Cape Elizabeth’s Clare Egan skis, shoots her way to Olympics

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CAPE ELIZABETH — Clare Egan was quarantined in a cabin in Ruhpolding, Germany, last week.

This week, the 25-year-old native of Cape Elizabeth is making her Olympic debut in Pyeongchang, South Korea, representing the United States in the biathlon, which combines cross-country skiing and rifle shooting.

Competitors ski with .22-caliber rifles on their backs, stopping at regular intervals to aim and shoot at five circular targets 50 meters away. Races have two to four shooting ranges throughout the course. Depending on the event, missed shots result in penalty loops or added time.

The sport is popular in Europe and is the one winter Olympics sport in which the U.S. has never won a medal.

Egan had been training and competing in the World Cup season, with two events in Germany and a third in Italy, when she became ill with what she said was either the flu or a “horrible cold.”

“I’m just lucky I don’t have this during the games,” Egan said in a telephone interview Feb. 1. “There’s no way I’d be competing. … Staying healthy throughout the games is the No. 1 challenge. It’s just one of those things people probably don’t think about.”

On Feb. 6, two days before the Olympic torch would be lit, Egan said in an email that she’s feeling better and training in Korea.

She expects her first race, on Feb. 10, won’t be too fast, but hopes to be back where she was prior to falling ill within a week or two.

“I feel like everything’s coming into place,” Egan said. “Illness is a setback, but I know how to do the biathlon. … I’m not counting myself out.”

And she shouldn’t.

Though Egan has been cross-country skiing since middle school, she didn’t compete in her first biathlon until 2013 while training with the Craftsbury Green Racing Project in Vermont.

In 2014, she was nearly selected as one of the five women to represent the U.S. in Sochi, Russia, but missed qualifying by two spots.

She made her biathlon World Cup debut in January 2015 and has competed on the World Cup circuit since then as a member of the U.S. Biathlon A Team. Each day, she worked on her four-year goal of making the 2018 U.S. Olympic Team.

“I told myself I was going to make the team and I was going to do so decisively,” she said.

Egan has set the bar high for herself, and competitors, for many years.

She was a three-sport athlete in high school – cross-country running in fall, Nordic skiing in winter, and outdoor track in spring – and won individual state titles in the 400-meter dash and 300-meters hurdles, plus a team title in cross-country.

As a skier she was the high school state champion and a two-time member of the New England Junior National team.

Egan began a Nordic ski team at Wellesley College in Massachusetts during her freshman year of undergraduate study, and later competed in cross-country, skiing and track at the University of New Hampshire while pursuing a master’s degree in linguistics.

Though her athletic career has taken her far and wide, Egan maintains a hearty fan base in her hometown. She keeps them updated on her journey through a blog, and she and her high school track coach, Dave Weatherbie, still keep in touch.

“Clare is probably one of the greatest high-school-girl, track athletes ever in Maine,” Weatherbie said in a phone interview Feb. 5. “She was very driven, even in high school.”

Weatherbie went on to commend Egan for being a “great team player,” “great leader,” and a “genuine joy to coach.”

He said he keeps up with her career, watching race after race online, and is looking forward to watching her compete this month.

“I think she’ll probably surprise some people at the games,” Weatherbie said. “But not me.”

Deven Morrill coached Egan for four years on the Cape Nordic ski team. He also skied at UNH and said he was “tickled” when he heard she had decided to compete during her post-graduate year.

“It’s really neat to see her dreams coming true,” Morrill said. “She’s very deserving of where she is and she’ll represent the country very well.”

Her family, however, is probably the proudest. Egan’s two brothers and her parents, Hillary and Tom, will be in South Korea to watch her compete.

“As parents, our philosophy was to follow our kids where their interests took them and then to try to support that interest,” Hillary Egan said in a Feb. 2 email. “Lucky for us, they picked Nordic skiing. We are profoundly grateful that (Clare) is able to follow a path of her own making, and what an exciting path it is.”

For those who want to follow along from the comfort of home, the first women’s biathlon sprint event is Saturday, Feb. 10, at 6:15 a.m. And Egan is active on social media; besides her blog (https://clareegan.wordpress.com/), you can follow her on Twitter (@BiathleteEgan) and Instagram (@claireeganbiathlete).

Jocelyn Van Saun can be reached at 781-3661, ext. 183 or jvansaun@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter @JocelynVanSaun.

Clare Egan of Cape Elizabeth will make her Olympic debut Feb. 10, representing Team U.S.A. in biathlon, which combines cross-country skiing and rifle shooting.

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