BEIJING — The 2022 Winter Olympics will mark the beginning of the awarding of medals.
It’s the first opportunity at these Games for the U.S. Biathlon Team to break through.
American biathletes are the only ones in the United States who have never stood on the podium.
The U.S. is able to make it into the top three in the combined cross-country and target shooting events. This is a result of innovations made since the Olympic Games.
Biathlon like baseball
Clare Egan, a U.S. biathlete, arrived in China prepared to answer the question: Why no U.S. Medals? — and came prepared with an answer that even people unfamiliar with her bizarre sport might understand.
Egan stated that even the best hitters in baseball get hits only three times out of ten while they’re at it.
Failure is more common than success.
Egan said the same thing about biathlon. The U.S. has been home to the top athletes for the past decade and they have succeeded.
Lowell Bailey was 2017 World Champion. Susan Dunklee is currently in China to compete for the third and final Olympics. She has already won two World Championship silver medals. Tim Burke had won one before her. They, along with other American biathletes have not been able get the timing right at the Olympic Games.
Egan stated that there are only 30 races in the winter, but the Olympics occur once every four years and have only a few competitions. Statistically, there is a very low chance that we will land on the podium any given day.
Before you think, “Well, all those Norwegians or Germans seem to have no trouble winning Olympic medals,” consider this: Biathlon is extremely popular in Europe and well-funded. Because there are so many Europeans competing in international competitions, statistically speaking these countries have a higher chance of winning a medal.
They too can strike out.
Kaisa Leena Makarinen from Finland, who was the Women’s World Cup Leader going into the Winter Olympics in 2018, got disqualified at the Games.
Egan stated, “That’s not surprising to us because it’s like playing baseball.”
Biathlon’s unique challenge
Indeed, the unique nature of biathlon can get you, whether you’re from a powerhouse country or the U.S., with its little-engine-that-could attitude.
Max Cobb, President of US Biathlon said that “Biathlon can be very unpredictable.”
The combination of cross-country skiing and target shooting makes it difficult. Cobb suggests that no matter your marksmanship with the.22 caliber biathlon rifle, you should try it lying down on your stomach after running around the ski course, increasing your heart rate to 170.
Cobb stated, “It’s extremely challenging.” From 165 feet away, you are trying to hit a target the same size as a golf ball. You’re trying to hit a target every two seconds, if not more.
Unpredictability is most often found at the shooting range. It can also have a dramatic effect on overall results.
A biathlete might be the leader of the event when they come into the range. However, if they aren’t able to control gusting winds or falling snow or a heaving heart, their shooting can be off and the lead could disappear.
The last four years have seen significant changes
Cobb claims that the U.S. has made efforts to end the drought since the 2018 Olympics when they were again medalless.
They have been working with Matt Emmons more often, an ex-summer Olympic gold medalist in shotgun shooting. They were able to do some very innovative things with athletes’ skis.
Cobb stated that the key to Nordic skiing is to reduce surface tension. This is basically when the ski glides across the snow, and a thin layer of water is formed. There are many ski preparation methods that can be used to improve the glide of your skis, regardless of what type of snow crystals you have or the temperature and humidity conditions.
This includes any changes to the ski base’s structure.
Cobb stated, “It’s our best kept secret, but it’s really effective.”
Recent results may support this assertion.
Egan stated that there were a few really impressive performances by our team at the World Cup before the Olympics. Paul [Schommer, the men’s team] finished in ninth [in the 20km Men’s Individual race] which was a personal best. He was the first person to finish in the top 10 at a World Cup. Our best female relay finish since early 1990’s was also achieved. We were fifth, which was very exciting.
Egan finished fourth in Antholz’s 15km individual race, her second-best World Cup finish.
Egan stated, “All that was really exciting.” It showed that our team is forming at the right time,” Egan said.
Egan and any other surge American biathletes will be the Beijing Olympics’ break-through biathletes.
Egan doesn’t like to talk about it – in fact, that is a U.S. strategy.
Cobb stated that “one of the things we do in biathlon is to say that the more you want it, it’s less likely that you will achieve it.” This must be process-oriented. That’s our goal for these Games.”
A sport psychologist helps athletes with mental focus and techniques to refocus when their mind drifts towards the outcome instead of the process.
Particularly during the shooting phase.
Cobb stated, “If you think about what it means for those targets to be hit,” they become a lot more difficult to hit. It’s easy to lose sight of the goal if you focus too much on it.
The U.S. biathletes continue to ask the question, “Why no medals?” They should keep their eyes and minds on the tracks and shoot targets in front of them.
At the end, one or more of them might finally be able to make the biathlon home run.