Steamboat biathletes win events at nationals, compete next to Olympians
Last weekend in Lake Placid, New York, two Steamboat Springs biathletes competed in US Biathlon Nationals alongside Olympians. Biathlon is a niche sport, so the events are smaller, which means Tinsley Wilkinson got to stand on the starting line with Olympian Clare Egan.
“With Nordic (skiing), there’s Junior Nationals and you have to be under a certain age,” said Wilkinson, a senior at Steamboat Mountain School. “Biathlon, they have all the Nationals together, everyone from U13 to the senior divisions. The biathlon community is really small — you get to know everyone.”
Not only did Wilkinson compete alongside some of the best in the country, she established herself as one of the best in the youth women category by winning the pursuit race.
Wilkinson said her first race, the sprint, was fine. She earned sixth, which meant she’d be the sixth person off the line and 25 seconds behind the leader at the start of the pursuit.
Wilkinson had a speedy first lap and cleaned her first round at the range, meaning she hit all her targets. Through the remaining four laps of skiing and three remaining shooting bouts, Wilkinson passed the competitors in front of her and ended up winning.
“My goal was to podium in one event. I thought it would be a reach to podium,” Wilkinson said. “I ended up winning, which was really exciting because I did better than my goal and better than last year.”
Steamboat’s Tristan Thrasher also competed at Nationals, finishing fourth in the U15 boys sprint, third in pursuit and first in the relay. Thrasher teamed up with Aidan Sands of Methow Valley Biathlon in Washington to win the U15 boys relay.
“It was really fun to be able to do a team event with one of my friends from far away and have that great result,” Thrasher said.
Thrasher also enjoyed being in the same space as the best biathletes in America.
“It was really cool to be able to spend time around them,” Thrasher said. “You get to watch them and see the things that they do differently or how they decide to divy up skiing and shooting effort wise. There’s always something to be learned.”
The Steamboat sharpshooters and skiers have made the most of natural talent and intermittent coaching. Both compete on the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club Nordic teams, which gives them conditioning and cross-country skiing skills. However, there are no local biathlon coaches.
Wilkinson trains with a coach in Casper, Wyoming, when she can, but he wasn’t at Nationals. She got there a day early, and as unofficial training went on, she worked with the national team, since she didn’t have a coach or team there with her.
“I felt so out of my league,” Wilkinson said. “It’s a little bit stressful to not have a coach or a team.”
Thrasher works with a coach in West Yellowstone, Montana, who has been crucial in helping the young athlete improve.
“That’s taken him from truly a novice to an exceptional young biathlete,” said Tristan’s father, TJ Thrasher.
The older Tristan gets, the more details matter and the more he’ll need training. While biathlon is inconvenient in some ways, he and his parents think it’s more than worth it to find coaching. The Thrashers even built a small private range on their property that can accommodate Tristan and one other person at a time. Wilkinson frequents the range as well.
“We’ve made a big effort and even built our own shooting range, and we groom a small course at our place to be able to provide what he needs to accomplish his goals,” TJ said. “Those are constantly evolving, but he does have big goals.”
To reach Shelby Reardon, call 970-871-4253, email sreardon@SteamboatPilot.com or follow her on Twitter @ByShelbyReardon.
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