Having grown up in Lake Placid, host city of the 1932 and 1980 Olympic Winter Games, Van Ledger is fully aware of the lasting power of the Games. Now, the 16-year-old biathlete will get to experience that unique spirit first-hand as a member of the USA team for the Winter Youth Olympic Games (YOG) Lausanne 2020.
How excited are you to be going to the Winter YOG Lausanne 2020
“It’s really hard to put into words how excited I am. To qualify has been a goal of mine for a long time. It is a huge honour to be able to represent the USA; to be nominated as an ambassador for my country is an amazing opportunity. It is definitely my biggest sporting achievement so far; this is something that I've been aiming at for two years, so in my mind, it’s my biggest achievement.”
How much did you know about the YOG beforehand?
“I heard about the YOG from my brother, who had friends who went to the Winter YOG Lillehammer 2016 to compete in Nordic combined, but I didn’t really think about it again until a couple of years ago when it just popped into my head for some reason. I looked it up on the internet and realised that I was in the age range [to] qualify for Lausanne, and ever since then I’ve really wanted to go. I’ve heard from friends who have gone to previous editions of the YOG that it was one of the best experiences of their biathlon careers. I am also eager to see how I can place among an international field of biathletes.”
Have you been to Lausanne before?
“I have never been to Lausanne but I have competed overseas before. I represented Lake Placid at the 2016 International Children’s Games in Innsbruck [Austria] for cross-country skiing, and I also competed in the Liatoppen Biathlon Festival in Ål [Norway] in 2018.”
What are you most looking forward to about the YOG?
“I am most looking forward to the 12.5km individual competition; I am really excited to see how I can place in an international field and especially in the longest biathlon race of the Games.”
What do you hope to gain from competing at the YOG?
“I hope to gain a sense of where I am internationally in biathlon. The US has a very small field of biathletes in comparison to other countries, so it’s really hard to know where you are worldwide. I would like to place in the top 25 in the individual competitions, but I’m not entirely sure what to expect or what to shoot for in the relay competitions.”
How did you get started in biathlon?
“I started cross-country skiing when I was very young and began racing around 10 or 11. The US national biathlon team trains a lot in Lake Placid, so I would see them around and I thought that biathlon looked like a really cool sport. The manager of the cross-country skiing venue in Lake Placid started a weekly shooting clinic with air rifles when I was 11 or 12. At 13, I went to my first real biathlon camp and I’ve been in the sport since then.”
Having grown up in an Olympic host city like Lake Placid, how much do the Olympic Games mean to you?
“To me, the Olympic Games are the height of competition because of the extreme pressure that comes along with them. Only a select few get to go to the Olympic Games, and to qualify you have to be at the top of your game and have everything perfectly dialled in. Growing up in Lake Placid, I’m reminded of the Olympic Games almost every day, as there’s something to show the impact of the Games all around the village.
Having former Olympic host facilities and venues has also been huge in helping me improve as a biathlete, but even more helpful are the Olympians who live in the area. Being able to talk to, and sometimes be coached by, World Cup biathletes has been vital to my training, plus being able to talk to these people is extremely inspiring for me.”
What are your long-term goals in your career and how do you think the YOG will help you?
“My long-term goals are to make the US World Cup and Olympic teams – hopefully for Beijing 2022 but more realistically for Milano Cortina 2026 – and continue competing in biathlon for as long as I can. I think that the YOG will help by giving me experience with high-pressure, international races.”