Margie Freed: XC Skier Targets Biathlon
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In the long term plan for U.S. Biathlon, talent transfer is a big topic – cross country ski racers trying biathlon. How practical is it? Well, just look at the example of Margie Freed. Last season, the veteran Minnesota native and University of Vermont ski team alum, now part of the Craftsbury Green Racing Project, borrowed a biathlon rifle, qualified in trials for the European Championships and ended up with the best USA IBU Cup finish of the year. And she’ll start off the 2023-24 season in U.S. Biathlon’s World Cup lineup for the opener in Östersund.
For sure, it’s not THAT easy! But Freed has shown the possibilities. This season she’ll switch back and forth, starting out with FIS Cup races in Muonio, Finland earlier in November, training with the biathlon team in Vuokatti, then off to Östersund for the IBU World Cup biathlon and after that winging her way to Alaska for the U.S. Ski & Snowboard SuperTour presented by National Nordic Foundation.
Freed grew up in the cultural hotbed of cross country skiing in Minneapolis, following her older sister into the sport. The noted Loppet Nordic program provided her a bridge from high school racing to U.S. Ski & Snowboard and eventually FIS racing. A four-year stint with the Catamounts, where she was an All America selection, led her to three NCAA Championships appearances. But it was her engagement with Craftsbury that sent her career onto a higher level.
Not only did she have the best U.S. Biathlon finish on the IBU Cup last year (19th in early February at Obertilliach, Austria), but she won a cross country national championship medal and her first SuperTour. Two years ago, she was sixth in the American Birkebeiner, just ahead of her mentor, Caitlin Gregg.
A well-spoken professional athlete, in this episode of Heartbeat, Freed talks succinctly about the value of each step of her pathway. She showcases the opportunity that presented itself through Craftsbury Green Racing Project and drills down into the details of what she learned as a first-year biathlete.
Through it all, you can feel the true enjoyment she’s taking from being an athlete competing in both cross country skiing and biathlon.
Here’s a sampling of what you’ll learn in this episode of Heartbeat.
Are you nervous for your first World Cup start?
I would say I'm a little more excited than nervous. I am really grateful to have my teammates, a lot of them along with me, so they can kind of show me the ropes. And I'm hoping to not embarrass myself too much on the shooting range compared to some of the really good sharpshooters out there.
What's the learning experience that you'll take away from competing in Östersund?
I think that being thrown in with people who are way better than you at whatever you're doing is a great way to make really strong improvements. I'm hoping to just kind of take it all in there and learn from what they're doing, see what everybody else is doing, and try and mimic that to lead me to success.
What motivated you to get into cross country skiing?
I started cross country skiing when I was about 13 years old. My older sister had joined the high school cross country ski team. I thought she was the coolest person in the world and I wanted to be just like her. So I also joined the cross country ski team. And then I went to Eastview High School and competed there, and my coach was great at introducing me to the junior national circuit, kind of so I could train with people in the greater Minneapolis area. And then I also got connected with Loppet Nordic Racing. From there I worked with Piotr Bednarski and Caitlin Gregg there, and they were great at showing me the ropes of national skiing and going to junior nationals. Then I realized I could ski in college and so I went to the University of Vermont and then to Craftsbury from there.
Once you settled into Craftsbury, it really was a remarkable experience for you, wasn't it?
It was – just seeing how dedicated all the athletes are, how understanding the coaches are, how willing they are to work with everybody's unique schedules and what works for them, and especially all of the data that they do, all the testing and all the opportunities that are offered with Craftsbury. I really appreciate it all.
How did your biathlon experience come about, and what have you learned so far?
I'm really grateful for the support and opportunities that Craftsbury provides, one of those being the opportunity to try biathlon as a cross country skier. There is a biathlon range, there is a biathlon team. And so it was very easy for me to get exposed to that sport. I was able to borrow a rifle for the first trials that I did, and that kind of led me into where I am now. Thankfully, all the coaches kind of worked with me to figure out a plan for shooting and a lot of dry fire when I'm cross country ski training mostly, and then I can add in a bit of dry fire there, so I'm able to work through that because of the support that Craftsbury has given me. Coming from a cross country skier to biathlon, it's pretty interesting to see how the skiing changes a little bit. It's more like doing intervals rather than just a ski race where you're trying to go hard all the time and you feel bad about slowing down here and there. Whereas in biathlon, you have to be very strategic about when you're going fast and then slowing down, kind of calming your body as you go into the range. That's a really interesting change, which I think has helped me as a skier in ski races, doing that transition back from biathlon to ski racing.
What counsel would you give to cross country skiers who are thinking about giving biathlon a try?
It would be sweet to kind of be an ambassador for this transfer. So the Project X Group within the biathlon team is working on switching cross country skiers to biathlon. I encourage people to give it a try because it was kind of something that not a lot of people do. And the stigma around biathlon within the U.S. cross country skiing world is a little like, ‘why would you do biathlon if you can cross country ski?’ Trying to change that mentality and make a name for myself within both worlds and do well in cross country skiing as well as biathlon is one of my goals. I’m trying to show that you can do what you want to do and making that change is something that I'm looking forward to.