Long-time U.S. Biathlon Coach, Mentor, Supporter Algis Shalna Announces Retirement
by Sara Donatel
New Gloucester, ME – Lithuanian-born biathlete, Algis Salna has been a staple member of the U.S. Biathlon community for over three decades. His leadership, guidance and support has helped shape the organization into what it is today.
“Algis dedicated himself fully to helping American biathletes achieve international success by working with athletes on five Olympic teams and with athletes just discovering the sport,” said Max Cobb, former U.S. Biathlon President & CEO and current IBU Secretary General. “His passion for success and great coaching competence together with his wonderful character and sense of humor made him a legendary coach. The US Biathlon community owes him a debt of gratitude.”
Shalna came to U.S. Biathlon with an impressive career as a biathlete under his belt. Competing for the Soviet Union, the 1982-83 season brought three World Cup gold medals - 10km sprint in Antholz (ITA) and both the 10km sprint and 20km individual in Lahti (FIN) - and a gold medal at the 1983 World Championships in the men’s relay. The following season, Shalna took home two more gold medals, one at the Falun (SWE) World Cup in the 10km sprint and the other at the 1984 Sarajevo Olympic Winter Games in the men’s relay. Shalna rounded out his gold medal count in the men’s relay at the 1985 World Championships in Ruhpolding (GER).
In 1989, following his career as a biathlete, Shalna served as women’s head coach of the Soviet Union National Team; his team won two gold medals and earned several podium finishes. Due to the extensive travel, he stepped down as head coach to be with his family and became a program director for the local military club. Following Lithuanian independence, Shalna was named vice-president of the newly-formed Lithuanian Biathlon Association. Shortly after, he was invited to a U.S. Biathlon training camp to help improve the level of American athletes.
His career began in the winter of 1991 when he and his family moved from their home in Lithuania to Lake Placid, NY. As an Olympic champion, he was able to share both his immense expertise as well as his passion for helping athletes achieve international success. He was an architect of a program which brought top junior-age cross country skiers into the sport and saw them achieve top 10 performances.
In addition to the development of centralized training at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Lake Placid, the hiring of Algis Shalna and German Olympic medalist Walter Pichler made possible dynamic changes into the methodology of American biathlon training. The expert knowledge and effective well-planned training led to ever-increasing success. After coaching American athletes at five Olympic Winter Games from 1992 through 2006, Algis focused his efforts on athlete development, serving as the Eastern Regional Coach and regularly supporting athletes at the Youth & Junior World Championships. Shalna helped lead the Junior National Team to their first successful results of Jay Hakkinen’s gold medal performance at the 1996 Junior World Championships. In addition to working with youth and junior age athletes, Algis also supported athletes in their college years and cross country skiers who transitioned to biathlon in their post collegiate years.
Settling in Vermont, Shalna continued to guide junior skiers from their introduction to biathlon to earning World Championship medals. Clare Egan and Sean Doherty are among his most successful athletes. Doherty trained with Shalna from age 12 to 19 and during those years became the most decorated youth/junior biathlete in the world, winning a total of 10 medals at the IBU World Junior/Youth Biathlon Championships. He is currently a three-time Olympian and member of the U.S. Biathlon National Team.
“I was very fortunate to meet Algis as a young athlete. We worked very well together and his tremendous ability to use his skill and experience to develop athletes and teach them the nuances of biathlon allowed me to learn and progress very quickly,” recalled Doherty, U.S. Biathlon National Team and National Guard Biathlon athlete. “His stable demeanor allowed me to navigate international competitions and perform to my best when it counted, thus setting my path on the trajectory that I find myself on today.”
Egan was introduced to biathlon by Shalna amidst a career in cross-country skiing and went on to have a successful biathlon career, competing in two Olympic Winter Games.
“Algis is the one person most directly responsible for my biathlon career,” said Egan. “When we met, I was in my mid-twenties training full-time for cross-country skiing. My house was adjacent to a biathlon range yet I never considered the sport because I didn’t know anything about shooting. It was Algis who finally put a rifle into my hands and said, “I think you could be a great biathlete." That was all it took. He was a gifted teacher and we always had fun. When I had to choose whether to focus on biathlon or cross-country, the decision was easy.”
“There are many habits that I have today that were instilled in my early teaching by Algis and I count myself fortunate to be one of the many athletes to benefit from his knowledge,” said Doherty. “I am very thankful that this sport allowed our paths to cross and I wish him all the best in retirement. I know he will still be watching every race all season.”