Service High School junior Elias Soule is hoping a home course advantage will help him earn a spot on Team USA at the Biathlon Junior World Championships.
With the 2022 Team USA Youth and Junior Trials taking place in Anchorage for the first time in almost a decade, Soule has so far taken advantage of his familiarity with the course at Kincaid Park.
After a pair of top 10 overall finishes and a top five in the youth 15-17 age range, the 16-year-old is in contention to reach his goal with one more sprint race left Saturday after a rest day Friday.
Soule finished 10th overall and fifth in his age group in the pursuit race Thursday with a mark of 33:55.9. That came a day after he finished eighth overall and fourth in the youth men’s sprint race Wednesday.
“Especially because it’s at sea level,” Soule said. “Last year, we had trials at Park City, Utah, which is high elevation. Going to high elevation from a sea-level place makes it really hard to adjust. Having it on your own turf, at sea level, on trails that I know so well, really gives me a strong advantage.”
The top four in each age group make the team that will represent the U.S. at the Junior Worlds in Shchuchinsk, Kazakhstan, in March.
Soule admits that he’s not quite at peak performance because he had to overcome several illnesses this season, but he feels like he’s finally over that bit of adversity.
“I think at peak performance, I would be skiing quite a bit faster, but my shooting has improved, and my skiing is serviceable at the moment,” Soule said. “I know I can reach that next level, and I would like to get there for the next race.”
He has been competing in biathlon since he was 10 years old, took a short break for a year, and then recommitted fully.
“I’m a skier at heart, and that’s how I got into the sport,” Soule said. “I started skiing with Junior Nordics with my family when I was younger, worked my way up, joined Alaska Winter Stars for my ski team and then transitioned into biathlon, so now I do a little bit of both.”
He is also a member of the Service cross country ski team, which has been named the best at the prep level in the country for the last four years.
While he hasn’t been shooting as long as he has been skiing, Soule said that his skills with a rifle have improved immensely, especially over this past summer, when he spent more time refining that aspect of his game.
“I’m starting to bring my shooting to be more comparable with my skiing,” he said.
The hardest part of the pursuit race for him was exercising patience and avoiding early burnout.
“Each skiing stage feels like a sprint, so you want to push really hard, but in reality, over the course of the race that’s 10 kilometers — which is extremely long, you don’t want to be pushing as hard as I did out of the gate,” Soule said. “I had a little bit of a struggle along my second lap, where I felt like I was starting to burn out a little bit, so I took that a little easier, and then I came back in my next two laps and was able to recover.”
He has been the top men’s finisher from Alaska in both races so far and had a nice contingent of supporters cheering him on.
“I feel like the fans are well-coached and they don’t go too crazy while I’m shooting, but on the skis, you really get that home-field advantage,” Soule said. “It feels great to have my community behind me.”
A family affair in the Last Frontier
On the women’s side, Dolcie Tanguay, a junior at Paul Smith’s College in New York who’s competing in the junior division, produced a second straight top-two finish by coming in first for both her division and overall with a time of 35:42.3 in the pursuit.
Her mark edged out Eagle River native Helen Wilson for the top spot after the 21-year-old Alaska product finished first in the sprint on Wednesday.
Tanguay said it was the best finish she’s ever had in the pursuit event, and it marked the culmination of all her hard work throughout the season.
“After a few races this season, I knew that I had some improvement that I could work on, and today I put it all together and it worked out great. So, I couldn’t be happier,” Tanguay said.
In addition to being the first across the finish line, she was nearly perfect as a sharpshooter, missing just two targets on the day, which was also her best performance of the season by far.
The native of Fort Kent, Maine, believes that she’s been building up to this level of performance and that her results from the past two days are the “crescendo” of her season to this point.
It couldn’t have come at a better time, with a chance to represent her country on an international stage at stake.
“That is the dream and I’ve been working towards that for a while,” Tanguay said.
This is her fifth year competing in biathlon, and like most biathletes, she was a skier first. After getting more serious, she realized the sport has opened a lot of doors for her.
“It’s been really fun with a lot of cool opportunities to travel like this event,” Tanguay said.
While she still feels like she’s a better skier than a shooter, the 20-year-old admits that her prowess and precision with a rifle have come a long way and aren’t too far behind from being on par.
“They’re definitely getting there, but biathlon is tough because some much depends on the shooting — so if it goes bad in one stage, it could mess up your whole race,” Tanguay said. “If it goes well in the shooting, then even if you’re skiing isn’t at the top of your game, you can still have a really good race.”
Her older sister Jordan is the head high school coach and coordinator for the Juneau Nordic Ski Club. A third Tanguay sister, Rowan, finished 19th on Thursday. Despite the family connection, this is her first time coming to Alaska.
“The snow was great, and the weather has been super nice since we got up here,” Tanguay said.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that there hasn’t been a male representative from Alaska at the Biathlon Junior World Championships in nearly 20 years. Multiple Alaska competitors have represented the state in the World Championships over the last decade.