Steamboat Springs Steamboat Springs skier Marty Smith said he hopes to close his first full biathlon season with a bang - or, more accurately, the thud of another on-target round.
Smith, competing today through Saturday in the North American Championships at Mount Itasca in Coleraine, Minn., said he hopes to finish high enough to be named to the U.S. National development team. To do that will require a deadeye aim, he said.
"I can ski as fast as all of these guys," Smith said. "I just can't shoot as well."
The 20-year-old Smith got the skiing part of the biathlon down long ago and entered biathlon competitions this year as an accomplished skier. The shooting, on the other hand, has kept him a step below the top-tier competitors.
He's been working diligently to change that. He followed a lengthy February biathlon road trip with extensive work with the gun.
"I was in Vermont and Canada for two months, and when I got home I shot for a week straight," he said. "I shot about 500 rounds per day."
Smith said learning the intricacies of the sport also has helped him sharpen his aim. He's better learned to slow his heart rate when approaching the shooting segment of a race, while also figuring out when he can press his skate-skiing advantage and really fly on the course.
He's banking on hitting 80 percent of his targets in the three-race event. That'd be a huge step from the 40 percent he said the typical newcomer hits, and big improvement from the 60 percent to 70 percent he's been hitting all season.
He was shooting at 90 percent Wednesday in the final day of practice before today's 10-kilometer, two-shooting stop sprint.
"I'm pretty confident. I've really been shooting better," he said. "Just racing more has helped me. Realizing how hard you can go in a race, and that you can't come in with your heart rate at 190 has helped. Learning position shooting and learning how to relax has, too."
Smith said he wasn't completely surprised he is where he is. Sure it's a departure from his cross-country skiing roots, but just a slight one. The spectacle of the week's event - he'll be up against experienced and talented racers from across the country and continent - hasn't fazed him.
Neither has the carrot at the end of the trail - a ticket to spend next season at Lake Placid, N.Y., with the development team learning the finer points of the sport.
"I don't get nervous before races," Smith said. "It'd be great to keep skiing. It would be a lot of fun."
The event continues Friday with a 12.5-kilometer pursuit style race, and then concludes Saturday with a 15-kilometer mass start.
"If I can shoot at 80 percent, I can get into the top three," Smith said.
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