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Phaneuf’s commitment to biathlon pays off

February 9, 2018
By GRIFFIN KELLY - Staff Writer , Lake Placid News

After crossing the finish line at the International Biathlon Union Cup in Arber, Germany on Jan. 11, Maddie Phaneuf collapsed in the snow with a huge grin on her face.

She had placed 11th in the 77-woman 15-kilometer individual race, shot cleanly and secured her spot on Team USA for the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.

"I remember almost hyperventilating due to the race effort and also just being so happy and excited for what was to come." Phaneuf wrote in an email to the Lake Placid News. "It was such an incredible feeling and also a huge weight just lifted off your shoulders."

Article Photos

addie Phaneuf, a biathlete from Old Forge, will compete in her first Olympics Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
Provided photo — Nordic Focus/U.S. Biathlon

Originally from Fairfax, Virginia, and now a resident of Old Forge, Phaneuf, 22, started her biathlon career at the age of 15.

"Old Forge is a major ski town in upstate New York," Phaneuf wrote. "Almost everybody in town skis, whether it be downhill, nordic, or both. McCauley Mountain and the Town of Webb School has a really great deal where every student gets a free ski pass, and there's a school bus in the winter that goes directly from the school to the mountain so there's really no excuse to be a kid in Old Forge and not know how to ski. Our town makes it very easy to be a part of the ski community."

In her senior year of high school, Phaneuf competed in the trial races for the IBU Youth/Junior World Championships but didn't make the team. After graduating in 2013, Phaneuf started training even more diligently instead of going directly to college.

"It was an exciting time for me, because it was different from all of my classmates and I liked being different," she wrote. "Now when people find out that I haven't attended college yet, they assume that means I'm never planning on going to college. I am constantly being told whether or not I made the right decision. Luckily, my life is mine, so it's really up to me whether I made the right decision or not."

She missed making the Olympic team four years ago at the age of 18, when she was still competing at a junior level. At the 2016 Junior Biathlon Championships in Cheile Gradistei, Romania, she placed fifth in the individual, seventh in the sprint, ninth in the pursuit and 12th in the relay.

Last year, she made it to the big league. At the 2017 biathlon world championships in Hochfilzen, Austria, she placed 78th in the pursuit, 87th in the individual and 14th in the relay.

"I think I made a pretty awesome decision [not going directly to college]," she wrote, "which led me to competing in my first Olympics."

Going into the Winter Games, Phanauef thinks her aim is solid, but her conditioning needs some work.

"I'm mostly just trying to maintain my great shooting, while trying to get in better race shape," she wrote. "I haven't been very happy with my ski speed this season, but it's still early in the season so I'm hopeful that it will continue to get faster for February and March."

Phaneuf was with the rest of her team in Germany when the News interviewed her in late January, but a stomach flu had muddled things up a bit.

"I'm being isolated so I don't get anybody else sick while I recover," she wrote. "So for me, I'm just trying to get better as quick as possible and then I'll ease back into training!"

Phaneuf has a dedicated following, a group of people who call themselves her "Phan Club."

"I've been getting so much support ever since I began this journey, and even more now that I've reached such a huge goal of mine," she wrote. "I think everybody is feeling what I'm feeling: excitement, happiness, and pride!"

From first strapping on a pair of skis as a youngster to traveling to Sweden for her first overseas biathlon competition, Phaneuf looks back on all her memories and achievements and recognizes that they were all important stepping stones in helping her reach the Olympics.

"This journey has been incredible," she wrote. "I cherish every and all of my memories."



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