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NH's Sean Doherty builds off Sochi experience for next Olympic effort

New Hampshire Union Leader

January 22. 2018 11:20PM
Center Conway's Sean Doherty competes in the biathlon at a recent event. (NORDICFOCUS/U.S. BIATHLON)

Sean Doherty entered the 2014 Winter Olympics with bright eyes and no expectations as he debuted for the United States biathlon team at age 18.

After some serious resume building in the years that followed, the Center Conway native is being viewed as a favorite to hit the podium at next month’s Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

Doherty, 22, was chosen as one of three core members of the U.S. men’s biathlon team, securing his spot based on top-30 finishes during International Biathlon Union World Cup events in November and December. The selection means Doherty will compete in all four Olympic races in the biathlon, which is a sport that combines cross-country skiing and rifle shooting.

Doherty was an alternate for the U.S. during the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia, but was called into action on a men’s 4x7.5-kilometer relay team that finished 16th. As an 18-year-old in 2014, Doherty became the youngest member of the U.S. biathlon team.

“I’m mostly just excited to be able to race the full schedule there,” said Doherty, the Union Leader’s 2014 Red Rolfe Male Athlete of the Year. “There’s that, but then there’s the opportunity to gain more experience with competing under the specific circumstances of the Olympics, which has that unique feel to it.”

Doherty’s days since competing in Sochi have been dedicated to building up for a run at competing in Pyeongchang. He said he has remained loyal to his team the last four years, competing with Team USA in World Cup events on a full-time basis and sticking with them for offseason training.

As far as strides go during the long lead-up, Doherty never really limited his improvements to a particular deficiency. However, shooting practice has been of great value.

“Four years of training is just huge with the shooting side,” Doherty said. “There is no substitute for repetitions. That’s especially true when it comes to race situations and variable conditions. Thousands and thousands of rounds done through all that makes you a lot more confident.”

The biathlon journey started at age 12 for Doherty, whose initial strengths were in cross-country skiing. Doherty was taken under the wing of 1984 Soviet biathlon gold medalist Algis Shalna, who helped Doherty tackle the multi-tasking challenge the biathlon presents. Doherty’s skills with a rifle quickly evolved and the combination of his strengths led to 10 medals at the Youth and Junior World Championships between 2012-2016.

The driving force behind Doherty’s rising star boils down to a desire to be balanced.

“The challenge of combining the two is what’s most interesting to me,” Doherty said. “You can’t be one or the other. There are some skiers that can overcome a missed shot or something. Generally speaking though, the level of competition is so tight to where you can’t be too far off the mark with your skiing or shooting.

“I really just enjoy the challenge of pairing these two events together and having that unique experience every time out. It’s definitely very satisfying when everything comes together.”

Being a biathlete takes a superior physical skill set given the demands of the sport. For Doherty, the mental grind also plays a role in a racer’s success.

“One of the biggest working points to remind yourself is that when you’re skiing among the top 20 in ski speed, then you have a real chance to get on the podium,” Doherty said. “That’s a really unique characteristic about the biathlon. … The shooting aspect provides a way to make up time on other people. So it’s just cool to know that on any day you can have a strong skiing performance, but it doesn’t have to be insane to be competitive. I try to bring that into my mindset each time out.”

Doherty went through his final tuneup before Olympic competition in last Friday’s World Cup 6 in Antholz, Italy. The results weren’t ideal for Doherty, who finished 75th in the 10-kilometer Sprint, his only race of the event. While some of his teammates will race at the Open European Championships in the comings weeks, Doherty will take a pass to gear up for the Olympics, which has biathlon events scheduled for Feb. 10-23.

“I’m going to just go through about a two-week preparation camp to try and get our bodies ready to compete in the evening and on Korean time,” Doherty said.

All the world competition and travel has yet to tear Doherty from his New Hampshire roots. Before his world competition days, Doherty won Division II state skiing titles in his freshman and sophomore years with Kennett High of Conway. The support he continues to receive from the community in Conway to this day is part of why Doherty prides himself on representing not only his country, but his hometown as well in these Olympics.

“I’m proud to represent our region there in little New Hampshire,” Doherty said. “The local community was huge for me while I was up and coming. They really have done so much for me and it’s nice to go out and represent that close-knit group.”

Skiing Winter Olympics Center Conway