Highlighting a Season
The Biathlon season would wrap up with a Sprint Pursuit. A format that (because I had looked this up) hadn't been used since January 2014. It was a medal event at the Vancouver 2010 Paralympic Winter Games, but not since. I was the only active athlete on the team who had competed in one previously. In the past, I had some fantastic performances in this race, but I also had less-than-ideal performances. A few race elements of this format were not my strengths, but I needed to focus on what I could do to minimize those and use my strengths effectively. The day starts with a 3.6km race with two bouts of shooting as a qualifying race. With a 20-second penalty for any missed shots on the range. Your time behind from the morning and some factoring to calculate each athlete's impairment would contribute to creating the afternoon's start list. The final race was the pursuit part, hunting or protecting any gap you had from the morning's race. Same distance and course. Only each miss this time would be a penalty loop. The first across the finish line wins—a short, hard, fast-paced race filled with pressure. I would finish the morning in second place, one second back, and so would also start the afternoon one second back. I let the guy who started first stay ahead for much of the first lap until the stadium, where I started to go ahead. A decent first bout had me in the co-lead with the person who had started third or fourth. We skied the middle lap together and entered the final bout with all the pressure. I had a solid shooting, but as I got up, so did the German. We had one lap (a sprint lap of 1.25km) race. Oh, and he's the current Sprint World Champion. Afterwards, I realized that perhaps my only chance of beating him was if I had gone out of the range at full gas. I wouldn't beat him if we got to the finishing stretch together. But I chose to ski with him and see if I could open a gap in the longer two-skate section in the back. My priority was finishing this race; perhaps at the moment, I defaulted to that and finished second on the day but securing only my second Biathlon World Cup Overall Crystal Globe.
The season's final race was always going to be tough - a Mass Start of 20km at altitude in potentially warm conditions. I had done what I needed and much more this season. This 20km was the cherry on top. We started with a hunting start, meaning, in theory, the first across the line would be the winner (kind of). I started at the same time as one other skier. I wanted to be smart and ease my way into the race. One way to do that was to let the other lead, and I did a little, but I was also restless, and my sights were set forward and catching those ahead. This race wasn't about sticking together and outsprinting at the line. I was gentle on myself, but I wanted to set a pace that was right at the limit, and after a couple of laps, I snapped the elastic to this skier and dropped him as I went ahead and caught the next guy up the trail. Now skiing with the Frenchman, Daviet, we again skied together for a couple of laps, but there was one other out ahead; that was my target. And though eight laps of 2.5km sound long, before I knew it, I had less than two laps left and a fair bit of ground to make up. I dropped Daviet, chasing the lead and securing second place. I think I raced a great race. There was little I would want to change about my race or how I ran it, but I was not close—having to settle for a distant second place. Regardless, a podium finish and a high note to end the season on. A few more stats for you with that second, I was never worse than second in a distance Cross Country race this season, either.
What a season! What a year!
There were a lot of lessons learned this year. Many I don't think I would have come across if I hadn't decided to give up the first four months and recover from double heel surgery. The time off, the recovery and the shifted focus all led to so much experience gained. I'm not saying I will have surgery every Spring and not train for four months, but how do I scale that to something beneficial annually? I couldn't run in Mammoth, so I took a bike, which led to one of my most memorable experiences from any of my Mammoth trips. I always spoke to the benefit of multiple modalities, but I had started to narrow my modalities because of my heels, and now I have that freedom to explore again. Once again, the long-term goal shone a light in darker moments throughout the year. Yes, I had surgery, and many moments sucked. But I didn't do it for this year; I did it to be at my best in March of 2026. I love classic skiing, and there were plenty of days that it broke my heart not to be able to classic. Later it was that I couldn't race classic. But that also led to a shifted focus on my skate, which has technically been my weaker technique; now, that wasn't necessarily the case by the end of the season. I set some of my best performance records for a 'rebuilding' year. I had my first World Championships with three World titles, two in Biathlon and my first in Cross Country. I won two out of three Biathlon races at a single World Cup for the first time, then did that at all three events this season. In Biathlon, I was never worse than second (finishing a combined 10.9 seconds, over three races, off the top step) while winning six out of nine races. And those are only the big performance highlights.
I want to thank the team for their support throughout the year. I constantly adapted, trying to get the best out of myself while balancing what I could or needed to do as I recovered. Laurent, I promise I will race classic again. Having a team around me was critical, and their support made it possible to return to what I love. Though a week before Vuokatti, I still wasn't sure I could race. There were a lot of changes within the team this year, but we adapted and succeeded countless times throughout the year. I look forward to being part of the team as we are hungry for what's next and constantly push the limits of ourselves and each other. It was a pleasure to welcome my brother to the team as the Biathlon coach—an exciting year to kick off that partnership. There is a lot to reflect upon this Spring and off-season. There's always an element that I love about that, looking back and criticizing the ups, downs, failures and successes. But more excited to plan out the focus for the next three years as I head to another Paralympic Winer Games.
Here's to the 2022-2023 season!