St. Peter, Minn. – A typical Monday for junior nordic skier Tyler Gustafson (Grand Rapids, Minn.) includes linear algebra, managerial finance, and intermediate Swedish – all before lunch. The afternoon varies, depending on what homework needs to be done, or if a meeting is scheduled, and a trip to Lund Center for training is usually on the schedule. However, this was no ordinary Monday.
On Monday, February 24th, he was not headed to Olin Hall at 8:00 a.m., for linear algebra, nor was he making the short walk to Beck Hall at 9:00 a.m., for managerial finance. He did not stop in the cafeteria or go to Chapel during the 10:00 a.m. break, and he was certainly not learning Swedish. Instead, Tyler made his way to a shooting range nearly 1,500 miles away in Presque Isle, Maine. In just four days, he would be competing in the International Biathlon Union (IBU) Junior World Championships against some of the top 19-and 20-year old competitors in the world.
Biathlon, a lesser-known sport throughout the United States, combines cross-country skiing and rifle shooting in a grueling competition of skill, precision, endurance, and control. Growing up in Grand Rapids, Minn., Gustafson grew accustomed to cross-country skiing at an early age. In high school, he was introduced to the sport of biathlon.
Throughout his high school career, Tyler participated in nordic skiing, but continued to train for biathlon by attending the shooting range regularly. This work continued into college, as he frequented the range when upon returning home for breaks during the academic year. However, this training was few and far between.
“It’s tough to train,” Tyler admitted. “Biathlon isn’t as popular in America as it is in other countries, especially in Europe, so there aren’t as many opportunities to get involved.”
Last year, Gustafson was eligible to compete in qualifying races for the Junior Worlds. However, Tyler was not selected to represent the team as a 19-year old, but had one more shot after his 20th birthday earlier this year.
After spending the first semester training at Gustavus with his nordic skiing teammates, Tyler competed in three races over the holiday break in an attempt to qualify for the IBU Junior World Championships. The three races were also held in Presque Isle, Maine, where he performed well enough to be selected as one of three United States racers to compete in the Junior Worlds.
With the news in hand, Gustafson returned to St. Peter with a renewed enthusiasm for training and racing. He continued to improve throughout the nordic season, recording his personal best at the NCAA Central Region Championships in mid-February. In his final race of the season, Tyler recorded a career-best finish of 13th in a time of 43:27.2 in the freestyle to lead his team to a fifth place standing, finishing in front of St. Olaf and UW-Green Bay.
“Having the success that I did at regionals really gave me confidence heading into the Junior Worlds,” reminisced Gustafson. “I had personal bests, which made me realize that I could push through and accomplish anything I put my mind to.”
Tyler continued to train over the next two weeks until flying to Maine on Friday, Feb. 21st. After arriving in Presque Isle, Gustafson spent the next week training for three different biathlon races that awaited him in the coming days. The experience was quite different for Tyler, who comes from a city of less than 11,000 people and interest in biathlon is lacking.
“The range was packed, which was something I had never seen before,” commented Gustafson. “It was so cool to see because you have all the space you need where I am from, but there were people everywhere at this range. It was a lot of fun to be apart of.”
Following the week of training, Tyler was set for a week of competition that included three individual races and a team relay. Although he did not medal in any of the races, Gustafson finished as the top competitor from the United States in each race – an impressive feat for the junior.
“I was really proud to finish as the top American in all three races,” Tyler admitted. “Biathlon is so small in the U.S., so you basically know everybody. It was fun to lead the way.”
He led off the week with a 43rd place finish in the sprint race on Saturday, March 1st. Gustafson crossed the line in a time of 29:21.6 and was the top American in the field, finishing just under a minute ahead of fellow American Jakob Ellingson.
Gustafson followed his opening performance with a 48th place outing the following day in the pursuit race. Again, Tyler finished as the top American in his age group with a time of 40:05.2, ending up two places in front of Ellingon and eight places in front of teammate Jacob Dalberg.
Tyler rounded out his trio of top American finishes with another 48th place standing on Wednesday, March 5th in the individual men’s race. Gustafson crossed the line in 50:52.3, nearly three minutes ahead of Ellingson, who took 53rd.
The team relay capped off the week of racing on Friday, March 7th. The United States placed 12th out of 13 teams in the relay, finishing with a time of 1:26:00.0, which was just over 11 minutes behind the gold medalist, Germany, who finished in 1:15.38.4. In the relay, Tyler put forth a split of 23:12.0 in the second leg.
At the end of it all, Gustafson returned to Minnesota with the experience of a lifetime. “It was awesome,” remarked the junior with a smile. “I got to train and compete with the top skiers in the world for two weeks. That’s something that you don’t get to do everyday. It was so much fun.”
With all of his individual success both at the NCAA Regional Championships and at the IBU Junior World Championships, Tyler is quick to give credit where credit is due.
“I couldn’t do any of this without the support of my teammates and coach here at Gustavus,” said a humble Gustafson. “There is no way I could have done this by myself. I have awesome teammates and a great coach to help me train and get better. I definitely couldn’t do it without them.”
As a junior, Tyler has one year remaining at Gustavus. He is on track to graduate in the spring of 2015 with a degree in finance.