Sean Doherty: Biathlon's Rising Star
|Sean Doherty celebrates a victory in the 10-kilometer pursuit at
the 2013 IBU Youth/Junior World Championships in Obertilliach,
When Sean Doherty returned to the United States earlier this month, he immediately did what any normal 17-year-old would do.
He checked his cell phone.
But unlike most teenagers who travel to Europe, Doherty was returning to the United States as a record-setting biathlete. So it should come as no surprise that his phone was loaded with congratulatory text messages and voicemails.
“A lot of people, especially my local community, were just really happy for me,” Doherty said. “They were really glad to see the success. They were just very proud and happy for me.”
Why wouldn’t they be? Late last month in Austria, Doherty became the first biathlete in U.S. history to win three individual medals in a single world championship competition. Competing at the 2013 youth/junior worlds, Doherty began the event by taking the silver in the 7.5-kilometer sprint Jan. 25 and then earned the gold in the 10-kilometer pursuit the following day. He then earned a silver medal in the 12.5-kilometer individual race on Jan. 27 to complete the historic hat trick.
“It was an amazing week,” said Doherty, a native of Center Conway, N.H. “A great trip overall. The best way I could put it is that it was incredible to have all that good racing come together in a week when it really, really counted.”
Max Cobb, the CEO of U.S. Biathlon, called Doherty’s performance “both historic and inspiring.” Doherty, a humble high school senior, only went as far as to say that it was a “rare accomplishment” and that “I’m very happy that I was able to do it.”
Last year, Doherty joined three of his U.S. teammates in earning a bronze medal in the biathlon mixed relay at the inaugural Winter Youth Olympic Games in Innsbruck, Austria. It was the first-ever medal for the United States in an Olympic biathlon event. Doherty posted the fastest third leg, vaulting the Americans from ninth place to second.
Few athletes will ever know what it’s like to be in the zone for three consecutive days, particularly at the level of a major international competition. But Doherty acknowledged that it was basically an out-of-body experience.
“I’ll be sitting there making a game plan for the race,” he described. “And it just comes together, just like you planned it. Everything just falls into place like it should. It almost has a familiar feel to it.”
Doherty has been skiing since he was a little kid, but he has only been shooting for about the last five years.
“I’m getting the hang of it,” he said of the shooting.
A cross-country skier at the time, Doherty got started in biathlon thanks to a friend who suggested he try a new sport.
“It just really worked for me at first,” he said.
That said, Doherty hit a rough patch later in his first biathlon season.
“Right after I first started, (things were really rough),” he said. “I was trying to do some racing and I had a fairly awful race. I had some really bad races. I took a little while off after that, didn’t do any shooting for a while. I was pretty discouraged. But since then, I’ve just been going for it and really enjoying it.”
And who knows, maybe one day Doherty’s determination could land him on the U.S. Olympic Team.
|Sean Doherty at the Youth World Championships after he won
the silver medal.
I think the Olympics are a great thing — a festival of sports at their highest level,” said Doherty, who appeared in a recent Sports Illustrated Faces in the Crowd. “It’s always been a goal of mine, to say you’re an Olympian. Nobody can ever take that away from you.”
Doherty would be very young for the 2014 U.S. Olympic Team which will compete in Sochi, Russia, less than a year from now, though he certainly will give it a go at qualifying. For a sport like biathlon, where experience is such a pivotal factor, Doherty acknowledges that 2018 or 2022 are probably his best shots at making the squad.
“I think I have some very good potential,” said Doherty, who is leaving this week for Bulgaria to compete in the Under-26 European World Championships. “I have great coaching and a lot of good support from the biathlon association and my home community. I’ve been getting some great results and steadily improving over the years. I would love to make a career out of it.”
But at this moment, just competing for his country — and winning medals at a record pace — is more than Doherty can ask for.
“It means a lot for me,” he said. “It’s a very unique privilege that I get. It’s very rewarding to come home and have all these people congratulating me and saying how happy they are. It’s just really nice.”