The Team Behind the Team: Max Cobb

Jan. 27, 2010, 8 a.m. (ET)

After the bulk of the winter is behind us you know the team. You know the Burke's, Teela's or Johnson's of the biathlon world. But their way to the Olympic Winter Games 2010 was paved by other people as well. This series will introduce you to the "team behind the team". Those people, you seldom see on TV and never in the result lists. But their work is crucial for the success in Vancouver.

Today's feature: The Executive Director of US Biathlon - Max Cobb.

The Executive Director of the US Biathlon Association came a long way since first getting in contact with the sport that involves shooting and skiing. “I think, the first time I heard about it was at high school. A ski coach from college came and talked to us about their ski team. It was John Morton, who took part in the Olympic Winter Games 1972 and 1976”, Cobb remembers. It wasn’t until then that he knew what biathlon was. But his high school ski team got interested in the sport as soon as they heard about it. “We build our own paper target range and tried several rifles before we finally got a .22 caliber”

Thanks to his interest in biathlon and skiing Cobb joined Dartmouth College in 1983 – the only college back then with its own biathlon club. “It was an intriguing experience when I first took part in a training camp in October 1983 in Lake Placid. Some members of the National Team joined us and we finally learned to shoot.”

But it was not meant for Cobb to be a top-biathlete himself. “I loved the training and the people but I wasn’t such a good cross country skier.” But during those four years at college, the club itself organized some competitions each year so there was plenty to do on the organizational side as well. And the sport did not let him go so easily. “I heard about Josh Thompson taking silver in the World Champs 1987 in Lake Placid and was able to go there and watch the relay.”  At this time Cobb was already working as a guide for visually impaired skier Joe Walsh in the 1986 and 1988 World Disabled Champs in cross country skiing.

Not long after that he began working at the US Biathlon “My position was called ‘Domestic Race Coordinator’. I basically drove around with targets all over the US, set them up and tried to expose more people to our sport” What was initially planned as a six month job grew in to more when they hired German Walter Pichler as National Team Coach in 1989. “Walter needed some support especially with the language and the system here so I became national team manager, assistant coach and part-time ski technician all at once”, Cobb remembers with a smile today. 1992 in Albertville Cobb experienced his first Olympic Winter Games. “To walk in the opening ceremony there really moved me. I decided to focus on that sport and not go back to grad school as initially planned. I just loved the sport and the whole Olympic spirit.”

Until 1999 the father of three continued to work as program director with the national team but then a bigger task came upon him. “I became the biathlon chief of competition for the Salt Lake City OWG 2002 so I stopped traveling with the team. It was quite an exciting time for me to be part of the Olympics in the US.” After the Winter Games he went back to the USBA as halftime Marketing Director and an interlude as part-time Executive Director of the New England Nordic Ski Association brought him the needed experience to advance in his current job as Executive Director for the US Biathlon in March 2006.

In that job Max Cobb is responsible for the operational side of the USBA, care of hiring the staff, finances, insurance, marketing, fundraising and the contact to the US Olympic Committee.  “We have a robust and wonderful staff on the national team now,” Cobb said, “in the old days we just could not afford to have enough people working with the team.  We did the best we could with the limited resources we had but it was not enough.  Today we have a full staff and the athletes are make huge strides year by year.” So at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games the US Biathlon Team will have what seems its biggest chance so far to go for gold. With all the work behind it it’s no wonder that Cobb’s eyes didn’t exactly stay dry when he saw Tim Burke for the first time live in the yellow bib of the overall world cup leader. “It really is a moving moment”, Cobb said back in Ruhpolding two weeks ago. In Whistler, he will have the best view on the results posted by his team since Cobb will work as the International Referee at the shooting range.

 Let’s hope he has tears of joy in his eyes once again.