US Biathlon Project X Program Athlete Spotlight: Margie Freed
The US Biathlon Project X Program is intended for high level cross-country ski racers with a history of top 10 performances at Junior Nationals, NCAA, and SuperTour skate races. Click HERE for more information on Project X.
Margie Freed grew up in Apple Valley, Minnesota and began Nordic skiing in sixth grade. As a member of the Nordic ski team in high school, Margie excelled at an early age. She then went on to race at the University of Vermont where she graduated with a degree in Business Analytics, minoring in Sports Management and Applied Design. During her time at UVM, Margie participated in a U.S. Biathlon Elite Introduction Camp.
“I didn’t know a single thing about biathlon when I started skiing. I went on to ski in college and, although I knew about biathlon, I wasn’t thinking anything about it. But, my dad found out there was a biathlon Talent ID camp in 2019,” said Margie. “He said I should do it, so I finally said ‘okay, fine, I’ll go to this biathlon week’. I had fun learning something new, but I didn’t really think about biathlon after that.”
Following graduation, she continued on to have a professional skiing career with the Craftsbury Green Racing Project in Craftsbury, Vermont. There, she was reintroduced to biathlon.
“I started training with the Green Racing Project in 2020,” said Margie. “There were biathletes on the team, so I found that to be very exciting to have this new group of people that I could train with. They were all just as fast as the skiers during training and did the same routines. They invited me to try some shooting, so I did.”
The Green Racing Project biathletes walked Margie through all the shooting safety procedures and the technical aspects of biathlon. Being a skier, not a biathlete, Margie found the overlap between the two sports enticing, and trying shooting was just an addition to the sport she already loved. From that point on, Margie would go out with the biathlon team a few times a month during the summer when they had drills before strength practice. It was easy for her to train cross-country and also tag along with her biathlon friends, since both opportunities exist at Craftsbury. She became familiar with the range processes but still had never skied with the rifle, or done the sport at any intensity.
“I found out that the trials were going to be held at Craftsbury in December of 2022,” Margie recalled. “I was on a break from SuperTour racing, so I wanted to say I gave biathlon a try. I talked to my ski coach and she said I could, but that I could only compete in two of the three races so I didn’t get too tired before U.S. Nationals that were coming up in the beginning of January. I used one of the loaner rifles from Craftsbury and followed my teammates around for warmups and zeroing, and was very thankful to have them and my coaches there to help me.”
Margie’s first races didn’t go as successfully as planned, missing 14 of 20 targets, but given her ski speed, it didn’t diminish her chances entirely. Lowell Bailey and Tim Burke approached Margie, following the Trials and offered her a spot for the IBU Cup races, which she said surprised her since she hadn’t considered that next step in biathlon.
“Turning fast cross-country skiers into successful biathletes has definitely been a theme for many biathlon teams lately, and it is great to see Margie taking part in this as well,” said US Biathlon Director of Athlete Development, Tim Burke. “With Margie's speed on the tracks, she was able to qualify for the IBU Cup and experience international biathlon racing”
Luckily, the IBU Cup races she was offered a spot for didn’t overlap with SuperTour racing, so Margie accepted. She didn’t know what to expect, but was thankful to have coaches and teammates on the trip that she was familiar with to help guide her through that process.
“Leading up to the trip, all the coaches and trip leaders expressed that there wasn’t going to be any pressure on me to perform well. It was just for the experience. They didn’t want me to feel like I needed to perform up to the level of the other biathletes, which was really nice to reduce my stress levels and make it more about the experience.”
Margie raced in her first international biathlon events in Lenzerheide, Switzerland, Obertilliach, Austria, and Canmore, Alberta. She recalled having to learn to adapt her warmups to her zeroing time, which could be twenty minutes before the race or an hour before. She also learned about pacing during the races - initially racing as though it was a ski race, but quickly realizing that pacing is a large factor to avoid hitting a wall and slowing down towards the end. Margie noted that her experiences during biathlon racing have helped her become a better cross-country skier.
Margie found notable success in Obertilliach, Austria, where she placed top-20, the best finish for an American athlete in the IBU Cup last season. Despite being new to shooting, she was able to hit seven of ten targets, with her competitive ski speed keeping her top-20 in the race. It gave her a taste of what it felt like when all of the pieces came together, especially in front of the fans, which Margie noted was much higher than cross-country skiing because of the range and the smaller ski loops.
“It was great seeing Margie competing in high-level international events in Switzerland and Austria with no expectations and enjoying the experience. This was a great example of the opportunities available for other Nordic skiers interested in trying biathlon,” noted Burke. “With the success of Nordic skiers turned biathletes such as Denise Herrmann, Anna Maria Lampic, and Stina Nilsson, I expect to see more crossover athletes in the future!”
Looking ahead at this upcoming season, Margie is looking forward to participating in both biathlon and cross-country skiing. Doing a bit of both will allow her to continue to work on her shooting and progress in the sport of biathlon, but still compete in cross-country, the sport she has known and loved her entire life. She plans to use her time on the range to practice with a purpose, while continuing to excel her skiing.
"There's a world of opportunities for athletes like Margie in the sport of biathlon. What's so interesting about biathlon is the fact that, although it takes decades to reach the international level of ski speed required for Olympic success, it can take as little as two to three years to learn the shooting side,” said Lowell Bailey, US Biathlon Director of High Performance. “Time and time again we see fast skiers, with speed comparable to the top biathletes, make the switch to biathlon and reach international success - even Olympic and World Championships podiums - in a matter of a few years. Clearly, it's a winning formula.”
“I am proud of Margie for having the guts to take a shot at biathlon this past winter, and I am excited to see where she can take herself in the sport. Her experience is reflective of the opportunities that exist for talented cross country skiers all over the country who train hard, and compete with collegiate Teams and club programs,” said John Farra, US Biathlon Director of Sport Development. “I applaud Craftsbury Green Racing Project coaches and leadership for making it possible for Margie and other GRP athletes to compete in biathlon while also competing on the US Skiing SuperTour circuit.”