CAPE ELIZABETH, Maine — While skier Lindsey Vonn is making headlines for earning 63 World Cup victories, a woman from Maine is gearing up for her first World Cup race — not in downhill skiing, but in the biathlon.
Clare Egan was a champion Nordic skier for Cape Elizabeth High School, and then competed for Wellesley and the University of New Hampshire. She took up the biathlon only a couple years ago.
When Egan was chosen for the U.S. Biathlon team on Christmas Day, she didn't know that less than month later, she'd be in Antholz, Italy, preparing to compete against the best biathletes in the world.
She came to Europe to compete in the IBU Cup — which is for developing biathletes. Egan knew she had a chance to qualify for the World Cup team, but she arrived in Europe with a bad cold and had to skip the first competition.
"That was very devastating because, No. 1, I work all year for these racing opportunities, so to have to sit out of any race is always pretty tragic," she says. "But it was even more so this time because I only had two weekends of racing to qualify for the World Cup."
Egan competed in the second race — still under the weather — and performed poorly. But then, by the following weekend, it all came together for her. To move forward in the competition, she had to do well in a race called a "sprint."
"So, in order to compete on Saturday, I had to be in the top sixty," Egan says. "And I shot clean — it was the first time I had ever done that."
"Shot clean" means she hit all of her targets — biathlon combines Nordic skiing and shooting. She placed 32nd.
She arrived in Antholz, the site of this weekend's World Cup races, on Tuesday, and says she felt out of place and struck by self doubt.
"But now I'm getting used to having fans lining the course and filling the stadium and cheering and using noisemakers and having a huge party on the side of the trail," Egan says.
She has spent the last three days getting used to that atmosphere, and has been able to train on the course, practice shooting on the range and adjusting to all the spectators.
"Now I'm getting excited and realize that they're here to see me and my other teammates and the other athletes here, and that makes me feel like I should be here," Egan says.
"Clare definitely has really strong physical capacity, and that was something that really impressed us," says Max Cobb, president of the U.S. Biathlon Association, based in New Gloucester, Maine.
Cobb says he's excited about Egan's potential to become an even bigger name in the biathlon.
"She doesn't have very many years in the sport yet, basically this is her second season even competing in biathlon, and she's already qualified for competing in the World Cup — that's pretty extraordinary," Cobb says.
"My only goal for Sunday is to perform well, do the best job that I can and just soak up as much information as I can my first time on the World Cup," Egan says. "But of course I'm looking forward to the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea. I would love to be part of the Olympic biathlon team there and I'd love to be part of a relay team medal, that's our team goal."
On Sunday, Egan will compete in a relay event for the U.S. team.
There are other biathletes with ties to Maine competing, as well. Maddie Phaneuf, who is from Old Forge, New York, has trained at the Maine Winter Sports Center in Fort Kent. And Russell Currier, who is from Stockholm, Maine, is currently competing on the European tour.
You can follow Clare Egan's World Cup experience on her blog, lclareegan.blogspot.com.