Gone to biathlon
Minnesota teen on target to compete at 2012 Winter Youth Olympics
After waiting for what seemed like hours for Nick Proell to finish the Cable Off Road Classic in Cable, Wisconsin, last May, I learned he had a bad race. Drained of energy, he lay along the side of the trail accepting any and all food tossed his way by other participants so he could fuel up again. Since then, Proell more than recovered to earn a spot on the U.S. Biathlon Team headed to the first ever Winter Youth Olympic Games. Proell's hard work, dedication and training appear to have paid off.
Proell is a 16-year-old high school junior in St. Cloud, Minnesota, where prior to this year he attended St. Cloud Technical High School. As a member of the school's Nordic ski team, Proell made it to the Minnesota State High School Ski Championship both as a freshman and sophomore. To accommodate the challenges of training and traveling for the Youth Olympics, Proell transferred to an online high school this year. His mother, Susan Proell, said that despite his rigorous class and training schedules her son continues to do very well in school.
The Youth Olympics is a replica of the adult Olympics except for the fact that all the participants are 14 to 19 years old. In certain sports, such as biathlon which combines cross-country skiing and target shooting with a rifle, the age limit is further restricted, allowing only those who were born between 1994 and 1995.
Qualification required Proell to do well in nine races. The first three were part of the 2011 Junior Biathlon Trials in Jericho, Vermont, in December 2010. The next three took place at the 2011 U.S. Biathlon Nationals at Mt. Itasca in Coleraine, Minnesota, last March. Proell returned to Jericho in August for the Biathlon Championships.
The skiing part of biathlon requires endurance while the shooting component demands precision. All the while the objective is to complete the course in the shortest amount of time. To avoid time penalties, participants have to hit the targets in the shooting sections. Biathletes shoot a .22 caliber, small-bore rifle, alternating between prone and standing positions. The size of the target varies depending on the shooting position. In the sprint and mixed relay events, athletes shoot twice, first prone then standing, and in the pursuit events athletes shoot four times, twice prone and twice standing.
The sport is not without its risks. In fact, Proell's chances of making U.S. Biathlon team were jeopardized when on March 17, two days before the national championship, he fell while skiing and suffered a concussion. He left the hospital with a helmet to wear while racing, but he refused to wear it the second day of competition. He skied and shot well enough, in any case, to make the cut.
Training for the Youth Olympics without a local coach, range, altitude or even snow has also proven challenging for Proell and his family. They've need to drive regularly to facilities in Elk River, Minnesota, and Grand Rapids, Michigan. In addition, Proell has attended various out-of-state camps. Dryland training includes everything from roller skiing, road biking, running, hiking and strength training, often some combination twice daily. To get on snow, Proell has gone to West Yellowstone in Montana with the Junior National Team. In the summer, he was able to venture out to Colorado and Utah for high altitude training.
Nick's main coach is the Junior National Team's Vladimir Cervenka based in Grand Rapids. Cervenka will be the only coach for the U.S. team at the Youth Olympics and Piotr Bednarski will serve as team leader.
Bednarski, who has coached two Olympians in biathlon (Andy Erickson in 1998 and Dan Campbell in 2002) and one in cross-country skiing (Caitlin Compton, 2010), said that to be a Youth Olympians athletes have to ski fast, shoot straight and ski fast again.
The rest of the United States Youth Olympic Biathlon team consists of Sean Doherty of Conway, New Hampshire; Aleksandra Zakrzewska of Burlington, Vermont; and Anna Kubek, a 16-year-old junior at Duluth East High School in Duluth, Minnesota.
Prior to the first-ever Winter Youth Olympics, these athletes will fly with Cervenka to Munich, Germany, on January 4. They're expected to compete in an Alpen Cup race in Obertilliach, Austria, before heading to the Olympic Village in Innsbruck where they will either train or race January 10-23. Then they'll fly home.
Competitions for Proell will include the 7.5K sprint, 10K pursuit, mixed relay (in which two men race 7.5K and two women race 6K) and the cross-country/biathlon mixed relay, which is a new event.
Proell said his racing style suits mass start races because he enjoys skiing with people and keeping the pace strong. When asked if he feels he is a stronger skier or shooter, Proell said he feels equally competent in both areas.
He said his goal at the Youth Olympics is to set some personal records while staying healthy. He is excited about meeting athletes from all over the world and anticipates going up against tough competition at the historic event.
Proell's mother said the experience will demonstrate how hard work and perseverance can pay off. She feels that the opportunity to meet other teens with similar talent and determination will encourage her son. In any case, the cultural exchange will be priceless, she said.
Susan Proell said the prospect of Nick making the U.S. Youth Olympic Team only became apparent a year ago. Since then, the biathlete has displayed an unwavering determination to make the team.
Mrs. Proell said her son's success to date is due in part to the inspiration and help of many people, including his cousin Erik Rupert, who is currently living and training for biathlon at Maine Winter Sports in Fort Kent, Maine. It was Rupert who initially inspired the young Proell to ski. Coaches Bill Meyer, Bednarski, Cervenka and Ion Senchea - Proell's first Nordic skiing and biathlon coach - have all fostered the young man on his journey to the Youth Olympics, where he hopes to make them all the more proud.
Eve Stein is a avid Nordic skier, skijorer, runner, cyclist, dragon boater in Duluth, Minnesota.