PYEONGCHANG, SOUTH KOREA – Leif Nordgren got married three days before Christmas at an outdoor wedding on a lake during a snowstorm in upstate New York: the perfect setting for an Olympic biathlete to exchange vows.
There’s also a downside to being married to an Olympic biathlete.
“We don’t really see a whole lot of each other in the winter unfortunately,” Nordgren said of his wife, Caitlin, a meteorologist for an NBC affiliate in New York.
Their sacrifice will pay off when Leif Nordgren, a Forest Lake High graduate, competes in his second Olympics. His first scheduled race is Sunday (5:15 a.m. Central time) in the men’s 10k sprint.
He described his World Cup season as “disappointing” in terms of results, but a pre-Olympics training camp in Germany left him encouraged.
“The last couple of races have been on the right track,” he said. “That’s good energy for me heading into the Olympics.”
Nordgren arrives with different goals and expectations than he took to Sochi four years ago. That was his first Olympics and he was just happy to be there and experience the spectacle. His best finish in an individual race was 44th, and his relay team placed 16th.
“I wasn’t expecting to light it up or anything,” he said. “This time with one Olympics under my belt and four more years of racing and training, I’m definitely looking to put my best effort out there every day.”
He remains a long shot to medal in his individual races, but his relay team posted several top-10 finishes in world championships the past two years, so they are hopeful for a strong showing.
Nordgren moved from the Twin Cities to New York eight years ago in order to train year-round at the U.S. biathlon facility in Lake Placid.
His schedule requires three to six hours of daily physical activity from mid-April to the end of November. The regimen includes roller skiing at least five days a week, cycling four days, running four days. They also work on target shooting at least an hour a day.
“I would say we still send 80-85 percent of our time doing physical training,” he said.
His sport is unique in that it demands mastery of two vastly different disciplines: cross-country skiing and marksmanship. Nordgren didn’t grow up hunting and didn’t particularly enjoy shooting when he first started competing in biathlons.
“It grew on me,” he said.
His marksmanship has lagged behind his proficiency as a skier. Asked about his shooting accuracy, he joked, “It goes day by day.”
“I have struggled over the years with shooting,” he said. “But in the last three years, I’ve bumped up my consistency a little bit.”
Nordgren said the shooting component usually separates the field in competitions, more so than skiing.
“If you have a bad day on the skis but you still hit all of your targets, you can still have a decent race,” he said. “But if you have a bad day on the range, really there’s no chance.”
Nordgren feels stronger in both areas just from having more training and more competitions. Biathletes compete in World Cup events from December to mid-March, primarily in Europe. Each World Cup features multiple competitions, which equates to 30-plus races every season.
That’s a lot of races for Nordgren since he left Sochi four years ago. He’s 28 now and entering his peak years as a biathlete.
“I definitely feel like my best years can still be ahead of me,” he said. “I’ve had maybe one or two years now that haven’t been the greatest. That’s kind of a blow to the confidence I guess. But I still feel like I have a lot left to give in this sport.”