Boise native Sara Studebaker dreamed about competing in the Olympics. But unlike most, Studebaker actually made it there, competing as a member of the U.S. Biathlon Team in the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, where she placed 34th in the individual race.
Now at 27, her eyes are set firmly on the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia. Taking a break from a training camp in Bend, Ore., Studebaker reflected on her career to date and her start in Boise.
How did you get started?
A friend and I were watching the 1998 Olympic Games and saw little clips of this biathlon thing and we were like, "Huh, that's kind of interesting," and we started asking [our Nordic Team coach] all these questions about it and he did some research and found a camp we could go to learn more about it and it kind of took off from there.
What was it about Nordic skiing?
It was something that I had always done, a family thing, and it was really enjoyable to me. And I wasn't really all that good at Alpine. I was a little afraid of going down the hill really fast, so it was kind of inhibiting my Alpine career.
Did you have a firearms background?
I think a lot of people assume that biathletes come from hunting backgrounds or their families must be really into firearms or something, but I had never handled a firearm before I heard of biathlon.
Is hitting a target after racing on skis as hard as it looks?
The way we always describe it is it's like you ran up a flight of stairs and then tried to thread a needle.
You're basically training all the time.
It's a busy schedule for sure. When you're not at a "training camp" you're still training in your home base or wherever, so it's a full-time job. I mean I don't have another job, this is what I do. I rely on personal sponsors and some funding from USOC and U.S. Biathlon, but in an average week, our training hours--just actual physical training--is anywhere between 10 and 25 hours depending on the type of week, and not including slow-fire shooting that we do and all the other times when we're resting or preparing to go out and train again.
How often do you actually race?
We're basically racing pretty solid between the very beginning of December to almost the end of March.
What will it take for biathlon to grow?
It is tough because U.S. Biathlon has never won an Olympic medal, so that's definitely a hindering point for us as far as popularity. But we're also getting more talent. We've been steadily improving. We've had some awesome results this year from both the men's and the women's sides at the World Championships and the World Cup.
What's your favorite Olympic memory?
In one of the races I was bib No. 1, so I started first out of the entire field of like 90 competitors. And that was really exciting because not only were we in Canada, so there were a lot of the Canadian and American fans around and people cheering for us, I was also leading off this race and getting it started. And I just remember standing in the start gate and being really nervous. I thought, "Wow, this is awesome. These people are here, they're cheering for me, this is really, really cool." It was a very exciting moment.
How long do you hope to compete?
Right now I tend to take it a year at time. Right now I'm focused on 2014 and going through the Sochi Olympics and after that I'll kind of reevaluate.
Do you ever look back and realize how far you've come?
Definitely. I think that's really important. You've got to keep yourself humble and not be like, "Oh gosh, I'm here today in Germany racing and things aren't going well." It's like, "Wow, I'm on the World Cup." And I remember thinking when I was 16 or 17, "I want to go race on the World Cup. I want to go to the Olympics." ... I've accomplished that, and it's pretty cool and it's hard and it's not something everyone has the chance to do, and I feel really lucky to have had that opportunity and the support of my family and friends and just the opportunities that have presented themselves to me have been really cool.