2022-23 Season Recap
by Bill Kellick
Deedra Irwin is all smiles after the single mixed relay at the IBU World Championships in February (photo by Nordic Focus)
In a post-Olympic year and following the retirements of some notable athletes, the 2022-23 season for U.S. Biathlon was one where veterans displayed maturity and young up-and-comers stepped into the spotlight with some notable performances. The season had its share of injuries and setbacks, but also its share of stellar performances.
Two-time Olympian Sean Doherty (Center Conway, N.H./National Guard Biathlon) posted five top-20 world cup finishes to earn 32nd place in the final IBU World Cup standings. His best performance was an 11th-place finish in the sprint at Annecy-Le Grand Bornand, France, in December. Doherty’s 2022 Olympic teammates Paul Schommer (Appleton, Wis./Crosscut Mountain Sports Center Elite Team) and Jake Brown (St. Paul, Minn./Craftsbury Green Racing Project) would finish 62nd and 67th in the final IBU World Cup standings, respectively. Schommer’s season was cut short by injury shortly after the IBU World Championships, while Brown started the season with a top-20 pursuit finish at the opening world cup in Kontiolahti, Finland.
Stepping up to fill multiple roster spots this seasons were youngsters Maxime Germain (Chamonix-Mont Blanc, FRA/National Guard Biathlon) and Vincent Bonacci (Salt Lake City, Utah/Crosscut Mountain Sports Center Elite Team). The 21-year-old Germain competed in 13 world cup races and the 23-year-old Bonacci started six. Both got their first taste of IBU World Championship competition as well as they toed the line for three races in Oberhof, Germany.
Germain also shined at the IBU Junior World Championships in Shchuchinsk, Kazakhstan, where he earned the bronze medal in the sprint and a fifth-place finish in the pursuit, while helping guide the U.S. men’s relay to a fourth-place showing, teaming up with Nikolas Burkhart (Olympic Valley, Calif./Crosscut Mountain Sports Center Elite Team), Bjorn Westervelt (Stowe, Vt./University of Vermont & USBA) and Van Ledger (Lake Placid, N.Y./Crosscut Mountain Sports Center Elite Team). In January, Germain finished 13th in the pursuit and 15th in the sprint at the IBU Open European Championships in Lenzerheide, Switzerland.
In the women’s competition, Deedra Irwin (Pulaski, Wis./National Guard Biathlon) was top in IBU World Cup ranking in 58th place, helped by a 20th-place finish in the individual race at the world championships. Her Olympic teammate Joanne Reid (Grand Junction, Colo.) was 61st in the IBU World Cup standings, finishing the season strong with a 22nd-place performance in the sprint in the final world cup in Oslo, Norway.
Irwin and Reid were joined by Chloe Levins (Rutland, Vt.) and Kelsey Dickinson (Winthrop, Wash./Craftsbury Green Racing Project) who both saw the first significant world cup action of their careers. The 24-year-old Levins posted a 43rd-place finish in the pursuit in the opening event of the season in Kontiolahti, while Dickinson topped her year with a 47th-place finish in the individual race in Ruhpolding, Germany, in January. Tara Geraghty-Moats (West Fairlee, Vt./Craftsbury Green Racing Project) also competed in five world cup races, the Open European Championships and the IBU World Championships before heading off to basic training for the National Guard.
Other top-20 performances were turned in at the IBU Youth/Junior World Championships by Westervelt, Virginia Cobb (Westford, Vt./Ethan Allen Biathlon Club) and Thor Sheppard (West Yellowstone, Mont./Team Altius & BATC). Westervelt placed 18th in the junior men’s sprint, Cobb finished 16th in the youth women’s sprint and Sheppard was 20th in the youth men’s individual.
Westervelt also made history in January when he became the first American to medal in men’s biathlon at the FISU World University Games held in Lake Placid, N.Y. He captured the silver medal in the sprint and followed it up a day later by winning the gold medal in the pursuit, the first international biathlon victory for the U.S. since Lowell Bailey’s world championship title in 2017.
The season finished with the U.S. National Championships in Casper, Wyo., hosted by the Casper Mountain Biathlon Club. Reid took the championship crown in both the sprint and pursuit format races, while on the men’s side, Bonacci and Scott Lacy (Vail, Colo./Crosscut Mountain Sports Center Elite Team) traded off first and second-place finishes. Despite some eastern teams skipping the championships this year, the event showed the growth of U.S. Biathlon over the past few years, with over 150 competitors toeing the line. U.S. Biathlon is working to do a final vetting of the candidates to host the 2024 National Championships and hopes to announce that location soon.
The spring and summer months are a time for athletes to rest, recuperate and turn their thoughts and training plans toward next season. The influx of young talent coupled with the returning veteran presence on the U.S. team should make for another exciting season in 2023-24, highlighted by Soldier Hollow, Utah, playing host to the BMW IBU World Cup, March 8-10, 2024.