By DAVID LANIER Sentinel Staff
Biathlete Sean Doherty, who began training as a youngster at Great Glen Trails Outdoor Center near Conway in the White Mountains, is one of a dozen or so New Hampshire athlete with sights on a Winter Olympics medal in Sochi, Russia.
The Winter Games crank up today with preliminary competition in a handful of events. The Opening Ceremony is Friday.
Downhill veteran Bode Miller is the biggest name in the N.H. group, with 33 World Cup titles and five Olympic medals during his career. Now 36, and the oldest Alpine Olympian in U.S. history, Miller grew up skiing at Cannon Mountain and has a trail named after him at Bretton Woods.
There are nearly a dozen more N.H. athletes also looking to add to the U.S. medal count.
Doherty, now 18, grew up as a regular participant, along with his family, in the weekly Nordic Meisters cross country ski race series at Great Glen Trails, located in the Pinkham Notch area of the eastern White Mountains.
Doherty began focusing more on the biathlon — a combination of the disciplines of cross country skiing and rifle shooting — in the last six years, with help from Great Glen Trails coach and staff member Eli Walker.
“Sean has worked so hard and has been focused on this goal since he came to us at 12 years and said he wanted to compete in biathlons,” said Doherty’s dad, Dan. “He’s got the talent.
“And he’s got the other half of the equation: hard work.”
Walker said, “You could tell at a young age that this boy had the skills, curiosity and maturity to grow into the talented young man and competitor he is today.
“He’s practically part of the family around here.”
Last year in Obertillicah, Austria, Doherty won a silver medal in the 12.5K sprint at the IBU 2013 Youth/Junior World Championships to become the first U.S. biathlete to win three individual medals in World Championship competition.
The Kennett High graduate also won gold and silver medals earlier in the competition.
“I have nothing but appreciation for all of the support they’ve given me through the years from my friends and the local community,” Doherty said recently. “It’s excellent and I couldn’t ask for better support.”
Miller, who took a year off to recover from a knee injury, has reached the podium in several World Cup events this season and looks poised to add to his Olympic medals count.
Miller is the sixth American to compete in five Winter Olympics. He needs three more medals to match speedskater Apolo Anton Ohno as the most decorated American in the Winter Olympics.
“My fitness is good, the skis are coming around,” Miller told reporters. “I’m hoping that I can put together my best skiing at the Olympics. I think if I do I definitely have the speed to win some medals.”
Andover ski jumper Nick Fairall, 23, also is on the U.S. team. In the sport for 15 years, Fairall is coming off a national title last August.
Lebanon’s Nick Alexander, 25, also will compete in ski jumping. This will be his second Olympics.
In snowboarding, Chas Guldemond, 26, who grew up in Laconia and spent many days and nights at Gunstock Resort and nearby Waterville Valley, will take a shot at a medal in the slopestyle competition.
Guldemond has won 25 major competitions, including the X Games.
Campton cross country skier Kris Freeman, 33, is in the Olympics for the fourth time. He was cut by the U.S. team last season, but the 16-time U.S. champion has since battled back to take a spot.
Another Waterville Valley regular, Hannah Kearney, is competing in her third Olympics in freestyle moguls. She is the defending gold medalist.
Waterville Valley in the southern White Mountains also has ties to freestyle aerial skier Ashley Caldwell, halfpipe skier Annalisa Drew, slopestyle skier Devin Logan, slopestyle boarder Jessika Jenson and U.S. snowboard coach Bill Enos.
Downhill skier Mikaela Shiffin, 18, of Lyme Center and the Lebanon Outing Club, is the defending World Cup champion in the slalom and could become the U.S. breakout star of the Games.
“I’m going to Sochi with such a positive feeling,” she said on a conference call. “I’m coming off a pretty good season. All I know is positive. I’m excited to go and race my heart out and go for the gold.”
Two additional N.H. athletes also are on the Alpine team.
Julia Ford, 23, of Plymouth regrouped from a rash of injuries to earn her first Olympics berth, and Leanne Smith, 26, who grew up on Cranmore Mountain and went to Kennett High, has won two World Cup titles and is ready for her second Olympics.
U.S. downhill skier David Chodounsky isn’t from New Hampshire, but he won the NCAA slalom title as a freshman at Dartmouth and helped the Big Green to the NCAA title as a junior.