Note: This article has been updated to include comments from Russell Currier, who was named to U.S. Biathlon’s World Cup squad on Tuesday.
JERICHO, Vt. — Annelies Cook had an inkling she was in a good position for what would likely be the final women’s spot on U.S. Biathlon’s World Cup team to start this season, but she didn’t want to just qualify, she wanted to prove something to herself.
Her two teammates on the women’s A-team, Susan Dunklee and Hannah Dreissigacker, had already prequalified for the early season World Cups (World Cups No. 1, 2 and 3 in late November through December) based on results last season.
Cook had to be the best of the American women in at least three of four rollerski trials held at the Ethan Allen Firing Range in Jericho, Vt. The hitch was, she had to do so one weekend in August and another in October.
The U.S. Biathlon Association (USBA) World Cup trials wrapped up Sunday, Oct. 26, with a sprint. Saturday was a sprint as well, as was the first race of the trials on Aug. 16.
Why so many sprints? Because in biathlon, unlike cross-country skiing, everyone should be a good sprinter; it’s the only way to progress through a World Cup weekend by qualifying for the following pursuit.
Cook placed fourth in the opening sprint of the trials, cleaning prone but missing three standing. In the mass start the next day, she won despite five penalties.
“Having that one win was really nice because it gave me a good cushion,” Cook, 30, said on Sunday. “But these races, in some ways, they aren’t about if you win — you qualify first. It’s like, can you be a professional biathlete and do your job well? So I felt like even though I had good races the first time, kind of, I wasn’t really satisfied with my performance. … I was happy about the points, but I want to do a better job.
“My goal is not to be the best of the Americans on any given day, it’s to actually do a good job,” she continued. “[Then] I can be like, ‘OK, if I did that on the World Cup, it might be a good day.”
Once again, Cook is on her way to the World Cup. She clinched her spot by winning Saturday’s sprint with one miss and placing third on Sunday (with three misses) behind Dunklee and X-team member Clare Egan, respectively.
“This weekend, for me, was this interesting mix of trying to put together a really professional day that I could feel good about,” Cook added. “I’ve been feeling pretty fit and shooting and training has been going well, but I feel like still there’s like a piece missing in the racing sometimes. Every time I do a race and I get frustrated, it’s like, gosh, I just need to practice more. I just need to practice that race feeling and get the confidence that I know I’m hitting my targets in training. I gotta be able to do it in a race, but sometimes to build that confidence you need it to happen.”
All things considered, Cook said her mission was generally accomplished.
After winning Saturday, she drove 2 1/2 hours east to Paul Smiths, N.Y., for teammate Tim Burke’s wedding. Burke, like Lowell Bailey and Leif Nordgren, had already prequalified for the World Cup and instead of racing, took part in the wedding weekend instead. Burke, 32, married Andrea Henkel on Saturday night.
“I really wanted to go to Tim’s wedding and have a good feeling, like, I did my job today and I can relax a little bit and what happens tomorrow, happens tomorrow, and go enjoy myself and enjoy the special moment,” Cook said. “So that added even more pressure and I’m really pleased that I felt like I pulled it off. Today [Sunday] I didn’t really pull off a super-professional race. I had three misses and was a little bit unfocused for sure, but I gave it my all, and I was happy for that.”
Egan, 26, turned heads with three podiums at trials, all in the sprints, including second place on Sunday, third on Saturday, and third in the first sprint on Aug. 16.
But she didn’t feel pressure.
“I really see this whole trials process as not something where I have something to lose, but where I can have something to gain if I perform well,” Egan said Sunday. “I performed well today so that’s good.”
Earlier this month at the team’s recent training camp in Park City, Utah, she learned that — since U.S. Biathlon wasn’t going to bring a team to the IBU Cups until January — she couldn’t qualify for the World Cup even if she won trials. She had never raced an IBU Cup, the tier below World Cup, before.
