka in Grand Rapids, Minnesota. The longtime coach has offered his current star athlete a place in his house to live, and Ellingson only returns to the Twin Cities on rest weeks.
An avid and talented photographer, Ellingson doesn’t feel the need to cram any other pursuits into his schedule, so focusing on biathlon made sense.
“I don’t know what I’d study,” he laughed of the decision to defer college.
Despite training full time, he says his life is not getting dull.
“With Vlad we do a lot of different stuff,” he said of the shift to full-time training. “Not just too much skiing or too much running, we do a lot of biking and a little bit of swimming. We really spread it out and make it fun. It doesn’t seem too much like a job. Just going out and having fun training.”
As the oldest of Cervenka’s athletes, Ellingson knows that although he may be happy with his coach and enjoy helping out with the high school team, he needs a new challenge to continue his upward trajectory.
“My goal is to get on the X Team or the Development Team so that I can be working with these guys more often,” he said of USBA’s two development programs. “I think that’s the next thing for me, is to spend more time training and racing with the top guys in the U.S.”
That’s very possible. Along with Russell Currier of the Maine Winter Sports Center, Ellingson has been invited to a testing week with the U.S. team in Lake Placid in September. (Casey Smith of the Craftsbury Green Racing Project was also invited, but will be training in Ramsau, Austria, with his team.)
There, it’s possible that either could get named to the American “B” team, which didn’t have any nominations this spring, or that Ellingson could be added to the X team.
“We are really pleased to see this,” Eisenbichler said of the level of all three of those athletes. “These guys showed now that they are ready to perform against the others… After that we see if we have a naming for the B team or what happens. But I think they see that if you perform, then you get a reward.”
And thanks to his strong finishes in Jericho, Ellingson is very much in the running for a pre-season camp in Utah (rescheduled from Canmore, where not enough snow is saved to guarantee skiing in late October). From there it’s possible, with more good performances, to move to a pre-World Cup camp in Sjusjøen, Norway.
The decision to focus on biathlon seems to be working out so far.
“I figure, school will still be there when I’m done,” Ellingson said. “And with biathlon it’s hard to really focus on it when you’re going to school because colleges in the U.S. don’t support it. It’s going well right now, so I don’t see any reason to stop.”
Want a blast from the past? Read some of our previous Pros of Tomorrow profiles:
Frédérique Vézina (2014)
Lukas Ebner (2014)
Miles Havlick (2014; fourth overall in 2015 SuperTour)
Olivia Bouffard-Nesbitt (2014; 2015 senior World Championships team member)
Nichole Bathe (2014)
Anja Gruber (2014; fourth place in 2015 Birkie)
Ben Lustgarten (2014)
Heidi Widmer (2013; 2014 Olympian)
Cendrine Browne (2013; 2015 senior national champion)
Leif Nordgren (2010; 2014 Olympian and longtime senior national team member)
Lenny Valjas (2010; 2014 Olympian and longtime senior national team member)
Brittany Webster (2010; 2014 Olympian)
Ida Sargent (2010; 2014 Olympian, 2015 World Cup top-5 finish, senior national team member)
Andrew Musgrave (2010; 2014 Olympian and longtime senior national team member)
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.