21. 1. 2014

Behind the track: Sara Studebaker “I love that any day anyone can win”

God bless America…
…no matter the problems, there is still someone with passion and love for biathlon. A big like to her. Millions of likes. Enjoy this story of a two-times Olympian, very strong and nice biathlete from USA. Sara Studebaker in our exclusive talk. For all biathlon fans.

©Photo: Sara Studebaker 

I have always had an active life growing up. My family did lots of things outdoors like backpacking, skiing, camping, hiking and biking. I started alpine skiing when I was 3 years old and got into competitive cross-country skiing when I was 12 years old. I started getting interested in biathlon the next year when I saw it on TV for the Nagano Olympics (1998). Through high school I did some biathlon when I could fit in the races, and actually did more summer biathlon races. I competed in Khanty-Mansiysk, Russia in 2000 for Summer Biathlon World Championships.

- Where I grew up (Boise, Idaho) we did not have much biathlon (no shooting range, we would go out to the desert and shoot with a coach who used to compete in biathlon and got me involved), so soon I started mostly focusing on skiing.  When I graduated from high school I decided to ski in University and spent four years skiing for Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. After I had a good season my last year there, I found out that US Biathlon was starting a development team, so my boyfriend and I applied to join and were accepted.  This was in 2007, so we moved to Lake Placid, New York and started training full-time for biathlon. I was very glad to be back in biathlon because I love the sport. It is so different from cross-country because of the big mental element of shooting. I love that any day anyone can win, and it’s always exciting.

- I wanted to be lots of things when I was a child! When I was really young I thought I would be a teacher, but when I started skiing I always thought being in the Olympics would be great.  I wanted to take skiing and biathlon as far as I could, and to have been lucky enough to follow that path all the way to the Olympics – twice – has really been a dream come true.

©Photo: Sara Studebaker

- No one ever recognizes us on the street! Biathlon is not very popular in the US. Often, we have to explain that biathlon is skiing and shooting, not running and swimming or something. Once, after the Vancouver Olympics I was wearing my team USA jacket and started talking to someone in my hometown who asked if I had competed in Vancouver or just watched. I told them I did biathlon, and they said, “Oh, you’re that girl!” That’s the closest I’ve come to being recognized.

- Doing well in Sochi will definitely help the popularity of biathlon in the US. Already cross-country has enjoyed a boost in popularity from success at World Championships last year, and after great results in 2010 US Nordic Combined also gained fans.  Development is of big importance for USA Biathlon right now, so we hope to do well in Sochi and be able to gain more fans and young athletes who will someday be Olympians themselves!

- It is definitely hard financially as a US biathleteWe do not receive any funding from our government and must rely heavily on personal sponsors and supporters. We are lucky because we can get small financial stipends from the US Olympic Committee and are able to live at the Olympic Training Center in Lake Placid for free, but if you want to live somewhere else or even buy new rollerskis you must do that on your own. It can be tough, which I think is part of why many athletes retire earlier than some Europeans. I have found ways to make it work because I love biathlon, though I will have only a small bank account when I finish competing!

©Photo: Sara Studebaker

- For me, the biggest differences in preparations and trainings this time are that I know better what to expect in terms of the atmosphere around the Olympics, and our team is in a very different position than in 2010. For the US women, we were not expected to do anything special in Vancouver, but now we have had more success and I think we expect to have some good results. It’s an exciting thing to be a part of.

- I feel like having already been to the Olympics I know what it will be like. I am more prepared to deal with the fans and the media surrounding the Games, so I think I can have been performances just knowing what to expect.

- For me, this year has not started out the best, so in Sochi I am hoping just to continue my upward trend and get some better results. I would love to be back in the top-30 at the Olympics, and I think our relay team has a good shot at a top-6 result. We are very excited with the way the relay races have been going for us this year, and we hope to only improve on them going into Sochi. 