According to USBA Chief of Sport Bernd Eisenbichler, Egan would’ve had to race the IBU Cup in Beitosteolen to gain World Cup start rights. Discretion could have been used to select a fourth woman to fill out the Americans’ World Cup quota.
“[She has made] very good and fast development and progress … and I am very happy to see that, but we want to go the right development pass with her,” Eisenbichler wrote in an email on Tuesday. “As she never raced internationally so far, the WC participation would have been one step too far to fast in our opinion, but we are sure, we see her soon there.”
Without possible World Cup starts on the line, Egan knew her fall schedule in advance. She would train in Lake Placid before leaving with the rest of the X-team and development group to race NorAms in Canmore, Alberta. Then she’d race at December IBU Cup trials in Mt. Itasca, Minnesota.
“I wasn’t feeling like I have to get this certain percentage back or win in order to qualify for this trip,” Egan explained. “My goal was still to win the race, like I said, I saw it as an opportunity to show my stuff, not to necessarily lose something. … I’m very happy with how I did this weekend and in the trials process overall.”
On the men’s side, Burke, Bailey and Nordgren prequalified — and none of them raced last Saturday or Sunday. Meanwhile, Sean Doherty (X-team) won both sprints, beating runner-up Russell Currier (B-team) by 55 seconds on Saturday, and topping Wynn Roberts in second and Currier in third on Sunday.
“The trials situation with the last day, there was a little more on the line, but it just really came together,” Doherty, 19, said. “A lot of training this summer and it’s just really fun to show it in a race with a bib on.”
Heading into Sunday, it was a close one between Doherty and Currier for the final men’s World Cup spot. (Bailey had won the first two trials races: Doherty placed second in the sprint, Currier was second in the mass start.) In the final sprint on Sunday, Doherty ended up with perfect shooting, while Currier missed four prone and one standing.
Regardless, Doherty said he didn’t worry about anyone but himself.
“You have to just stick with yourself and your own work … [Russell] almost missed his start this morning — you have to take care of your own plan and execute that,” he said.
At the start, Currier scrambled to strap on his poles as he skated off the line.
Doherty earned the World Cup start, but on Tuesday, USBA announced in a press release that he declined.
“Sean Doherty was the winner of the trials and is therefore nominated for the December World Cup team and therefore also to at least the January IBU Cup team,” the release began. “Sean has submitted a petition to decline his nomination to the December World Cup team and focus on additional training and competition opportunities in North America to ensure the best possible preparation for the Junior World Championships. That petition was accepted by the ICC and Sean’s nomination to the January IBU Cup team remains valid.
“Russell Currier finished second in the trials and was named to the December World Cup team by discretion,” it continued.
“Sean’s decision is in full agreement after discussing with me and his coaches,” Eisenbichler wrote in an email.
Doherty said Sunday that he was looking forward to the possibility of getting more World Cup experience early this winter.
“The last couple World Cup starts I’ve had have been very short notice so it’s fun to know a little further out and begin to prepare and just have that goal already to work towards now,” he said.
At the same time, he said he had couldn’t give a concrete answer where he expected to start his season: in Europe or in Canmore.
From Nov. 16-27, the World Cup team will train and do some tuneup races in Sjusjøen, Norway, before heading to Östersund, Sweden, for the first World Cup starting Nov. 30.
Following Sunday’s race, Currier didn’t think there was much of a chance he’d make that trip. “I did my best to stay positive, but a full blow trimester team naming didn’t seem like a realistic possibility,” he wrote.
December 2014 World Cup Teams
- Susan Dunklee, Barton, VT
- Hannah Dreissigacker, Morrisville, VT
- Annelies Cook, Saranac Lake, NY
- Lowell Bailey, Lake Placid, NY
- Tim Burke, Saranac Lake, NY
- Leif Nordgren, Marine, MN
- Russell Currier, Stockholm, ME
Aug. 16 women’s sprint | men’s sprint