The best season in history just ended for the U.S. biathlon team, and now a couple of young guns from Eagle River have a chance to join the fun.
Grace Gilliland, 16, and Helen Wilson, 15, were among seven athletes – four girls, three boys — named to the national team's junior development team Thursday.
Also gaining a spot on the national team is 20-year-old Travis Cooper of Kenai, a member of the National Guard biathlon program in Vermont who was named to the five-person senior development team.
For Gilliland and Wilson, being named to the national team will mean increased training opportunities, said Zach Hall, a former Anchorage Biathlon Club coach who recently became the biathlon program manager at Utah's Soldier Hollow Nordic Center.
"For them it's gonna give them some more opportunities to interact with the national team coaches," Hall said. "For the next year they'll get to attend a handful of development camps and get exposure to some of the national team athletes.
"All in all it's just a little more exposure to what's going on with the national team."
And that's a pretty big deal, considering what's been going on with the national team these days.
At the world championships in February, Lowell Bailey of New York became the first American man to win a gold medal and Susan Dunklee of Vermont became the first American woman to win any kind of medal (silver).
"There's cool stuff happening," said Hall, a Nikiski man who spent four years on the national team from 2007-11. "… It's fun to watch U.S. biathlon right now because it's firing on all cylinders. It's been a long time coming."
Cooper, Gilliland and Wilson all earned spots on the U.S. team that competed at the World Youth/Junior Championships this winter in Slovakia.
Cooper, who two years ago as a high school senior won the classic race at the Alaska high school cross-country ski championships, was one of the National Guard's top biathletes this season.
While Cooper has spent the last two years training in Vermont, Gilliland and Wilson are still in high school.
Gilliland is homeschooled, trains at the APU Nordic Center and competes in cross-country skiing for South High. Wilson attends Eagle River High School and trains with Alaska Nordic Racing. Both are also members of the Anchorage Biathlon Club.
"Getting them to the national team is a community effort," Hall said. "It's really neat to see it come together this year with so many of our kids making it to World Juniors. They show other athletes there's opportunity with biathlon."
In an interview earlier this season with fasterskier.com, Gilliland said if she could meet one World Cup athlete, it would be Susan Dunklee. As a new member of the U.S. team, she may get her wish sooner than she dreamed.