©Photo: Sara Studebaker

- The tracks in Sochi are very challenging. I heard they have made some big changes, but I think it will still be a tough course. I like the courses, though. While they are not my favorite kind of course, I do like tough courses because many athletes are afraid of how hard they are and I feel like this is an opportunity to be tough and take advantage of others who are not as excited about the course. You always have to stay positive, even if it’s not your favorite course, or not the best weather, you have to deal with what happens and whatever come your way each day.

- While perhaps there are faster relay teams out there, I would not trade my team for anyone!  We have such a good relationship and good chemistry that I know we can make something special happen in Sochi. The best part is even if one of us has a bad day, we are all there to support each other and understand the difficulties of biathlon. It’s a very special group of women and I could not be more proud to be a part of it!

- I love working with kids and teaching skiing and biathlon. NANANordic is such a great program to get kids in rural areas interested in skiing, and for them, they have snow so much of the year that skiing is a very easy sport to take up. Some are extremely talented and I hope they will be able to take skiing as far as they want. Right now, it would be great if some of them could end up skiing in University or even competing in National events. You never know where skiing can take you!

With teammates cheering on the US men relay team at WCH in Nove Mesto na Morave©Photo: Sara Studebaker

- I can definitely see myself being involved in coaching after I retire. I would love to help expand the development of US Biathlon and help kids reach their goals of being on the World Cup and making Olympic teams as I did. I feel very lucky for all the people who helped me along my road to the Olympics and hope I can be a part of someone else’s journey in the future!

- I have sometimes thought of opening a restaurant or bakery when I am done with biathlon.  However, I enjoy mostly cooking for friends and family. That way I can enjoy the food with them and be happy to see how much they enjoy what I have made!

- I like to knit, but I am nowhere near good enough to sell the things I make! I think I have been working on the same scarf for 6 months now?!

- There are a lot of different kinds of books I like. Sometimes it’s nice to read a fiction novel and lose yourself in another character, but I also like to read more educational books. I often find some of the best books from recommendations from teammates and from my younger brother, who is always reading interesting books!

©Photo: Sara Studebaker

- Presque Isle and Fort Kent were of course very special places for me to race. I had some great results there, but also it was in front of a home crowd which for us American athletes does not happen often. I have many favorite World Cup tracks – Antholz is so beautiful, but I also like the tracks in Pokjluka and Oslo. My favorite are usually courses with lots of transitions and not super long climbing sections. Course where you have to stay ahead mentally and be prepared for lots of shifts are the ones I tend to be most happy racing.

- Whenever I step on the start line I always want to do my best. I am very self-motivated, and probably I am hardest on myself when I don’t reach my goals. I think you cannot do biathlon at a high level without being motivated from within, though. If you are not focused on your goals, you will have a very hard time getting out of bed to train when it is cold and raining out and you must do intervals!  I am also very motivated by my family who I know are always behind me.  They sometimes wake up early to watch races and I always want to do my best to give them a good show! They are always happy if I am happy with my race, so I try and make them and myself happy by doing my best. 

- I love to travel, but also I love being home with friends and family. After a long season of being on the road it’s always nice to get home and sleep in your own bed and make breakfast in your own kitchen. I think it’s the little things about being home that I miss the most on the road, so those are the things I really try to take advantage of doing when I’m not training or traveling to races.

With Luke Studebaker and Zachary Hall on Hawai©Photo: Sara Studebaker

- Our team celebrates success together. We have a great atmosphere as a group and are always excited for one another when one does well. Personally, I always try to call my fiancé and my family right away when I have done well so I can share my excitement with them!

- Every race brings something new, and you can never expect things to be “ordinary” in biathlon. I have often done races in crazy weather (windy or raining or cold), I have had people shoot on my target, I have lost a pole from someone stepping on it behind me, I have crashed in races and been tangled with other athletes… It can be crazy, but that’s the fun of biathlon and part of why I love it. While things can go wrong, they can also go very right and any day anyone can win! It’s a great sport.

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