Olympic biathlete Joan Guetschow was a competitive swimmer before she switched to the little-known sport that combines skiing and shooting.
After competing in both the 1992 and 1994 Winter Games, Guetschow settled into a career coaching biathletes as young as 8 years old here at the Utah Winter Sports Park.Now she's been recognized as the nation's top developmental coach in her sport by the U.S. Olympic Committee, making the first-ever national coaches of the year roster.
Randy Will, who moved here earlier this year to coach at the sports park's nearly completed sled and luge track, is the only other Utahn being honored by the USOC.
A bobsled driver in three Olympics, Will was named developmental coach of the year in bobsledding for his efforts with athletes in Lake Placid, N.Y., site of two Winter Games and a USOC training center.
He intends to continue the good work on the Utah track, where he hopes to start training would-be bobsledders next January. Two programs are planned, one to get kids 8 to 16 started and another aimed at adults.
Guetschow has been training Utah kids for nearly three years through the National Sports Foundation, which operates the youth training programs at the state's sports park.
That first winter, just 10 boys and girls gave biathlon a try. Today, three times that many ski - or run, depending on the season - and shoot at targets set up on the side of a ski jump.
The 10 girls and 20 boys, who range in age from 8 to 16, start with safety training and BB guns before graduating to other air rifles and, finally, .22-caliber rifles.
When they start, most don't know much about biathlon, which combines the nordic skills of cross-country skiing and target shooting. "The sport, unfortunately, hasn't been all that accessible to people," Guetschow said.
Her year-round program stresses that biathlon is a lifetime sport and, unlike such popular Olympic sports as figure skating, there's no rush to start competing at an elite level.
Most Olympic biathletes are in their mid-20s and have been training in the sport only since their teens, although they likely have been skiing from a very young age.
Guetschow swam as a Minnesota high school student, then got serious about cross-country skiing as an exchange student in Finland. After she returned home, a chance meeting with a Finnish biathlon coach got her into the sport.
Within three years, Guetschow was competing on the international level. Six years after taking up biathlon, she finished 64th in the first women's Olympic competition, during the 1992 Winter Games in Albertville, France.
By 1994, she'd moved up to 17th place in the individual competition and eighth in the relay. A medical condition forced her into retirement, and she started coaching where she'd trained - Utah.
Will began his sports career as a ski racer, then decided to try bobsled. His teams finished as high as fourth, in the 1988 Winter Games in Seoul, Korea. Will himself was ranked third in the world in 1992 and 1994.
Why bobsled? "You go from one speed event to another. It's still gravitational," he said. And, like biathlon, the sport rewards athletes with experience and maturity.
Although at 32 he's still younger than most Olympic bobsledders, Will said he's going to be just as pleased helping someone else win a medal in the sport for the United States.
Plus, he'll also be able to give nonathletes a chance to try out the sport, through a recreational ride program that will allow the public to sled down the track in the summer and winter.
The USOC's Bob Condron said the biathlon and bobsledding coaches are key to the success of the sports park, which was built by Olympic organizers in exchange for Salt Lake City being named America's choice for the Winter Games.
"Developmental coaches are extremely important to Olympic sports. That's their lifeblood," Condron said. That's expecially true for the lesser-known winter sports.
Utah taxpayers are spending $59 million on the sports park and other Olympic facilities, money that is to be repaid to state and local governments by the Salt Lake Organizing Committee.
The sports park will host Olympic competitions in bobsled, luge and ski jumping during the 2002 Winter Games.