By Don Nelson
Liberty Bell High School junior Eli Nielsen has been named to the World Youth and Junior Championship men’s team to represent the United States in international biathlon competition next month.
Nielsen qualified for the team during a recent three-day competition in Jericho, Vermont. He will be one of four young biathletes representing the United States at the world championships on Feb. 22 – 28, at a location to be determined. The championships had been scheduled for a site in Russia, but because of athlete doping scandals, Russia has been sanctioned and prohibited from hosting such events.
Nielsen follows in the footsteps of 2016 Liberty Bell graduate Claire Waichler, who qualified for the 2016 World Youth and Junior Championship team and competed in Romania.
Last year, Nielsen was selected for the Youth Olympic Games team representing the United States and competed in Norway.
Nielsen, whose family lives in Stehekin, also competes on the Liberty Bell cross-country team and finished 14th at the recent state meet, where the Mountain Lions took second place in the 1B/2B competition. And he is a member of the Methow Valley Nordic Team.
Betsy Smith, coach of the Methow Valley Biathlon Team, said Nielsen qualified for the U.S. team on the basis of combined results from three days of skiing and shooting in Vermont in late December. Between now and the international championships, Nielsen will continue to compete in biathlon and Nordic events.
“He [Nielsen] worked really hard for it,” Smith said. “There is a tremendous amount of pressure. It makes the shooting component really challenging. But he held up well. The frosting on the cake is to experience these international events.”
Also named to the team along with Nielsen were Vasek Cervenka (Grand Rapids, Minnesota), Jake Pearson (Casper, Wyoming) and Alex Kilby (Anchorage, Alaska).
More than 40 athletes from Maine to Alaska competed at the Ethan Allen Firing Range in Jericho, according to the U.S. Biathlon Association.