After bringing only part of their team to the first World Cup weekend in Ruhpolding, Germany, the U.S. Biathlon Association has promoted two athletes from the second-tier IBU Cup to come compete at the highest level and fill out their relay rosters.
For one the move is no surprise: Leif Nordgren, a World Cup veteran who had strong early-season races but struggled once the World Cup began. After a bounce back to the IBU Cup where he finished 25th twice, he’s ready to try again.
“I had come into the season really strong but maybe a little too far along in process and was starting to come down off a peak,” Nordgren wrote in an email. “Of course it’s always a bummer to miss a World Cup weekend, but I wasn’t overly disappointed. The course in Nove Mesto is probably my favorite track that we race on, and the atmosphere is very relaxed on the IBU Cup, so sometimes its nice to go back and just have fun.”
Joining him on the trip from Nove Mesto, Czech Republic, to Ruhpolding was an athlete with a very different backstory: Joanne Reid, a California native and NCAA Champion skier who is finishing her masters degree at the University of Colorado in Boulder, in the ATLAS program for technology, media, and society.
Reid’s World Cup start on Thursday in the 15 k individual will be her first. It will also be just her eighth biathlon race, ever. She started shooting in August.
“It has been a really short, quick adventure,” Reid laughed in a phone interview on Tuesday. “This year I just wanted to go to IBU Cup trials and see what happened.”
Reid took a year off after graduating from the CU bachelors program in 2013, then resumed training in 2014 but not at a full-time capacity while she worked on her masters. Still, she earned a nod to the U.S. Ski Team’s squad for Under-23 World Championships, where she was the top American skier in both the 10 k skate and the 15 k skiathlon.
“I definitely needed the year off that I took,” Reid said.
When her family found themselves in possession of a biathlon rifle, something clicked in Reid’s head.
“My grandfather, who was diagnosed with Alzheimers a couple years ago, had a biathlon rifle that he got when he was a master,” she explained. “It was repossessed because you can’t have a firearm if you have Alzheimers. It passed into my family, so I got my hands on this biathlon rifle. And I don’t particularly like to sprint, and I don’t particularly like to classic ski. So it was kind of like all the pieces fell together for me and I just went for it.”
Over the summer, Reid got in touch with the U.S. national team.
“I met up with her in Colorado Springs to discuss this and find a way to help her get started,” Chief of Sport Bernd Eisenbichler wrote in an email. “Obviously the interest from my side was huge to get her over to biathlon, because she has the skiing performance level we look for. I was impressed at the first meeting, as she already had organized a rifle and a laser shooting system to train with and was highly motivated to get started as a biathlete.”
Reid quickly found plenty of support: from the Auburn Ski Club biathlon program when she was home in California, from Colorado Biathlon when she was at school, and from the national team, who invited her twice to train in Lake Placid with Head Development Coach Jean Paquet and his group.
“Everyone in the entire community is just so great, and so excited for up-and-coming biathletes that they just really want to help you,” Reid said. “So the problem isn’t finding people to help you, it’s filtering through the giant mass of information coming at you. But for the most part it has been the national team who have really stepped up for me, really helped me and taken me under their wing and taught me all the important things, like how you get the rifle back on your back after shooting.”
After IBU Cup trials in Canmore, Alberta, Reid found herself on the team. Then when she got to Nove Mesto, she finished 16th with a single penalty in her first race, then followed that up with a clean-shooting 23rd-place finish in the second.
“It was so fun,” Reid gushed. “And it was really great to start out there, in Nove Mesto, because it’s somewhere that I’ve raced before. So the course was at least familiar- the layout of where the stadium is, where the range is, and that helped a lot. I’m also just not a person that gets easily flustered or really nervous. So that has been really helpful as I have been trying to learn biathlon.”
In fact, the promise that Eisenbichler and his staff saw in Reid doesn’t have to do only with her ski speed, but also with her mental attitude.
“Joanne shows impressive biathlon performances,” Eisenbichler wrote.
Her approach to racing might be perfect for biathlon.
“I tend to be a very rational skier,” Reid said. “That’s really important in biathlon because you have to remember all the little pieces, you can’t forget anything. You have to come into the range with a really cool head and be very focused.”
Reid still has plenty to learn though, and at the time of this interview her rifle was in pieces after it stopped working in morning training.
“I’m having an exciting time trying to repair my rifle because it’s old and full of a lot of weird parts that my dad built for me,” Reid explained. “None of the mechanics have ever seen anything like it and they don’t know how to put it together! And I don’t even know how to take the barrel off my rifle yet.”
The stock needed to have a riser block – the piece where right-handed biathletes place their left hand while shooting – added, and it has an older style magazine holder which slows things down.
But it obviously shoots straight, and, Reid said, “It’s mine!”
When her family got the rifle, her mother, speedskating Olympian Beth Reid, decided to give it a name. Because of its provenance she settled on “Forget-Me-Not.”
“The flowers are woodburned, by her, all along the stock, as well as the word forget-me-not,” Reid wrote in a later message. “Equipment check counted it as a sponsor on my rifle and made me tape over one of the Anschutz labels. I tried to explain it’s just a flower, but hey, they’re German.”
A very strict equipment check? That’s just one of the new things Reid will encounter on the World Cup.
“Usually a rookie in biathlon should stay a little longer first on the IBU Cup to gain more international experience there before being promoted to the World Cup,” Eisenbichler said. “But in her case and with these performances compared to the other American starters, we had and wanted to take her, knowing that she is still here for learning and development and improvement work even between the World Cup races. The coaches have a good plan for that.”
Reid has been selected for both Ruhpolding and the next weekend’s World Cups in Antholz, Italy, and an additional U.S. woman may or may not be called up for Antholz as well.
And once the racing begins on Thursday, in one of the most packed venues on the whole World Cup circuit (you can hear audio of the stadium here), what’s Reid’s plan?
“I’m really excited!” she laughed. “I hope I don’t miss too much. They said the range is really, really, really loud. So I hope I can just keep it together out there… It’s great to see the whole culture. It’s really inspiring and I’m absolutely thrilled.”
IBU Cup results:
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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.