Goessling finishes season on a high note
For Raleigh Goessling, if the Sochi Olympics in February were a reminder “of where I need to be and how far I have to go,” then a visit back home to Minnesota in December was a reminder of something else.
“It was great,” he said of returning home to race a biathlon in Coleraine. “I got to go to L&M. They don’t have it in the East and it’s really a shame.”
Readers may remember Goessling as the Esko boy who won the 2010 State Nordic Ski meet for the Cloquet-Esko-Carlton team. That victory now marks a distant chapter in his story, which is suddenly at a crossroads following the 2013-14 racing season.
Goessling has been training and competing out of the Maine Winter Sports Center in Fort Kent for the past few years. That may or may not change for the athlete whose target is a spot on the United States team for the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea.
“I’m in the process of finding out where I’ll be and what I’ll be doing next season regarding biathlon and cross country skiing,” he said during a phone conversation from Maine. “There’s a lot of uncertainty. But I’m excited to have every option on the table this spring.”
April in biathlon and cross country skiing circles marks the end of the competitive season and brings with it a hectic period of lining up the next round of training accommodations. Possibilities for Goessling include an invitation to join the Olympic Training Center in Lake Placid, skiing for a university team or staying where he is.
“I’m 22 and not too old to be out of place on a college campus by any means,” said Goessling of possibly attending a university. “If I’m going to be on the World Cup [circuit] and make a really serious bid to make the 2018 team, I’m going to have to raise my level of skiing, as well as my shooting.”
Goessling is coming off a successful 2013-14 campaign. He took two firsts and a third at the United States Biathlon Association’s national championships in Jericho, Vt., in March. Prior to that he toured internationally, and, from the tone of his blog, learned a few things. He capped his season with a second-place finish at the 50-kilometer Sugarloaf Ski Marathon in Maine.
Out of high school, Goessling eschewed jumping into the college ranks, because his mind was fixed on one thing: competing.
“Through my senior year at Esko I’d had the opportunity to compete in three youth world championships, representing the United States in Germany, Canada and Sweden,” he said. “I had mixed success but that taste of international racing and level of competition and venues and excitement and pageantry really galvanized my desire to reach the highest level of the sport. I knew what I wanted to do was be a top-level biathlete and it’s what I still want. I knew if I went to school right away my heart would not be in academics.”
He’s been training ever since, mixing in some online classes to stay on track academically. Shortly after moving to Maine, his parents, Stephen and Maura, joined him in the state by moving there for an employment opportunity that was more fortuitous and coincidental than anything else.
“Any time I’m traveling to or from somewhere, I fly out of Portland, Maine, and spend a few days with my parents on either side of it,” he said.
Mostly, Goessling can be found training. He says the work is intense and intended to produce a level of fitness beyond what he imagined when he began training full-time in 2010.
“One thing I didn’t expect at the outset of full-time training is that in this picturesque place a lot of the days it’s pouring rain,” he said. “You’re really tired and want to stay in bed, but you remind yourself of events coming in the winter, of competitors who may already be out there. The difference between what I thought and the reality of the experience is a lot different.”
Goessling calls himself his toughest critic. Managing his own expectations and emotions are among his biggest challenges in a sport in which the improvements come in small increments over long periods of time. Not to mention, the improvements have to come in two disciplines — with the added pressure of shooting his rifle as well as skiing.
“The rifle is definitely something designed to be a part of you,” said Goessling, who did not grow up with a “gun culture” in his Esko home. “The shooting aspect is really challenging, but it’s also something that drew me to the sport. There are so many intangibles to the mental aspect. It’s not like preparing for a marathon, in which you put in miles and do the workouts. When I can shoot to the level I aspire to it’s very rewarding.”
No matter what this spring’s outcome — whether he joins a college ski team or returns to an intensive training center — Goessling is enjoying the journey.
“My path from 2010 to now is definitely different than I expected it to be,” he said. “Cross country skiers and biathletes enjoy a lot of longevity, but most have a long climb, a long ladder to the top.
“It’s more work than people might expect, because of the sheer hours you’re out on the course, but it’s rewarding to put in the time and see improvement. It’s those years of training and small incremental gains that slowly bring the level up to a world class standard.”
Editor’s note: Fans can follow Goessling at http://raleighbiathlon.blogspot.com/.