Clare Egan competes at the IBU Biathlon World Cup on Dec. 13, 2018 in Hochfilzen, Austria.
After her first Olympics in PyeongChang in 2018, biathlete Clare Egan considered retiring from the sport. After all, she was 30 years old and had finished 61st and 62nd in the sprint and individual event and 13th in the relay.
But then she decided to continue competing.
“It was a very difficult decision, and there are two musings that came up,” Egan said. “One is that I had an unexpected sense of liberation after the Olympics. I had been working toward that goal for so long and I could just put that behind me and do my sport for the fun of it. And that was a very different mindset than I had had the previous five years as a biathlete and eight years as a fulltime cross-country skier.
“And that was just kind of giving myself a shot with almost a victory lap. To do a year being the best I could be without having to obsess on this or the qualifications standards or other criteria. I was just going to see what happens and have fun.”
Egan did. She’s had a banner post-Olympic season so far, with several career-bests and rising to No. 1 in the U.S. women’s biathlon rankings in January 2019. Among her competitions, she finished second to Susan Dunklee in the sprint, pursuit and mass start at the 2018 U.S. championships and won the U.S. biathlon mass start in roller skiing in November. She also had a career-best world cup finish in the pursuit and second-best finishes in sprint, pursuit and mass start, finishing as high as sixth in the pursuit and in the top 15 several times in sprint and mass start.
What helped her get better?
“The same factors that encouraged me to stick around are having a positive effect on my performance,” she said. “The fact that I have this growth mindset rather than being obsessive with making a minimum benchmark helps me aim higher and focus on the best I can be rather than making that team. And the new women’s coach (Jonne Kahkonen) and the new training program have really benefited me, too.”
She also was elected in March as chair of the International Biathlon Union’s Athletes Committee, which is a link between the biathletes and the executive board.
“We’re really proud of her,’’ said Max Cobb, president and CEO of U.S. Biathlon. “Proud for her results but also for who she is and the respect she has from her peers. She’s great.”
Egan also is excited for the upcoming IBU World Cup at Soldier Hollow in Midway, Utah, on Feb. 11-14. It will be the first biathlon world cup in the U.S. in three years and the first major international biathlon competition at Soldier Hollow since the Olympic Winter Games Salt Lake City 2002. More than 180 athletes from around 28 countries are expected to compete.
“It’s pretty unusual that we’re racing in the United States, so we’ll also have a few American fans and it will be different here in America,” she said. “I have a lot of family and friends coming, which is unusual. It will be great and I’m looking forward to sort of showing my European fellow athletes a beautiful part of our country.”
Egan grew up in Maine and was a great cross-country runner and cross-country skier in high school and college — she graduated from Wellesley College, where she ran track and started a cross-country ski team, and then got her masters in linguistics at the University of New Hampshire. She went into biathlon in 2013 through friends with the Craftsbury Green Racing Project based in Vermont. “I was inspired by them,” she said.
In addition to the challenging demands of cross-country skiing — the U.S. has won Olympic medals in that sport only twice, silver in 1976 (Bill Koch) and gold in 2018 (Jessie Diggins and Kikkan Randall) — biathletes must race with a rifle and have to stop several times to take shots with that gun at a target.
“They’re both things that you can never master,” Egan said when asked which was more challenging — the skiing or the shooting. “But they’re both extremely difficult and the combination of them is the hardest part because they’re so different. So, it’s putting them together and having cross-country skiing and shooting on the same day is the ultimate challenge both physically and psychologically.”
Egan is able to connect well with her foreign competitors because she amazingly speaks five languages in addition to English — Spanish, French, German, Italian and Korean.
“It’s a hobby for me. And I get to use them all the time. So it’s fun for me to learn and practice languages,” she said. “And I hope I can continue to do that my entire life and learn a couple more. My Korean is at a pretty low level, but I did take lessons for a year (before the 2018 Olympics). But when I was in PyeongChang and using it for a couple weeks, I thought it was pretty good.”
Speaking multiple languages, Egan said, is a good thing. “It’s a real sign of respect if you can speak to someone in their own language.”
The next Winter Games will be in Beijing in 2022 when Egan will be 34. Does she want to compete in those Games? She says no. But perhaps she will change her mind again as she did after PyeongChang.
“I’m taking it one year at a time,” Egan said of her future biathlon career. “I’ll be 32 in November and I’ve had a great athletic career, but I don’t think I will continue until I’m 34. We’ll see.”
Jim Caple is a former longtime writer for ESPN and the St. Paul Pioneer Press based in Seattle. He has covered sports on six continents, including 12 Olympics and 20 World Series. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.