Junior Biathlete Shoots for Gold


Burlington High School junior Marika Massey-Bierman (left), skis at a high school nordic race at the Ethan Allen Firing Range in Jericho on Feb. 2. | Photo: Jake Bucci/Register

Theo Davis

BHS junior Marika Massey-Bierman wants to represent the United States at the Biathlon Junior World Championships, and she’s close to doing just that.

Biathlon is a sport that combines Nordic skiing and shooting a rifle. In biathlon athletes ski great distances, stopping to shoot at targets from either a standing or prone position. The targets vary in size based on one’s firing position, from the size of a large apple to an oreo.

Massey-Bierman is a standout three season athlete and student. She cross country skis and runs cross country and track at the varsity level.  However, biathlon is her passion.

“I like biathlon because I like being outside, and being able to exercise in the winter other than being in a gym. It’s also really cool because it takes a lot of mental stamina along with physical stamina to compete,” Massey-Bierman said.

She has been nordic skiing almost her entire life and was recruited at a young age to train for biathlon. She attends additional practices on top of her normal skiing practices to improve. Still, on the course athletes are on their own.

“You have to make sure you’re able to shoot accurately even after going really hard on the skiing part of the race.” she said. “You have to come into the point and totally lower your heart rate immediately to be able to shoot. Every time you shoot there are different conditions and you have to adjust your sight accordingly. It’s a hard part of biathlon, your coaches can’t talk to you on the range, so they can’t tell you how to adjust.”

This process is called zeroing, where you adjust the sight on your rifle so that it shows where you need to aim in order to compensate for variables such as wind.

Athletes also practice at home by dry firing their weapons, or shooting them without a bullet in the chamber. This helps them strengthen their trigger fingers so that they can fire smoothly while under duress.

“It’s really cool, it’s a lot of logistics and you have to be willing to put in extra time to practice shooting,” she said.

All this training leaves Massey-Bierman with little time to study or do homework, but she manages her time well and is an excellent student.

“It’s a lot to juggle, usually I practice after school and then sometime I’ll have another shooting practice after that, so I won’t get home until 8 or 8:30 and then I have to do homework. I feel like it’s definitely helped me with time management,” she said.

She is also a member of four cross country skiing groups including the BHS varsity team.

Massey-Bierman is currently ranked 8th nationally for biathlon in her age group, youth ages 16 to 19. She has goals to attend the 2018 Biathlon Junior World Championships in Europe. To succeed, she will have to place top four in the nation at the next national championships. An injury sidelined her for most of the fall season last year but she is confident she can improve.