America’s best youth and junior biathletes compete in Anchorage for chance to represent Team USA

Published: Jan. 3, 2023 at 3:47 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - On the surface, Nordic skiing and shooting sports are unrelated. However, hundreds of years ago, they were combined to create the biathlon — and over the weekend, 70 of America’s top youth and junior biathletes competed at the Kincaid Range in Anchorage for a chance to represent Team USA on the global stage.

”The biathlon is a competition of Nordic skiing and rifle marksmanship and the two sports, they contrast and conflict, they don’t complement each other, so it is one of the hardest sports on the planet,” Team USA Biathlon Trials Chief of Competition Stephen Wilson said.

The event was hosted at the Kincaid Biathlon Range for the first time since 2015, and there were plenty of Alaskans representing on the home trails.

“Seeing the growth now and the number of kids that are coming out of Alaska, it is just awesome, and there is no reason that biathlon shouldn’t be a huge thing here in Alaska,” Director of Operations for U.S. Biathlon and former UAA ski coach Sarah Studebaker-Hall said.

Alaska produces a considerable amount of elite cross-country skiing talent — which is how 15-year-old Service High School student Maxwell Richardson got into biathlon as a prolific skier who was encouraged to join the Anchorage Biathlon Club during the early stages of 2020.

”I had a friend who joined Anchorage Biathlon Club and I just thought it was really cool, I had seen it on the Olympics before, and so I thought I should give it a try and it has been an awesome experience,” Richardson said. ”I’d say you should give it a shot, pun intended, it is just a really great sport, so much fun and great people.”

On the contrary, marksmanship is a part of the Alaskan culture as well, so sometimes, biathletes are shooters before skiers, like Haley Finch, a Team USA hopeful from Anchorage.

“I’ve always hunted, and so shooting has always kind of come kind of natural for me,” Finch said. “Skiing was actually the hard part. I had never set foot in a pair of skis before, I learned on roller skis, so that was kind of difficult, I fell on my face lots kind of in this same spot here.”

Heading into the trials, two Alaskans were pre-qualified for international events, as West High graduate Maxime Germain will be competing at the Junior World Championships while Eagle River’s Helen Wilson, who now skis for Team Crosscut in Montana, will have a busy winter ahead with the FISU World University Games in Lake Placid, New York Jan. 14-21, the Junior Open European Championships in Madona, Latvia Feb. 15-19 and the IBU Youth/Junior World Championships in Shchuchinsk, Kazakhstan March 4-12.

While Germain was competing on the World Cup circuit during the trials, Wilson used it as an opportunity to come home and represent her home course at the national event.

”I didn’t have to [compete] but I wanted to come home for Christmas and as a biathlete, a junior biathlete, I am typically am traveling in the airport every single Christmas every year and so I haven’t experienced Christmas at home in a really long time,” Wilson, 21, said after placing first overall in two of the three races at the trials. “This year they happened to be at Kincaid, it’s my very last year as a junior, and it was really special.”

However, one Alaskan earned their spot on Team USA after their performance this weekend as 16-year-old Elias Soule of Anchorage Biathlon Club will be competing at the Youth/Junior World Championships in March.

“I had a lot of pressure coming in on this race because I was sitting in that fourth spot, that fourth and final spot, and I was really tight close with this kid Logan [Selander] who is an incredibly good competitor,” Elias said after receiving the news he made Team USA. “We battled it out. I needed to shoot well, I need to ski well, and both of those things came together for me today and I was able to bring it all together and have a good race ... It is a huge deal, I love this sport, I love to ski and I am excited to show what Alaska and the U.S. has to offer on the world stage.”

While most of the biathletes who will be representing Team USA will be from the Lower 48, Alaskans performed well over the three days of competition, including top 10 finishes from Finch, Reine Soule, Talia Day and Amae Kam-Magruder in the youth women’s races. Full results can be found here while the full Team USA Biathlon rosters can be found here.