2023-24 Season Preview
by Joseph Bonacci
As the highly anticipated 2023-24 international biathlon season quickly approaches, the U.S. Biathlon Team heads to Vuokatti, Finland for its last opportunity for training before the racing begins. The 18 athletes are looking for valuable snow time before the first BMW IBU World Cup weekend in Östersund, Sweden kicks off on November 25, with the BMW IBU Cup commencing just five days later on November 30 in Kontiolahti, Finland.
Deedra Irwin (Pulaski, WI/Army World Class Athlete Program) and Kelsey Dickinson (Winthrop, WA/Craftsbury Green Racing Project) have pre-qualified for the World Cup on the women’s side, along with Sean Doherty (Center Conway, NH/National Guard Biathlon) and Campbell Wright (Wanaka, NZL/U.S. Biathlon) on the men’s side. A blend of veterans and up-and-comers make up the remaining 14 athletes vying for the four available World Cup spots.
The selection process for the remaining two spots on the World Cup and the final IBU Cup roster will take place over a two-week period of on-snow assessment in Vuokatti. Team selections for the first trimester will be announced following the final meeting of the International Competition Committee (ICC) approximately one week prior to the first World Cup. The ICC is a U.S. Biathlon committee responsible for determining criteria and selecting athletes. U.S. Biathlon is allotted four World Cup and five IBU Cup start positions for both men and women.
“We are excited to welcome many new faces as well as US Team veterans this season,” said Lowell Bailey, U.S. Biathlon director of high performance. “One of the things I’m really looking forward to is the final selection process in Vuokatti. For the first time, we will make this selection on snow with a performance assessment taking place just days before the first competitions. Making these final nominations based on near-competition on-snow performance will be a big improvement from our previous method of naming teams off of fall rollerski time trials. This camp also has the added benefit of allowing both of our World Cup and IBU Cup athletes and staff to overlap and train together in the same location for two weeks - a great opportunity to build the larger Team USA energy as we embark onto the two tours in late November!”
Highlighting the 2023-24 season, the World Cup will head back to home soil in March 2024. Soldier Hollow, now home to the U.S. Biathlon headquarters, will play host to the World Cup March 8-10, before heading north to Canmore, Alberta for a double-header in North America. Irwin, 2022 Olympian and World Cup veteran, is especially excited for the Soldier Hollow World Cup. “Most of my family has never seen me do biathlon in person,” said Irwin, “so to have a race in the US that they’ll be able to come watch is super exciting.”
Dickinson is back for her second season on the World Cup, eagerly looking to top her individual season-best 47th in Ruhpolding, Germany. Margie Freed (Apple Valley, MN/Craftsbury Green Racing Project) also enters her second biathlon season after transitioning from cross-country skiing as a part of U.S. Biathlon’s Project X program, notably grabbing the top U.S. finish on the IBU Cup last season. Dickinson and Freed’s Craftsbury Green Racing Project teammates, Jackie Garso (Lake Clear, NY/Craftsbury Green Racing Project) and Michaela Keller-Miller (Plymouth, MN/Craftsbury Green Racing Project), a newcomer to biathlon as a part of Project X, are both looking to carry the momentum from summer training onto the snow.
Junior female athlete of the year, Grace Castonguay (Jackson, NH/Ethan Allen Biathlon Club) is coming into this season as a senior athlete, ending last season with an individual-best 33rd at Junior World Championships. Anna French (Plymouth, MN/Team Altius) and Lina Farra (Heber City, UT/NYSEF), back in the mix after taking last season off, are also vying for spots on the World Cup circuit after notable performances at fall trials landed them spots on the pre-season camp roster. Cheresa Bouley (Zimmerman, MN/Minnesota Biathlon) made a name for herself with a podium finish at fall trials and looks forward to her first international racing season.
Campbell Wright, the newest addition to Team USA after transitioning from New Zealand Biathlon earlier this fall, is coming off of last season with a gold medal at Junior World Championships and a 20th place individual finish at the World Championships in Oberhof, Germany. As Wright was the only biathlete representing New Zealand, he is looking forward to the relay events. “I haven’t gotten to do one yet, and with the men on the team I’m most excited for that!”
This season’s men’s team combines experience with a youthful kick. Alongside Doherty, Jake Brown (Saint Paul, MN/Craftsbury Green Racing Project) and Paul Schommer (Appleton, WI/Team Crosscut), returning to the team after missing out on the latter half of last season due to a knee injury, are back for another season. Brown is joined at the pre-season camp by his younger brother Luke Brown (Saint Paul, MN/Craftsbury Green Racing Project), who is looking to get a World Cup start after having a notable season on the IBU Cup.
Maxime Germain (Chamonix-Mont Blanc, FRA/National Guard Biathlon), now a senior athlete, landed the podium with Wright at the 2023 Junior World Championships, claiming the bronze medal. Vaclav Cervenka (Grand Rapids, MN/National Guard Biathlon) and Vincent Bonacci (Salt Lake City, UT/Team Crosscut) also return to European action this year. The three came up the junior ranks together, so after a full summer of training, they are expected to be firing as the season gets underway. Bjorn Westervelt (Stowe, VT/University of Vermont) is coming off a gold medal at the 2023 FISU World University Games and looks to make an impact on both the World Cup and IBU Cup circuits.
The blend of experience and fresh blood will keep the upcoming season interesting and exciting, so be sure to catch the live streams at eurovisionsports.tv/ibu/. For information related to the Soldier Hollow World Cup, visit ibuworldcuputah.com.
About U.S. Biathlon
As the Olympic sports organization centered around the sport of biathlon, the United States Biathlon Association, known as U.S. Biathlon, is recognized by the International Biathlon Union (IBU) and the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC) as the national federation for biathlon in the United States. Founded in 1980, U.S. Biathlon exists to support and encourage the development of biathlon in the United States, to work with biathlon clubs and regional centers around the country to organize training and competition from the grassroots to elite level, and to prepare athletes for international competition. U.S. Biathlon staffs and finances the U.S. Biathlon national and junior national teams and is a 501 c (3) non-profit organization. For more information, visit usbiathlon.org.