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It’s entirely possible that walking in with Team USA in Friday’s Opening Ceremony for the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics will ultimately be the second most memorable part of Leif Nordgren’s day.
Nordgren, 32, is now the elder statesman of the United States Olympic biathlon team. But while he’s focused on the events in front of him at the Olympics, Nordgren’s wife, Caitlin, is due to give birth to their first child. The due date is Feb. 4, the same day that the Games officially open.
Nordgren admitted the timing was unfortunate, but he explained that it’s given him perspective as he makes his way through a rigorous training schedule.
“I don’t have to be super nervous about competitions or anything like that. I’ve got other things going on,” he acknowledged in a recent interview from China.
While it was a difficult decision to be away for the due date, Nordgren—who has participated in two other Olympics—said that he received the go-ahead to make one final bid.
“When my wife and I found out in June, basically when the due date would be, she was very supportive right away because we knew this was going to be my last Olympics,” said Nordgren.
“Basically I have my phone on me wherever I go,” he added.
Nordgren lives in Vermont when he’s not preparing for the Olympics or in Europe for the World Cup season. Originally from Minnesota, he met Caitlin when they were both living in Upstate New York. She was a meteorologist for a local NBC-TV affiliate while he was training at Lake Placid.
When the TV station moved across Lake Champlain to Burlington, Vermont, Nordgren moved with his now-wife (the two married in 2017).
The move to Vermont also allowed Nordgren to join and train with the state’s high performance National Guard biathlon program in 2019.
“Part of it is that biathlon is so small in the U.S. It really is a tiny sport here, so everybody knows each other,” Nordgren pointed out. “The National Guard biathlon program has always been around and there’s always been a couple athletes that are part of that program and also part of the national team.”
Currently, Nordgren is one of three U.S. Olympians to also be members of the Vermont National Guard (and a fourth is an Olympic alternate).
The biathlon is a combination of cross-country skiing and rifle shooting, requiring equal amounts of endurance, discipline, and accuracy. Several different formats — including variations of both individual and relay — are included at the Olympic level.
Nordgren first made the Olympic team in 2014 for the Sochi Games in Russia. He was again on the team four years ago in Pyeongchang, South Korea, helping the U.S. men’s relay team tie its best-ever finish in the event (sixth place).
As he readies himself for what will be his last Olympics, Nordgren is savoring the experience.
“I’m just trying to soak everything in that I can,” he said. “I’m definitely a little more relaxed this Olympics than I have been in the past. And being the older guy on the team this year, I’m definitely trying to pass on as much experience and knowledge that I can to some of the younger guys.”
The biathlon competition gets underway on Feb. 5 at the Hualindong Ski Resort in Zhangjiakou, China (over 100 miles northwest of Beijing).
Nordgren and his teammates flew in from Italy following a pre-Olympic training camp, and are now settling into their accommodations.
“I have to say it’s quite a bit better here than some of the Olympics I’ve experienced,” Nordgren said of the team’s setup.
One of the major differences between 2022 and previous years are the stringent measures taken regarding COVID-19.
Daily testing is a given, as are increased safety measures at virtually every level. Plexiglass dividers limit conversation in the dining hall, as the normally free-flowing interactions between members of various national teams is limited.
“Our team basically all hangs out together, but we don’t really have any communication with teams from other nations,” said Nordgren. As for local volunteers, the communication has been even less.
“It’s actually pretty intense because every single local Chinese person who’s working at any venue here in the village, at the dining hall, even all the way down to the airport, they’re all in full-on hazmat gear with masks,” Nordgren explained.
“So it’s like we haven’t even seen the faces of more than one or two volunteers because everyone is just [wearing] hazmat suits all the time, which is pretty crazy.”
Still, Nordgren said he appreciates the safety measures being taken, and that it helps ease any concerns about potentially testing positive and having to miss events.
“I’m more worried about being deemed a close contact than I am about actually catching COVID here because of basically how removed we are from from anyone else,” he said, noting that even being a close contact wouldn’t end his Olympics.
“If you are deemed a close contact, basically you have to move and live in a special area, a special housing area,” Nordgren added, “but you’re still able to go to training. You’re still able to compete.”
As for what he has planned after the Olympics, Nordgren will finish his final World Cup season in Europe before returning home. Once back, the Vermont National Guard aviation operations specialist plans to attend flight school later in 2022 in the hope of becoming a helicopter pilot. It would be yet another milestone in what’s shaping up to be a busy year.
“I’ve always kind of wanted to be a pilot,” Nordgren explained. “It’s run in my family.”
But before any of that, he hopes to be able to relax for at least some period of time in Vermont following the Olympics.
“I can’t wait to be at home with the family.”
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