The U.S. men’s biathlon team was already starting the World Cup season with a man down: Sean Doherty, the several-time World Youth and Junior Champion and 2014 Olympian, who had come down with mononucleosis.
But the team is now down to just three men after fellow 2014 Olympian Leif Nordgren had to have surgery on his toe after an incident with a treadmill.
Until January at least, that leaves just Lowell Bailey, Tim Burke and Russell Currier sporting the purple-and-orange suits of the United States on the sport’s biggest stage. It also leaves them without a relay team on Sunday in Pokljuka, Slovenia.
“It’s definitely disappointing to sit out a relay, but unfortunately, that is what we will have to do next weekend,” Bailey wrote in an email this past Sunday. “I think both of them will be back in force after the new year, so our whole focus now will be on the last half of the season, and a podium at World Champs… that’s what we are all aiming for!”
Paul Schommer, who was on the short list for a World Cup spot before Currier was selected, would have been the next logical man to add to the roster, but the team decided against it.
“We discussed the option to bring another man over, but we felt that the heavy travel and the race schedule as well at World Cups 2 and 3 did not justify getting someone out of the middle of a training block in Canmore,” U.S. Biathlon Chief of Sport Bernd Eisenbichler wrote in an email. “We only have one relay in the first trimester… We always try to look at individual best development options, as long as we are not missing more than one relay of course.”
Nordgren’s injury actually happened just before he left the U.S. for the opening weekend of World Cup racing in Östersund, Sweden.
“The way it happened was kind of a freak accident,” he explained in an email. “I was doing intervals on the [rollerski] treadmill. After one interval I got off to take a lactate sample. The treadmill was still coming down from its incline though and squished my toe into the floor. Conveniently the treadmill turned off at that point and it took 30-45 seconds to turn it back on and raise it back up.”
Nordgren was initially told that he was fine to travel, train, and race, so he flew to Sweden, where he competed in the single mixed relay with Joanne Reid, finishing 19th.
“It definitely hurt pretty bad to train and race on it last week,” he admitted.
Afterwards, he went to the hospital in Sweden, where X-rays revealed that he had actually fractured the toe. Because it was an open fracture, surgery was needed. Nordgren opted to fly back to the U.S. for the procedure.
“The main reason to do the surgery was to make sure the fracture didn’t get infected,” he wrote. “When there is a fracture near an open wound (my toe was cut as it was squished) they call it an open fracture. If the fracture and bone get infected it can be very bad, as in amputate bad. Basically it was a better safe than sorry scenario.”
After the surgery, news came back that cultures taken from the fracture did show the presence of Staphylococcal bacteria, which can cause infection and major complications. Nordgren joked on his blog that if he hadn’t had surgery to clean out the wound and the infection had proceeded, he would probably be down to nine toes. He is now on a course of antibiotics which should prevent further problems.
“Now that they did find that staph bacteria I think everyone is happy we did the surgery,” Nordgren wrote in an email.
In terms of his prognosis, he does anticipate being back to the World Cup in January.
“I had surgery on Friday, everything went ok with that and now I am back in Lake Placid area recovering for the next few weeks,” he wrote on Monday. “Recovery is expected to be pretty short, hopefully in the 2 week range. I should be able to start doing some upper body training before then though, but as of now with the surgery still quite fresh I just have to stick to the couch with my foot up.”
As for Doherty, he raced in the NorAm mass start in Canmore, Alberta, on Sunday, placing seventh (+3:03.3 behind winner Paul Schommer) with four penalties.
“Sean did have a quite fast and real good recovery,” Eisenbichler wrote. “Our doctors and coaches did a great job to find the right plan for him. He will do the full camp in Canmore and then if all continues to go well, he will go to [IBU Cup] trials races in Minnesota (not for trials or qualification reason, but to get some racing in). We expect to have him back for World Cup 4 in Oberhof, but more can be said and known after completion of the Canmore Camp.”
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.