Last ski season, 18-year-old Jordan McElroy, the 2012 CNISSF Nordic State Champion from Truckee High School, decided to try his aim at national-level competition in biathlon, a challenging sport combining two disparate disciplines: Nordic skiing and rifle marksmanship.
While Nordic skiing demands strength and endurance, shooting requires precision and calm. McElroy's results were encouraging enough for him to defer college, as biathlon is not an NCAA sport, in favor of signing on with the National Guard Biathlon team, headquartered in Jericho, Vt.
Full-time training in biathlon with the National Guard has paid off handsomely for McElroy.
"Training with the National Guard has provided me with consistent training, shooting and coaching, as well as the resources to support everything I am doing," he said. "Also, having a small group of dedicated biathletes to train with every day helps to speed up the progression considerably."
Indeed, in each of his eight races this season, held in Canmore, Alberta, and Mt. Itasca, Minn., he finished in the top two in his age group. He occupied the top spot on the podium in half of those races, besting both his U.S. and Canadian competition.
While always a lightning-fast Nordic ski racer, McElroy has concentrated on improving his shooting ability with great results. At the U.S. Youth/Junior World Championship Team Trials in Mt. Itasca, held between Christmas and New Year's, he competed in three races - two sprints and one pursuit.
The sprint has two shooting stations, where a competitor shoots from two different positions: one prone and one standing. The pursuit has four stations, two of each. With each successive race, McElroy improved his shooting percentages from 60 percent to 80 percent.
"It has been very reassuring for me to see that I have progressed so quickly," McElroy said, "especially with the consistency of my shooting."
McElroy's success at the Team Trials earned him a berth on the U.S. Biathlon Ski Team in the IBU Youth/Junior World Championships to be held in Ostertilliach, Austria, later this month. He was one of two automatic qualifiers, who will be joined by two additional discretionary athletes in the Youth Men age group (17-18-year-olds). Ten biathletes total, six men and four women, will be representing the U.S. in the World Championships, from Jan. 25 to Feb. 1. -
McElroy will participate in four races: 6-kilometer sprint, 10K pursuit, 12.5K individual and a 3 x 7.5K relay, which happens to fall on his 19th birthday. Afterward, he will travel to northern Italy to take part in the Italian Military Ski Championships with his National Guard teammate, Jake Dalberg, who also qualified for the U.S. Biathlon Ski Team in the Junior Men age group (19-20-year-olds).
Representing the U.S. on the international stage will be a momentous experience for McElroy, and not only because he applied for his very first passport just a few months ago.
While biathlon in the U.S. is considered a rather curious, albeit cool, athletic endeavor of skinny ski enthusiasts, biathlon is a major spectator sport in Europe, with its top athletes enjoying a celebrity status rivaling football stars here.
Last month in Germany, 50,000 fans filled a soccer stadium to cheer on World Cup biathletes and watch a retired German biathlete being lowered into the stadium on a trapeze to the theme from the James Bond film "Skyfall."
McElroy's sudden success in biathlon is no great surprise considering his pedigree in the sport. His father, Tom McElroy, was the top junior biathlete in the U.S. in the late 1970s, competing extensively across the country and Europe before a career-ending injury just prior to the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid.
As the younger McElroy takes the stage later this month in Austria, they will become the first-ever U.S. father-son participants in the IBU Youth/Junior World Championships.