• Post category:NEWS

Looking back, Karen and Bill Brown say they might have known their son Jake had it in him to become an Olympic biathlete. It’s not that the Macalester-Groveland couple envisioned his competing in the 2022 Olympic Games in Beijing, but Jake always had great drive.

“I’m guessing he was about 2 1/2 years old,” Karen said. “He loved circling the dining room table while sitting on his little train engine. One day, I counted and he went around the table close to 300 times.”

The Browns said Jake, now 29, and his recent experience in China as a member of the U.S. biathlon team inspired both reflection and excitement. The Browns remained at home to watch Jake compete via a special feed that allowed them to see him cross-country ski and shoot on a course that could be likened to a larger version of the family dining room.

“We would’ve been there if at all possible,” said Karen, adding that the family understood the COVID safety restrictions that were put in place for spectators. 

Jake Brown, with parents Bill and Karen, during a World Cup race last December in Le Grand-Bornand, France, where he learned he had made the U.S. Olympic biathlon team.

Jake turned in the best performances for Team USA in three biathlon events in Beijing. In the first race of his Olympic career on February 8, he finished 28th in a field of 92 in the men’s 20K individual race at the Zhangjiakou National Biathlon Centre. He followed that by finishing 36th in the men’s 10K sprint on February 12 and 40th in the men’s 12.5K pursuit the next day. In his last race on February 15, he helped the four-man U.S. team finish 13th in the 4×7.5K relay.

 

Asked what he will value the most about his Olympic experience, Jake said, “My pin collection. Just kidding, although trading pins is a great way to meet athletes from other countries. I’ll most treasure the time spent here with my teammates. We’ve been racing and training together for six years, and when we’re away from family from November to March, the team becomes a second family. 

“My teammate Leif (Nordgren) from Marine on Saint Croix and his wife just had a little baby girl on February 6,” he continued, “so to be here at the Olympics with him while his wife gave birth back in Vermont where we train was really special.”

 

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“Skiing was harder for me, but I loved it more,” Jake said. “It felt more adventurous to traverse snowy trails in northern Minnesota for hours on end—as we would with the Minnehaha team over Christmas break every year—than to run along the river.”

Jake admitted that he was not in his best cross-country skiing form during the Winter Games, but focused on doing the best he could. “In the first race, the 20K, I let myself take a moment to appreciate how special it was to be in middle-of-nowhere China racing in the Olympics,” he said. “But then I had to return to focusing on pushing my body, fighting through transitions and preparing mentally for the shooting range.”

When he was cooling down with teammates after the race under the lights of the Great Wall, Jake said he would look at his cellphone and see all the support from family and friends. “That was special,” he said, “to know that I have a great group of people cheering me on.”

One of the things his parents said they will most remember is being in France with Jake last December when he learned that he had made the Olympic team. “We just felt this great sense of pride and happiness for him,” Bill said.

Jake on skis when he was around 3 years old.

Skiing as a family began not long after Jake was motoring around the dining room. “We’d go cross-country skiing with him when he was little,” Bill said. “He always had a smile on his face.”

Jake said some of his fondest memories were going to Hyland Hills in Bloomington at 7 a.m. on Saturdays to cross-country ski with his family before they opened the lifts for downhill. He would stay behind to snowboard until late afternoon, and later return home to play hockey with his two brothers on the rink in their backyard from after dinner until bedtime.

While growing up, Jake said he tried other sports, but none too successfully. It was when he was in high school at Minnehaha Academy that cross-country running and skiing became his focus.

“Skiing was harder for me, but I loved it more,” Jake said. “It felt more adventurous to traverse snowy trails in northern Minnesota for hours on end—as we would with the Minnehaha team over Christmas break every year—than to run along the river.”

Despite his best efforts, Jake’s skiing did not win the attention of college coaches. “So I decided to head to Princeton and focus on academics,” he said.

After two years there he decided to take some time off. “I think, at the time, I wasn’t ready to go so far from home and I missed a lot about Minnesota,” he said.

The next year, he began cross-country ski racing again. “I surprised myself, finishing 16th in the American Birkebeiner as a relatively young skier,” he said.

Afterward he transferred to Saint Olaf College, where he participated in cross-country and track. He also decided to major in biology after working in the operating room at Saint Paul’s Children’s Hospital during his year off.

Following graduation in 2015, Jake considered taking a job as a pathology aide, but he inquired with a few colleges about skiing for them as a graduate student and was offered a scholarship to finish his NCAA eligibility at Northern Michigan.

“We won the men’s Nordic team title at the 2016 NCAA championships in Steamboat (Colorado) and my results earned the attention of U.S. Biathlon,” he said.

Start of biathlon training

In the summer of 2016, Jake moved to Lake Placid, New York, and started training for the biathlon at the Olympic Training Center. “At first I was awful,” said Jake, who had very little experience with shooting before then, “but over the years I improved.”

Meanwhile, he found a more balanced lifestyle by moving to Craftsbury, Vermont, where he has lived since 2018, and joining the Craftsbury Green Racing Project team.

With the Olympics behind him, Jake said he now has three more weeks of World Cup racing in Finland, Estonia and Norway before a final national championship weekend of racing in Lake Placid at the end of March.

“Then, finally, I’ll make my yearly journey back to Saint Paul before training starts up again in May,” he said.

If he had one wish right now, Jake said, it would be to establish training facilities for skiers near the Twin Cities and elsewhere in the state.

“Minnesota has more high school skiers than all other states combined, but our post-high school ski opportunities are pathetic,” he said. “We have Jessie Diggins, but she’s the only Minnesotan to make the Olympic cross-country ski team this year. Leif and I are the only biathletes, and all three of us have had to uproot our lives and move to the East to even have a chance to pursue our goals.”

— Anne Murphy

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