METHOW VALLEY, Wash. – It takes endurance, a keen eye and an unwavering passion for physical excellence. For elite athlete Casey Smith, competing in biathlon pushes his limits and strengthens his resolve.
“It’s exciting, challenging and motivating,” said 21-year-old Smith who grew up skiing in the Methow Valley and is training full time for the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
Combining cross country skiing with rifle shooting, biathlon tests athletic performance by insisting on speed and precision. After skiing up a steep hill or rounding a twisted course, competitors must come to a dead stop and take five shots, either prone or standing, at a target 50 meters away. Most races last 30-45 minutes.
“I usually have to pace myself,” said Smith. “I don’t want to go out too hard and get exhausted, but I don’t want to have energy left over at the end of the race either.”
Smith moved east in June to train at the world class Maine Winter Sports Center. Hours each day are spent running, roller skiing, weight training, biking or perfecting his shooting skills.
He began competing his junior year of high school and has been in more than 100 races in the U.S., Canada, Germany, Bulgaria, Austria, the Czech Republic, Sweden and Finland. This year he took first place at the U.S. national championships in the sprint, pursuit and mass start biathlon races, finished second at the North American championships and took first in the U.S. junior world championship team trials in the same three races.
Numerous other awards and titles attest to the determination and drive that earned Smith a place on the Olympic development team where many sponsors are backing his Olympic goals.
Smith credits his mom, Betsy, a 4-H leader and biathlon coach, for his early interest in the sport; she got him started skiing and formed a Nordic skiing club. As a youth Smith also raised chickens and sheep during his years in 4-H.
“4-H helped me develop a good work ethic and make smart choices. I learned a lot of great decision making skills, which are helpful in athletic competitions,” he said. (See http://county.wsu.edu/okanogan/youth/Pages/default.aspx)
As he trains for the qualifying rounds in Minnesota in December, Smith is cautiously optimistic.
“It’s an endurance sport,” he said. “You need years and years of training, and most athletes in biathlon usually peak at 26 years old. If I don’t qualify, the next Olympics come in 2018. I’ll know what the process is like and I’ll do it again.”