Sean Doherty competes in men's 10-kilometer sprint during the the IBU World Cup on Dec. 10, 2021 in Hochfilzen, Austria.
Best Junior Biathlete Ever
By 2012, Doherty won his first international medal in biathlon: a bronze in the mixed team relay at the 2012 Youth Olympic Winter Games.
The following year, competing in his third youth world championships, Doherty won a gold medal in pursuit and two silver medals in the sprint and individual. In 2014, he won two more gold medals (sprint and pursuit) and a silver (individual) at youth worlds.
Graduating to junior world championships in 2015 and 2016, Doherty kept cashing in on medals: bronze in sprint (2015) and in 2016, a gold in pursuit, silver in sprint, and bronze in individual.
With these 10 medals, Doherty became the all-time leader in individual medals won at the IBU Youth and Junior World Championships.
Between competing in the youth and junior worlds, he made his first U.S. Olympic team in 2014. He was 18 at the time and helped the U.S. finish 16th in the team relay at the 2014 Sochi Games.
Best Olympic Performance
Doherty describes his transition to the senior ranks as “interesting.” Until 2018, he had talented older teammates to chase, like world championship medalists Lowell Bailey and Tim Burke, and 2008 youth world championship bronze medalist Leif Nordgren, a fellow National Guardsman who’s also competing in his third Olympic Games in Beijing.
“Those three guys were really great training partners and really helped me accelerate my learning curve as a young guy moving into the senior and world cup racing levels,” Doherty said.
Between the Sochi and PyeongChang Olympic Winter Games, Doherty finished a handful of world cups in the top 20, and at the 2018 PyeongChang Games, the U.S. men were an outside favorite to win a medal in the team relay.
But the PyeongChang biathlon course provided several challenges. Racing at night in winds that howled down from the Siberian plateau, Doherty struggled. He finished 44th in the individual (with three penalties) and 65th in the sprint (with four penalties).
Frustrated, he knew he had to regroup before the relay — which he did. He ended up skiing the second leg of the relay with only one penalty.
“I’m really proud of that race,” he said. “It was a lot of work to get that because I had really struggled in the sprint and individual.”
After the 2018 Games, Bailey and Burke retired, and the men’s biathlon field became more competitive, especially in the middle ranks.
“The guy who gets 50th place this year is a lot better than the guy who used to get 50th five years ago,” explained Doherty.
He earned his first world cup podium a year ago — a bronze in the single mixed relay with Susan Dunklee. But his world cup ranking has slipped in the past few years. He is currently ranked 67th with a top result this year of 20th in the Oberhof IBU World Cup sprint (a result that helped put him on his third U.S. Olympic team).
With the wind likely to play a factor in the 2022 Beijing Olympic Games, Doherty feels ready for it. The wind will likely blow from the same direction as in PyeongChang.
“I’ve really developed a lot as a shooter over the last four years,” he said, “and I’m ready to meet that challenge head on rather than last time when [the wind] was really disruptive.”
Outside biathlon, Doherty is a woodturner, making beautiful bowls and pieces of art from native New England hardwoods. The process of woodturning has actually helped him as an athlete.
Doherty was introduced to woodturning by another family friend who cross-country skied at Great Glen Trails north of Center Conway. The friend would bring his lathe to a Christmas craft show at Great Glen, and Doherty was intrigued by the process.
“He was very open,” said Doherty of the family friend. “So I would go over to his house, and he would teach me [how to use a lathe].”
Around the same time, the utility company took down a large maple tree on the Doherty’s property, and Doherty wanted to preserve wood from this great tree through artwork.
In high school, Doherty took night classes with the same family friend and continued to progress as a woodturner. His favorite woods are black cherry and yellow birch. But he really enjoys working with unique burls — knotty scar tissue that trees build in response to injury.
“I kind of roll with what the piece gives me,” he explained. “Usually, especially with burls, I end up turning a lot of unusually shaped or just weird pieces.”
“I like to include and feature a lot of defects and voids whenever possible,” he added.
Many of his works have natural edges (with the tree bark still in place) so they are more aesthetic than functional. But he still finishes all his pieces with food-grade oil.
Doherty describes woodturning as a self-sustaining hobby; he accepts commissions, especially if people have pieces of wood that they wish to preserve, like long-loved trees on their properties.
But he also looks for interesting pieces of wood while he is out training — on big hikes or on long runs.
“Often times, they’re on private property, and I just enjoy looking at them and thinking about what I could make,” he said.
Back at his lathe, he can slip into a meditative state while working with each piece of wood. But mostly, woodturning takes Doherty’s mind off biathlon.
“I really enjoy working with my hands,” he said. “And it’s a really fun hobby that’s not training.”
To see some of Doherty’s work, check out www.seandohertybiathlete.com.