Kentucky competes in biathlon championships

By Capt. Josh Daugherty, 133rd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

Guardsmen compete in the 2018 Chief, National Guard Bureau Biathlon Championships in Soldier Hollow, Utah, Feb. 26, 2018. Kentucky National Guardsmen competed against 25 other states in the annual winter sport event. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Capt. Josh Daugherty)

CAMP WILLIAMS, Utah — Members of the Kentucky National Guard Biathlon Team traveled to Utah to take on 23 other states at the Chief, National Guard Bureau Biathlon Championships Feb. 23 to March 2, 2018. The competition was held at Soldier Hollow Olympic Park, which hosted the biathlon events for the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. The world-class venue provided near perfect conditions for the more than 180 athletes who competed in this year’s championships. For Kentucky, this makes the second year in a row where they have sent a full team to compete in the championships.

“Kentucky has earned a lot of respect in the National Guard biathlon community over the last two years,” said Staff Sgt. Joel Campbell, team coordinator and member of the team.  “Each year we compete our performance improves and our knowledge of the sport increases.  Funding by the state providing proper equipment has been pivotal to our improvement.  We can train during the summer and compete with high-end equipment at competitions.”

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For Kentucky National Guard Soldiers, it’s not easy training to be a biathlete.  Most Kentuckians didn’t grow up cross-country skiing. Known as a “non-snow state” by other biathlon teams, Kentucky lacks the conditions to train on real snow. In a sport dominated by northern states like Alaska, Vermont and Minnesota, Kentucky is traditionally the most southern state to compete. To compensate, the team sticks to its guns (literally) relying on “Kentucky Windage” and superior marksmanship to help level the playing field.  The team is improving its cross-country skiing during the off-season by training with skate skis, which are pseudo skis with wheels on each end similar to roller blades.

“I’ve done the Ironman Triathlon, ultra marathons, and several obstacle course races but for me, biathlon is the hardest sport I’ve competed in,” said team member, Sgt. 1st Class James Shackelford.  “It’s a unique combination of sheer grit and determination mixed with the sophistication and skill of shooting.”

Biathlon is not for fair weather athletes.

“A person in incredible shape could suffer through the course without having all the skills of cross-country skiing mastered, but if you aren’t already in good shape, you are in for a hard, painful lesson,” said team member, Staff Sgt. Chris Fugate. “My first year competing was tough so I spent the whole next year training with skate skis and made dramatic improvements on my times this year.”

National Guard biathlon races vary in distance depending on the race.  Distances range from 7.5 km to 12.5 km within the men’s division, not including penalty loops, which are added for missed targets during the shooting portion. Poor shooting can add over 2 km to one’s race. Add 6,000 ft. of oxygen-robbing elevation, 800 ft. of elevation gain within the course and sub-freezing temperatures and you start to paint the picture of this year’s championship course.

“It’s a humbling experience.  I spent an entire year working on the skate skis and exercising with specific workouts for biathlon and still spent my first couple days on the snow getting re-adjusted to actual skiing,” said team member, Staff Sgt. Josh Bottom. “No matter how much time you spend on the skate skis, nothing can duplicate real cross-country skiing except getting on snow.”

The team plans to train even harder this year in preparation for next year’s regional and national competitions.  With the improvements they have made over the last couple years, they have hopes of taking the podium in some events.  They even think it’s possible to get a few team members named to the All-Guard Biathlon team, which is made up of the nation’s top 15 biathletes.

“Going by the improvements each athlete has made year-to-year, it’s not impractical to expect Kentucky to become a serious contender for placing in the top half of the field next year,” said Campbell. “Despite our lack of actual time on snow, we have a passion for the sport and a desire to win.  In another year or two, Kentucky will be a very serious threat to states that have traditionally dominated the sport.”

For more information about the Kentucky National Guard Biathlon Team, visit and follow their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/kyngbiathlon/