20-for-20 with Tim Cunningham

FasterSkierFebruary 27, 2018
Tim Cunningham, of the St. Lawrence University Ski Team, representing Team USA at the 2018 IBU Youth/Junior World Championships in Otepää, Estonia. (Courtesy photo)

In an effort to showcase the North Americans competing at this week’s International Biathlon Union (IBU) 2018 Youth and Junior World Championships in Otepää, Estonia, we asked those qualifying athletes several questions about themselves — actually, we had them fill in the blanks. Here we have 19-year-old Tim Cunningham, a freshman on the Saint Lawrence University ski team who is representing the United States at his first World Junior Championships.

On Tuesday, Cunningham was part of the U.S. junior men’s team that finished 19th in the 4 x 7.5 k relay.


“My full name is Timothy Michael Cunningham, but you can call me Tim. I’ll probably answer by name but if you want better odds than that come shake my hand. It’s a more memorable introduction because it requires you to make eye contact, else it would be very weird and uncomfortable.

I was born in New Jersey, but I was raised in Springfield, N.H., and I learned to ski at Kearsarge Regional High School my freshman year. I was told I’d get to do biathlon. Little did I know they meant paintball biathlon. Not the same thing.

I spent the time between World Youth/Junior trials and Worlds mostly skiing, but also classic striding occasionally and studying a great deal of the time.

The most fantastic workout I did in the last training year to prepare for this was the USATF Mountain Running Championships 10 k on Mt. Cranmore. That was an exciting time in my life, I got to run the race in silence, just me the 53% grade on the last 500 meters to the top, and my demons.

I’m still learning the ropes of the sport, I started really training for biathlon August 1st of this past summer (2017) so the things that I’m really working on to improve my biathlon are my prone position (natural point of aim and relaxing) and racing like a biathlete, not a cross country skier.

This is my first time in Estonia and first time racing internationally, if you don’t count the Norwegian Birkebeiner, and so far, it’s been incredible. The course here in Otepää is really well built. It’s very tough out of the gate with really steep hills and sustained climbs but leaves room for good smooth skiing. There really aren’t any tough transitions on the course, just sheer fun.

Panorama shot of the 2018 IBU Youth/Junior World Championships venue in Otepää, Estonia. (Photo: Tim Cunningham)

One difference I’ve noticed between Estonia and the United States is they speak Estonian and serve pickled herring for breakfast.

One of the things I’m most excited about for World Youth/Junior Championships in Otepää is meeting a ton of new people from around the world and having some awesome race efforts on what may now be my favorite course.

One race I’m especially targeting there is the Individual race. It’s the longest race we do, which suits me, but it is also the first race I will do as a biathlete, not counting trials and the NorAm circuit.

Watching the Olympics in the leadup to my own races was motivating of course, but also a really good chance to see how other people, much better than I, handle the range at championship events. One of my favorite moments of the Games was watching to Jessie Diggins and Kikkan Randall win Olympic gold! That really motivated me to do well and maintain a good attitude at these championships in Otepää. Also, Martin Fourcade’s win in the Mass Start race was another one of my favorite moments.

At Worlds, I really hope I can chat/make friends with someone from every country. There are so many opportunities to learn about different cultures and people from very different backgrounds that it’s really hard to pick just one to want to talk to. I think the first thing I would ask someone is “What’s your name,” followed by general small talk. I’d like to learn a little bit of language from each country if possible, specifically “thank you” and “good luck,” or “have a good day/race.”

My favorite thing at the breakfast where we are staying is… well I don’t know what it is, it looks like wet feta cheese, yummy, but it goes really well with granola and berries, so I think I’ll keep eating it.

Before this trip, if you said “Estonia”, the first thing I’d think of would have been Otepää. There is an awesome video of Thomas Northug smashing a classic sprint in otepaa that I’ve seen numerous times.

Now that I’m here, I’m pretty sure something I’ll always remember will be… that’s hard to say. I’m hoping the best of this trip hasn’t happened yet. But so far, the most memorable thing has been traveling for almost a day to get here. I saw the sun and moon twice each between flying from the USA to Sweden and Estonia and finally taking the van to the hotel. And I get to do it again too! I will always remember this course though: it’s so well laid out, and with a gorgeous stadium and outer loop, that it will be hard to not miss in the US.

If I had a totally free day here and didn’t have to worry about race fitness or training, I’d spend it training and increasing my race fitness. But only for a few hours, every other hour would be spent exploring the mountains and talking to the locals about their culture and folklore. Also, their take on climate degradation and what they, as Estonians, are doing to decrease it.


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