First Biathlon World Cup as an International Biathlon Referee for Sara Studebaker-Hall
by Sara Donatello
Sara Studebaker-Hall, two-time Olympian and current U.S. Biathlon Director of Operations, became the first U.S. woman to earn her International Biathlon Union (IBU) technical delegate certification in 2022, one of only a handful of Americans to achieve that distinction. Fast-forward to the 2023 IBU World Cup in Hochfilzen, Austria, Studebaker-Hall took part in her first biathlon World Cup as an IBU referee.
“Hochfilzen is such a great venue - they have such an experienced organizing committee and such great fans that the atmosphere is amazing,” said Studebaker-Hall. “It was where I had my first top-30 result, so it also holds a special place for me personally! I had the opportunity to work with some really experienced TDs from IBU and it was great to be able to learn from them and gain more experience on the biggest biathlon stage.”
Studebaker-Hall began her officiating journey in 2014 after she retired from biathlon. Following the completion of the level one and two officiating courses to be a domestic official in 2014, she spent the next 4years assisting in various areas to gain experience. After applying for and completing the international referee exam, administered by the IBU, Studebaker-Hall was able to be assistant chief of competition to Tracy Lamb at the 2019 IBU World Cup at Soldier Hollow.
Though it typically takes four years of experience to become eligible for a technical delegate (TD) certification, Studebaker-Hall was able to get her license in three years given her history as a biathlete and experience as a coach. To become a TD, one must attend conferences with current TD members and take both an oral and written exam, over a two-day period.
After passing her exam and officially becoming the first American woman with a technical delegate certification, Studebaker-Hall was also elected to the IBU technical committee in September 2022.
For Studebaker-Hall, the 2022/23 season consisted of officiating at two IBU Cup events in Canmore, Canada, as the start/finish referee, as well as being a shooting range referee at the 2023 FISU World University Games in Lake Placid, NY. It wasn’t until this past weekend in Hochfilzen, Austria that Studebaker-Hall had the opportunity to officiate as the start/finish referee at an IBU World Cup event.
“Refereeing at the IBU Cup last season helped me gain knowledge, confidence and experience, but there's nothing quite like the big show of the World Cup! It was such an exhilarating experience and really made me excited for hosting the world at Soldier Hollow in March.”
As a strong advocate for gender equality in sport, Studebaker-Hall is breaking barriers in the U.S. and being a role model within the international biathlon world. Not only did she officiate her first World Cup event, but did so with her six-month old daughter in tow.
“Last year, I was about six months pregnant with my daughter, and this year I was able to bring her along. IBU was so supportive of me having her there with my parents to watch her during the races. I think it's really important for athletes, especially women, to see that you can stay involved in the sport after competing and still have a life,” she added.“It takes some planning and lots of support, but I'm so glad I was able to continue working as a referee this season despite having my daughter. She won't remember it, but hopefully someday she'll also look back and see that I was able to have this great experience of working the World Cup while nursing a baby and feel empowered by that. I really love officiating and am excited about being one of many women coming up as IBU referees!”