Published: 6/17/2020 9:34:27 PM
Modified: 6/17/2020 9:34:19 PM
WHITE RIVER JUNCTION — Zane Fields is new to biathlon. Even with the coronavirus pandemic interfering with his preparations, he’s giving it his best shot.
Fields, a former three-sport Woodstock High athlete, was named to US Biathlon’s developmental roster — called the X team — in April, but his indoctrination into the combined cross country skiing/shooting sport really began last summer. That’s when the two-time college all-American impressed with his performance at a summer talent identification camp.
Right now, Fields should be at the Olympic Training Center in Lake Placid, N.Y., for daily coaching, shooting practice and workouts. Until New York authorities relax stay-at-home orders, however, he’s doing what he can from his White River Junction base.
“It’s extremely humbling,” Fields confessed this week. “I had in my mind where I’d grown up in Vermont, went to hunter safety, shot guns in my backyard, I’d be fine. I very quickly learned that it’s as much of a skill to shoot as it is to ski. It was a very hard learning curve, and I’m still very much in a learning curve.”
Biathlon combines freestyle Nordic skiing with riflery. Fields has excelled at the former for years, twice earning all-American status at Woodstock and landing on the New England junior national team on multiple occasions. He continued that ascent at Colby College, making the NCAA Championship in all four years with a career-best sixth-place in the men’s 20-kilometer mass-start skate race at NCAAs as a junior.
US Biathlon’s developmental program has been around for about 10 years, coach Tim Burke said. The association will sometimes appeal to the broader Nordic ski community for X team candidates, and it’s one such attempt that led Tracey Cote, Fields’ coach at Colby College, to suggest he give biathlon a try.
“He’s really, really solid mentally,” Cote said in a phone interview from Maine. “And he’s the kind of athlete who performs well under pressure, which you don’t see very often.”
Fields represented the United States at the U23 World Nordic Skiing Championships in Germany in March. His focus has been on biathlon ever since.
This year’s X team has a Twin State flavor — its three athletes all with Vermont or New Hampshire ties. Like Fields, Dartmouth College graduate Luke Brown is relatively new to shooting but well-versed at freestyle skiing. Recent Middlebury College grad Chloe Levins is different, having competed at various levels of biathlon for eight years and juggling that with a spot on the Panthers’ women’s golf team.
All three will benefit from their X team opportunity regardless of past experience, she said.
“My advice to everyone is to keep the faith and stay patient,” Levins said from her Rutland home. “It’s a sport of dramatic ups and downs. Even the professionals can make amateur mistakes. It goes back to the mental aspect of the sport, where if you aren’t completely concentrating on the present and you get ahead of yourself, you’ll get in your own way.”
Fields, 22, hopes biathlon will provide a quicker route to European competition than Nordic skiing alone. Biathlon owns a deep fan base, with events often drawing tens of thousands of spectators.
Unlike Nordic, however, racers must successfully merge on-snow speed with rifle accuracy, and the latter can be achieved only by slowing down when required. Fields would be working on that if he could be in Lake Placid; for now, his best outlets are weekly trips to the range at the Craftsbury Outdoor Center mixed with roller ski workouts at home.
Fields has a role model: Brown’s older brother, Jake, is on the U.S. senior national biathlon team. Fields said it took the elder Brown a year and a half to become internationally competitive and about 2½ years to reach the World Cup circuit.
“That’s a nice trajectory,” Fields noted.
Now it’s in his sights.
Greg Fennell can be reached at [email protected] or 603-727-3226.