Athlete of the Month: Simply put, Conway biathlete Sean Doherty is a world champ
Conway teenager Sean Doherty was not exactly content with his world champion status. The Kennett High of Conway senior became the most decorated biathlete in American history by winning a gold and two silver medals at the World Youth and Junior Championships held in Obertilliach, Austria, late last month.
Doherty figures he simply experienced three days of athletic nirvana during the competition. Competitive athletes term this as being in the zone. Now, he's attempting a similar focus at the Under-26 European World Championships in Bansko, Bulgaria.
Doherty, 17, was selected as the January Athlete of the Month as voted on by the New Hampshire Union Leader Board of Judges. He topped a ballot that included Connor Jewett, a forward on the Berlin High School hockey team; Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute freshman basketball player Ashley Clough of West Chesterfield and Patrick Welch, a Pembroke Academy basketball guard.
Others receiving votes were Merrimack High School hockey goalie Brett Glendye along with high school basketball players Aliza Simpson of Londonderry and Eric Gendron of Merrimack.
The sport of biathlon combines cross-country skiing with rifle target shooting. Depending on the event, Nordic skiers stop racing at specific locations and shoot at five targets, sometimes from a prone position, other times while standing. The targets can be as small as a half-dollar coin and placed 160 feet away. Penalties or additional skiing distances are accrued for missed targets.
The margin between victory and defeat is paper thin. Training, conditioning and preparation are important. Focus is essential.
"It all just kind of came together for him," said Doherty's mother, Mary Doherty. "He goes into every race trying to do his best, but there is no room for error. I could tell he was really focused just from seeing the smile on his face after he finished each race."
He was 3.6 seconds shy of claiming gold in his first Junior Championships race, the 7.5-kilometer sprint, which involved two shooting stages. The silver medal was the first podium finish for a U.S. biathlete since 2009.
Next, Doherty took home the gold in a come-from-behind victory in the 10-K biathlon pursuit in a time of 29:31, a commanding 28.2 seconds ahead of the second-place finisher. The event included 109 racers, representing 30 countries. He missed two targets following the first lap and hit every target on his second and third shooting stage before missing once following the fourth lap.
He then claimed his third medal by finishing second in the 12.5-K individual race, finishing 5.6 seconds behind the winner from France - who successfully defended his 2012 title. This marked the first time in U.S. biathlon history any athlete has garnered that many individual medals in World Championship competition.
"It was an amazing week," Doherty told media at the Junior Championships. "The best way I could put it is that it was incredible to have all that good racing come together in a week when it really, really counted."
His accomplishments have attracted plenty of attention. He appeared in the Feb. 11 Sports Illustrated, "Faces in the Crowd" feature. Max Cobb, the CEO of U.S. Biathlon, described Doherty's historic feat as inspiring.
"He's the real deal," Jakov Fak posted on Facebook following Doherty's performance. A renowned Slovenian biathlon team member, Fak recently won a gold and silver at the 2012 World championships.
Doherty took up cross-country skiing with his family and started racing at the behest of a family friend. A neighbor urged him to take up shooting and biathlon competition the past few seasons. He would love to be an Olympian. Though he may be a bit young and inexperienced, he intends to compete in qualifying races for the 2014 U.S. Olympic Team, which will compete in Sochi, Russia.
To submit a nomination for future Athlete of the Month consideration, email the Union Leader Sports Department at firstname.lastname@example.org and enter "Athlete of the Month" in the subject line.