Ivy Leaf - Fall 2003
Cross Country Coach Doug Hoover Shines at Biathlon World Championships
In his first appearance on the world biathlon stage, Doug Hoover was a smash hit. Penn State Altoona's cross country coach turned in the best individual performance by an American during the Summer Biathlon World Championships in Forni Avoltri, Italy, placing 15th in the Men's 4K Sprint competition on September 10. His one penalty shooting also was the best among the four U.S. competitors.
Hoover finished 1:50.8 behind World Champion Alexander Bilanenko of Ukraine. Bilanenko turned in a perfect score on the shooting range and completed the course in a time of 14:09.2, only 5.1 seconds ahead of Alexsey Kovyazin of Russia, whose shooting also was perfect. Marko Dolenc, of Slovenia, placed third.
Hoover, who resides in Williamsburg, PA, was one of only two competitors from a Western country to place in the top 15. Devis DeCanal of Italy placed ninth.
"I ran strong through the first leg and then shot clean in the first shooting stage," Hoover recounted. "But, there were a lot of other people doing the same thing at that point, so it was hard to tell where I was in the field. And there were plenty of times earlier in my career when I had shot well early in a race only to fall apart later. So, I just tried to remain calm and focused on the task at hand. After the second shooting stage, when I had only one penalty, I knew that it was a career day and then I emptied the tank on the final running loop."
Hoover, a 1994 Penn State graduate, qualified for the World Championships by winning the 4K Sprint competition at the U.S. Team Trials at the Soldier Hollow Olympic venue outside of Salt Lake City, Utah, in August, the first major title in his biathlon career.
Throughout the past winter and spring, Hoover trained by running 80 miles per week and shooting daily. A veteran of the sport, Hoover had narrowly missed qualifying for the World Championships several times during his seven previous attempts. His successes in Utah and Italy were made all the more sweet by those close calls.
"I had been knocking on the door for a long time," said Hoover, 31. "The competition in the men's field is fierce. So, when I finally qualified for the team, it was one of the greatest moments of my life. Competing so well at my first world championship was just the icing on the cake."
The Summer Biathlon World Championships are held annually. Slovakia and Finland will host the next two championships. The Summer Biathlon is a competition that combines running and shooting. It uses the same format as the Winter Olympic sport, but substitutes running for cross-country skiing. The rifles are .22 caliber and the standard shooting distance is 50 meters.
Hoover's teammates in Italy were Pat Bragassa, of Rigby, ID; Logan Hammer, of Clancy, MT; Marc Sheppard, of West Yellowstone, MT; and Russ Skelton, of Kalispell, MT. A Senior Credit Analyst for Omega Bank, Hoover said that representing the United States in international competition was one of the greatest honors of his life.
"It's also intimidating," he acknowledged. "But, at the same time it gives you a degree of confidence, knowing that you've prepared as well as possible for that moment. As an athlete, I've worked my whole life to get to this level. In seven previous attempts, I failed to make the World Championship Team. So, to finally reach my goal and have the opportunity to represent the United States was an awesome feeling."
Despite reaching the pinnacle in his sport, Hoover does not consider himself an elite athlete.
"Competing on a stage such as the World Championships can be a very humbling experience," he related. "I love to compete and I try to stay focused on what I need to do each day to make myself a better athlete."
In the Men's 6K Mass Start race on September 14, the final day of competition at the World Championships, Hoover placed 24th, third best among the Americans. Hoover incurred five penalties and finished 4:22.2 back of the winner, Bilanenko. Sheppard was 18th and Skelton was 23rd. Bragassa placed 25th.
In his other individual outing, the 6K Pursuit on September 11, Hoover finished 31st, 9:06.3 behind the winner, Kovyazin, of Russia.
In the 4x4K relay on September 13, the U.S. team of Skelton, Hoover, Hammer and Sheppard placed seventh, 5:17.3 behind the winning team from Ukraine. Russia and Slovakia placed second and third, respectively.
Bilanenko, of Ukraine, dominated the World Championships, winning gold medals in the 4K Sprint, 4x4K relay, and 6K Mass Start, and a silver medal in the 6K Pursuit.
Overall, Hoover said he was extremely pleased with his debut at the World Championships.
"Three out of my four races were very good," he said. "I was shooting consistently and running stronger than ever. Mentally, it was very tough to stay relaxed and focused though all of the races. The relay was probably the most stressful because I knew my teammates were depending on me as much as I was on them. I was extremely happy with how well I responded to the pressure of my first World Championship experience and I'm looking forward to future championships."