PSC, US Biathlon new partners

From left, Paul Smith’s College Nordic Coach Matt Dougherty, U.S. Biathlon Director of Athletic Development Tim Burke, Paul Smith’s College Sports Initiative Director John Morgan, U.S. Biathlon CEO Max Cobb and trail designer John Morton are seen at a news conference at the college Thursday, March 12. (News photo — Griffin Kelly)

PAUL SMITHS — Paul Smith’s College is set to build a new biathlon facility and shooting range as it starts a partnership with the U.S. Biathlon Association, the Olympic sport’s national governing body.

The announcement came at a press conference at the college Thursday, March 12. In October 2019, the college formed a similar partnership with USA Nordic. U.S. Biathlon President and CEO Max Cobb said Paul Smith’s College will be the first university in the U.S. to have its own biathlon facility.

The goal of the partnership is to give developing athletes the opportunity to earn a degree while training for competitions.

“These unbelievable lead athletes go out at a young age, they miss college, and they go represent their country for three or four Olympics, they march in the Olympic parade, they win Olympic medals,” said John Morgan, the college’s sports initiative director. “All of the sudden, they wake up, they’re 30 years old and they don’t have a career in front of them.

“Our goal is to create an educational platform to compliment the sports platform,” Morgan added.

With sports such as track and field, wrestling and basketball it’s easier to train for the Olympics and attend college at the same time because they are recognized by the National Collegiate Athletic Association. The NCAA provides scholarships to student-athletes. Sports such as ski jumping, sliding and biathlon don’t have college teams, so a lot of the time athletes have to choose whether they train or pursue an education.

Chris Mazdzer, who won a silver medal in singles luge at the Pyeongchang Olympics in 2018, had to get his career online from DeVry University while training. Alpine skier and two-time Olympic medalist Andrew Weibrecht earned an Earth science degree from Dartmouth College at the age of 29. Because she played hockey, Andrea Kilbourne-Hill was able to win a silver medal at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics and graduate from Princeton University the next year.

Four-time Olympic biathlete and U.S. Biathlon Director of Athletic Development Tim Burke took online courses for a few years while training, but he never earned a degree.

“It’s a real challenge for us not being a college sport,” he said. “Our developing athletes have to choose sport or college. Having this opportunity here, they can continue to do both. That’s incredible for us.”

John Morton, who will design the facility, was a biathlete in the 1960s. He said back then, American biathletes were struggling to stay off the last page of results during competitions.

He said “to see the progress that these guys and the people that are working with them have achieved in recent years is unbelievable gratifying to us old guys,” he said.

He started to get choked up and put a hand on Burke’s shoulder.

“It’s really special to stand beside someone who’s been on the podium at the (Biathlon) World Championships and know how hard that is, know what it takes to get there,” Morton said. “It’s remarkable. And now to have a facility like this at Paul Smith’s, that’s going to give our young athletes the opportunity to get a college education without sacrificing the quality of their training, is going to change the story.”

Paul Smith’s College Nordic Ski Coach Matt Dougherty said the plan is to break ground in May when the ground firms up and complete the course and range by June. Morton said the trails will be like many modern biathlon facilities in that loops are shorter and the skiers do more.

Burke said U.S. Biathlon will award scholarships to four developing biathletes to attend Paul Smith’s College”

“The hope is to issue all those scholarships, and we really think that getting the right kids here, it will bring a lot of others in to join the team,” he said. “I think a program like this allows us to keep more kids involved in the sport.”

Morgan said 5 miles of new trails with the FIS specification of being at least 30 feet wide were finished last fall, and are connected to the already existing system that includes the Visitors Interpretive Center.

Included in the trails is a 3.3-kilometer loop, and Morgan said plans are for another two or three loops of trail to be completed this summer.

In January, the campus hosted its first United States Collegiate Ski and Snowboard Association Nordic race, the Stewart’s Shop-Bobcat Open that featured 110 cross-country skiers from 11 schools around the Northeast.

Morgan said the shooting range being built can accommodate eight skiers at a time, and can be expanded in the future.

(Senior Sports Writer Lou Reuter contributed to this report.)