Egan shoots her shot
LAKE PLACID — Clare Egan says she was “a beginner” in biathlon at the 2018 Olympics.
“I had only been doing it for four years,” the 34-year-old Lake Placid resident said in a Jan. 24 interview. “It just takes a lot longer than four years to become a world-class expert in something.”
She had her breakout the year after those games, capping it with a bronze medal and finishing 18th in the World Cup standings — excellent for an American in this Europe-dominated sport. She had been a cross-country ski racer before starting biathlon in 2014, but riflery was new to her. Now she’s a sharpshooter as she heads to China for her second Olympics.
“I feel like I am now at that level where I can confidently compete with the best in the world at the shooting range,” she said.
Three days before this conversation, she took fourth place in the individual race in Antholz, Italy. It was her best result since the 2019 podium and her second-best ever.
“It was kind of surprising but really exciting,” she said. The last World Cup weekend before the Olympics was a great time to heat up.
Her fellow Americans did well, too. Paul Schommer got a personal-best ninth place in the individual, and the U.S. women took fifth in the relay, their best since the early days of women’s biathlon in the 1990s.
All winter Egan has been plagued by fatigue, and she doesn’t know why. She doesn’t overtrain and gets plenty of rest, but she’s skiing slower.
“When I go out to race, I’m dead in the first minute,” she said.
But that Friday, Jan. 21, for the first time all season she felt like she could keep cranking to the finish. She was tired again in Saturday’s relay and Sunday’s mass start, but “it was just awesome to feel good once, and just see what I am capable of when I just feel kind of normal,” she said. “I’ve been trying to just really stay sharp on the shooting range so that if and when I happen to feel good, I can capitalize on that.”
She’s ranked 38th in the World Cup standings, but if she feels good on race day, she could be a medal contender.
Egan grew up in Maine and is the only Olympic biathlete who lives in Lake Placid, but she considers herself a “seasonal resident” since she is away half the year.
“Even though I have been based in Lake Placid since 2015, I have never been able to sort of settle in, in the way that people who are there year-round are — like my boyfriend. He’s there year-round, and he works at the Medical Fitness Center, and he is much more tied into the community than I am because of that,” she said. “I feel sort of transient in Lake Placid, which makes it hard because it’s hard to keep up friendships and make new friends and that kind of thing.”
She does, however, get to know the trails and roads in her training.
“I have been on almost every trail within an hour of Lake Placid by car, and I’ve ridden almost every road — either (biked) or roller-skied — and run or mountain biked every trail,” she said.
She also described Mirror Lake as “a focal point of our enjoyment of Lake Placid.” Her and her boyfriend’s Main Street apartment overlooks the lake, and they love watching it, swimming in it and, on her rare winter visits, skiing on it.
Biathlon is huge in Europe, with viewership comparable to the NFL or NBA. With COVID-19, however, no spectators are allowed, “which for me is a huge, huge, huge let-down,” Egan said. “It was probably my number-one favorite part of doing this sport, and so that’s gone. I loved having full stadiums of 25,000 people and a course lined with even more people.”
She said every athlete, coach, volunteer and journalist in the biathlon bubble is fully vaccinated and gets tested three times a week. Even teammates wear masks and social distance indoors, and they don’t eat together unless the tables are spread out. That means a lot of meals in hotel rooms alone or with a roommate. Egan is a social person and misses the days when biathletes of all nations would go out to eat or to the sauna together.
“We’re so lucky we do an outdoor sport, so when we’re skiing at training, we can chat and ski together,” she said.
Egan can chat in six languages: English, French, Italian, Spanish, German and, most recently, Russian. Being a polyglot helps in her elected role as lone athlete representative to the International Biathlon Union’s Executive Board. She learned some Korean leading up to the last Olympics in Pyeongchang, but she said she is not tackling Mandarin for these games in Beijing. She has enough to focus on.