Craftsbury Biathletes Set Sights On Olympics
Two of the athletes representing Vermont in Sochi this month are expert Nordic skiers—and shooters. They learned the sport of biathlon at an unusual program based at the Craftsbury Outdoor Center. The Green Racing Project is an energy-efficient, residential training center for a sport that combines two very different skills.
Would-be Olympians from Craftsbury recently competed at the North American Championships in Jericho. With lightweight rifles strapped on their backs and fast cross-country skis underfoot, some of the best biathletes in the country and Canada lined up at the starting gate at the Ethan Allen Biathlon Club.
For the sprint event, competitors must ski three laps, stopping twice at a shooting range. The most accurate shots are made by skiers who can slow down their heart rates after vigorous exercise.
If they miss their target, they have to ski an extra, shorter penalty lap.
Clare Egan was the only women representing the Craftsbury Green Racing Project in this event. She’s a Wellesley graduate from Maine with Olympic aspirations and two influential role models.
“I actually joined the Green Racing Project as a cross country skier and I just started doing biathlon last year mostly because I was inspired by my team-mates, Hannah Dreissigacker and Susan Dunklee, who I’m sure you’ve heard all about,” Egan said after her sprint.
Vermont is hearing about Dreissigacker and Dunklee because they have been named to the US biathlon team headed for Sochi. That means a lot of international travel. And yet the Green Racing Project has a mission to keep a small carbon footprint. Hannah Dreissigacker’s mother Judy, one of the project founders, says the team tries to compensate for gas guzzling travel by conserving energy at home and serving the local community.
“Whether it’s raising our own food, putting in certain innovative renewable energy systems, composting, education, working with kids, there’s a lot of different ways that members of the Green Energy Project sort of offset the less green things they have to do in their athletic lives,” Dreissigacker said. She was the timer at the finish line.
Judy and her husband Dick were Olympic rowers, so there’s a sculling team in Craftsbury, as well as Nordic skiing and biathlon. Ethan Dreissigacker, Hannah’s brother, is beginning what he hopes will be his path to the Olympics on a future biathlon team.
“It’s a goal,” the tall, ruddy biathlete said, shaking ice off his beard. “It’s the ultimate goal. It’s always out there.”
He said doing manual labor and renewable energy design for the Green Racing Project helps him manage the stress of competition.
His team-mate Michael Gibson agreed.
“It is literally a farm team,” Gibson said, chuckling. “We have logging projects, we do locally harvested wood for our buildings, we do local food, we have a lot of gardens and greenhouses.”
Gibson also has Olympic aspirations. So like everyone else with the Green Racing Project, he’ll be watching closely when Hannah Dreissigacker and Susan Dunklee shoot for a medal this winter. Dunklee said the US biathlon team is the best it has ever been.
“I would say that we have a handful of athletes, if they have their best-ever day, during the races there, they could win a medal, and that would be history in the making, for sure,” she said on a Skype phone call from Europe, where she was training.
There is already plenty of history behind this sport, which has its roots in Scandinavia. It’s played a key role in military combat, and was accepted as an Olympic winter sport in 1955. TV viewers love its fast pace and close-up shooting matches. In fact, with tens of millions of viewers it is now the most watched winter sport in Europe.
Max Cobb is a technical delegate who will be making sure the biathlon is run according to the rules in Sochi. He says there have been some setbacks, including illnesses, for the U.S. team this year. But Cobb sees Susan Dunklee as a top contender because she finished fourth in the World Cup.
“And that is very strong confirmation that Susan is ready to challenge the podium in Sochi,” Cobb said.
Proving that you can try to be green, and still reach for the gold.