JERICHO, Vt. — Clare Egan knows a thing or two about the fast track. In college at Wellesley outside of Boston, the high-school standout started a nordic team and qualified for 2010 NCAA Skiing Championships. The next winter, she made NCAAs agin as a graduate student at the University of New Hampshire, and in the spring of 2011, was named to the Craftsbury Green Racing Project as a promising cross-country skier.
Three years later, Egan, 26, has reached the national-team development ranks in a slightly different sport: biathlon.
“I didn’t switch to biathlon because I was bad at skiing — I switched to biathlon because I was good at skiing and because I like money, European men and the smell of a smoking gun,” she said with a laugh after placing third at the North American Biathlon Rollerski Championships in mid-August in Jericho, Vt.
The same time last year, Egan sat out the North American summer championships in Jericho because of a concussion. She had picked up her new sport that spring.
“It was a real drag last year; I fell leading up to these races and I got a concussion, and this year to commemorate the one year anniversary of my concussion, I fell in the exact same manner and scraped my chin and hip on the same day, August fifth,” she explained.
But this year, she didn’t get a head injury. Instead, she bandaged herself up and came out for the junior championships Aug. 9-10 and won both races: the sprint and the pursuit. Racing as a senior, she wasn’t eligible for a medal, nor were three other women who took second through fourth behind her (Tara Geraghty-Moats, Elizabeth Izzo and Hanne Guthrie, respectively).
But for Egan, it was the tuneup she needed to get the results she wanted the following weekend.
On Aug. 16, Egan shared the podium with her Craftsbury teammate Susan Dunklee, the winner and U.S. Biathlon (USBA) A-teamer, and Canadian national-team biathlete Rosanna Crawford in second. Like Dunklee, Crawford and one other competitor, Katrina Howe, she missed just twice for the best shooting of the day.
“I’m really excited about how things went; it’s probably my best race ever for biathlon so far,” Egan said. “I shot 80 percent, which is definitely my best shooting … I’m really glad I came and did [the junior competition the weekend before] and sort of got some things out my system, some bad shooting out of my system, so I felt much more confident going in…”
While it was a little strange to have two weekends of races in the heart of summer, the latter of which counted toward International Biathlon Union (IBU) World Cup starts this winter, Egan said she was ready to go for the senior races on Aug. 16-17 and would follow them with a high-volume training block to balance the intensity.
“It’s nice to start with something fresh where you learn something literally every day.” — Clare Egan, Craftsbury Green Racing Project (GRP) skier and U.S. Biathlon development-group member in her second season as a biathlete
One of U.S. Biathlon’s newest additions as part of its National Development Group this season, Egan splits her time between training in Craftsbury and with the national team in Lake Placid, N.Y. Between USBA’s new development coach Jean Paquet and USBA women’s coach Jonne Kähkönen, the national team supplies her training plan, but she works with personal coach Algis Shalna whenever she can.
“I’m doing a lot more solo training in Craftsbury, which is less fun, but I try to adjust my schedule when I can to train with the rest of the GRP,” she explained. “I have been going back and forth to Lake Placid and that’s been an amazing experience because I’m training with all these people that are at a really, really high level. When I’m there I notice that I learn a lot and improve a lot and I try to take those things back to Craftsbury and keep working on them until my next camp.”
First drawn to the sport by her Craftsbury teammates, Dunklee and Hannah Dreissigacker, leading U.S. biathletes who competed at the Sochi Olympics, Egan said training with them and seeing their national and international success kept her committed. And the learning curve was steep.
“You’re starting at square one, and that’s actually really motivating because if you’ve been cross-country skiing for ten years and you work for a month to make one tiny improvement, it’s nice to start with something fresh where you learn something literally every day,” she said. “I was working with Algis Shalna, and he is so excellent so I think I have the best coaching and that’s why I improved a lot.”
Now in her fourth year of full-time training, between nordic skiing and biathlon, she’s finally getting used to it.
“I’m actually feeling good now with the training,” she said. “My skiing’s just going to keep getting better, I’m really excited about that, and with the shooting I have to just put in the time. I’m impatient. I want to hit all my targets all the time, but I’m not there yet. It’s a lot of dry firing at night and just working on the range every day or most days and listening to my good coaches, trusting them.”