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U.S. Junior Athletes Hit Milestones at 2024 Junior Open European Championships

by Sara Donatello

The team of 10 U.S. Biathlon junior athletes raced in Jakuszyce, Poland for the 2024 Junior Open European Championships, February 7-11. For many of the athletes, Jakuszyce had been home for almost two weeks after racing Junior IBU Cup 3 the week before. The team battled rainy conditions, postponements and cancellations, but ended the weekend having hit notable milestones. 

Due to an abundance of rain on January 7, the individual races were pushed back a day, resulting in a cancellation of the mixed relay and single mixed relay events, originally scheduled for January 8. In the women’s 12.5km individual, Haley Finch (Anchorage, AK/Anchorage Biathlon Club) emerged with the top result amongst the U.S. women, finishing 62nd, with Brenna Barton (Bozeman, MT/Team Crosscut) crossing the line just 15 second back in 63rd. Hannah Chipman (Norwich, VT/Dartmouth College) landed in 66th, 29 seconds behind Barton. Evelyn Hudrlik (Forest Lake, MN/Saint Michael’s College) and Virginia Cobb (Westford, VT/Ethan Allen Biathlon Club), joining the team for Junior Open European Championships, placed 76th and 80th.

Later that day, the men’s 15km individual brought a season best result for Cale Woods (Bozeman, MT/Team Crosscut) who landed in 44th with just one miss in his last round of standing, the top U.S. result of the day. Putting two U.S. men in the top 60, Thor Sheppard (West Yellowstone, MT/Team Altius) raced to 55th despite missing five targets. Van Ledger (Lake Placid, NY/Team Crosscut) finished in 66th and Nathan Livingood (Bethel, ME/Fort Kent Outdoor Center) crossed the line in 86th. 

“My experience in Poland definitely had a rough start with some questionable shooting but saw major improvement on ski speed from last season,” recalled Sheppard. “The venue in Jakuszyce is brand new and has everything from a pool to hyperbaric chambers in the same building right at the stadium. It’s a really cool place.” 

Finch landed the top U.S. finish in Saturday’s sprint races, shooting a perfect 10 for 10, finishing in 46th. Chipman, with a pair of misses, had a great day on her skis and finished in 48th, just eight seconds behind Finch. Hudrlik, Barton and Cobb ended the day in 72nd, 81st and 82nd. 

After not racing in the men’s individual, Etienne Bordes (Tahoe City, CA/Team Crosscut) returned for the men’s 10km sprint to place 50th with one miss in both prone and standing. Ledger finished just 28 seconds back in 56th, cleaning prone, but having to ski four penalty laps as a result of an unfortunate standing shoot. Sheppard crossed the line in 73rd with Livingood and Woods finishing 83rd and 89th. 

Sunday’s mass start 60 saw eight U.S. athletes on the start line, all five women and three men. Chipman had a standout day racing to her first top 30 result and had her best four stage shooting at an international level. Finch finished in 51st in her first-ever mass start 60, with Hudrlik, Barton and Cobb crossing the line in 57th, 59th and 60th. 

In the final race of the weekend, Sheppard hit a personal best 37th, earning his first points of the season. Ledger struggled on the range, missing eight targets, but managed to grab 50th place. Woods had a near-perfect day on the range and, for the second time this weekend, shot 19 for 20, only one of three athletes to do so in the mass start 60, and landed in 52nd. 

“I was very happy I was able to pull it together for the last day with a top-40 and a few new personal best results,” Sheppard added. “I think everyone who raced these past two weeks can agree that the amount of rain Poland received was too much!”


With just one race weekend left in the Junior IBU Cup season, athletes now head to Otepää, Estonia to begin preparing for Youth and Junior World Championships slated for February 23 - March 2, 2024. After last season’s bronze medal finish from Maxime Germain and the men’s relay fourth place finish, Team USA is looking to produce results in the upcoming mixed relay, individual, sprint, mass start 60 and relay events. For information on how to watch, visit usbiathlon.org/how-to-watch. For spectator resources, visit usbiathlon.org/spectator-resources

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