(Editor's note: Kaisa Bosek was a podium finisher at Maplelag Resort finishing third at the Section 8A championships in February)
Alexandria’s Kaisa Bosek was not long into her biathlon career in 2016 when she and her family casually talked about where the sport could potentially take her.
Kaisa was just a seventh-grader back then. She was interested in seeing exactly how much she would like the sport, which tests an athlete’s speed on cross-country skis and marksmanship on a shooting range, and not necessarily focused on competing on a world stage, but the family was aware of those opportunities being out there if she worked at it.
"I'd like to just keep going right now and see where I end up," she said in an interview with the Echo Press in March of 2016.
Four years later, Kaisa has ended up among some of the best young biathletes in the United States. Now a junior in high school, she returned to Alexandria in early February after spending almost a month overseas competing in both the Winter Youth Olympic Games and the 2020 IBU Youth/Junior World Championships in Switzerland.
“It was a really amazing experience,” Kaisa said. “I’d always dreamed about going overseas and racing. Actually being able to do it is just a great experience, and I’m happy I got to do it. Having those goals for yourself and actually accomplishing it is a great feeling. It makes you want to push further and see how far you can actually go.”
Leading team USA
Kaisa was one of just six athletes, three boys and three girls, who were nominated in late August of 2019 by the U.S. Biathlon Association for the Youth Olympic Games.
The biathlon at those games took place in Les Tuffes, France, and Bosek’s first competition in the Youth Olympics came in the Women’s 10K Individual race on Jan. 11. She finished 18th overall out of 97 athletes and as the top finisher for the United States. Her Team USA teammates, Margaret Madigan and Maja Lapkass, were 55th and 69th, respectively.
Kaisa went on to finish 21st in the single mixed relay, 55th in the 6K sprint and 19th in the mixed relay in the Youth Olympics.
Her next stop was the World Championships where she finished 70th in the youth individual competition, 17th in youth relay, 53rd in youth sprint and 56th in youth pursuit.
“It’s awesome,” Jeff, Kaisa’s father, said of watching her experience competition at that level. “It doesn’t seem like it’s your child. It looks very professional, like they belong there. When they’re actually out there racing, it’s pretty cool. We were very proud of her the whole time.”
Jeff, his brother, John, and his sister, Kathleen, were all there with Kaisa during the Youth Olympics before Jeff and John had to return home. Kathleen, who teaches through online courses, could work remotely and stayed with Kaisa throughout the World Championships.
“When I got there, I was just really excited to be there,” Kaisa said. “It was a little overwhelming because at the youth Olympics you’re seeing everyone from all these different countries and people from all these different sports. There’s different languages around you, and you’re seeing all these different teams. You’re like, ‘Whoa, I’m not in Minnesota anymore.’”
A cultural experience
That was part of what made this experience so special, Kaisa said. She not only got to compete against other top biathletes of her age level but experience different cultures along the way.
The Boseks did not get to see Kaisa much during the Youth Olympics. To ensure their safety, organizers of the games required athletes to adhere to a strict routine where the competition was the primary focus. The experience at the World Championships in Lenzerheide, Switzerland did allow athletes to see family and friends more regularly and take advantage of some tourist opportunities.
On the course, Kaisa got to race in some picturesque landscapes with snow-covered mountain tops in the background. She is a standout skier for the Cardinals’ Nordic ski team in Alexandria, but it’s her marksmanship with the .22-caliber rifle that led her during her time in Europe.
Her dad, a former sniper in the United States Marine Corps, has worked with her a lot over the years to shore up her technique on the range.
“I think my shooting accuracy was the best, especially in the Youth Olympics,” Kaisa said. “That helped me to get my best place that I got the whole time.”
Biathletes race into shooting stations where they shoot at five targets from a distance of 50 meters. Kaisa’s heart rate tends to be at about 180 beats per minute when she reaches a station after racing in on skis. She can usually get through her prone shooting accurately in 35-45 seconds, and standing in about 30-40 seconds.
“She’s got it, but we always try to improve,” Jeff said. “It’s nice now that we’re tweaking things. I’m making another cheek piece for her rifle because the one she has now isn’t quite right. That can help just a little bit more. Right now, she’s a superb shooter, but even if you’ve been doing it for 15 years, you can always get a little bit better.”
Not without sacrifice
Getting to compete at a world level at age 17 is something most kids could not pass up, but it comes with a lot of sacrifice. Kaisa was grateful for her teachers back home who helped make things easier on her while being out of the classroom for nearly a month.
“My teachers were really nice to me and helped me know what I was supposed to do and gave me assignments beforehand,” she said. “Online, I got to check what they were doing each day. If I had a question, I would message them and they’d get back to me. My teachers helped me make it so I wasn’t stressed over there.”
Kaisa also had to miss a portion of the Cardinals’ Nordic ski season, including the Central Lakes Conference championship in late January. She returned in time for the section meet in Detroit Lakes on Feb. 4, but under hectic circumstances.
Kaisa got back to Minnesota in the middle of the night the day of the section meet. She got limited sleep before joining her teammates at Maplelag Resort.
“I knew I wanted to be there before I even went over there,” Kaisa said. “I just wish it was like a week I got instead of a couple hours.”
The Alexandria girls were one of three programs competing near the top of the section field for the top two spots that would qualify for state. Bosek finished third and joined teammates Emma Reineke and Bethany Miller in qualifying individually for the state meet, but the Cardinals missed out on going as a team by one point.
“You feel kind of bad,” Jeff said. “I was talking to some of the other kids who said Kaisa is going to win. It’s like, ‘No, no, no. You don’t understand. She’s worn out.’ Once you get up in the altitudes, you really burn a lot of energy and can’t replace it that fast.”
The ultimate goal
The Boseks knew this was a unique opportunity for Kaisa as she gets to the point in her life where she will need to make a decision on how far she wants to pursue the biathlon.
“A lot of kids who are even really good, that’s kind of the breaking point. You go to college and you can’t compete as much,” Jeff said. “A lot of kids will give up at that point.”
Kaisa has every intention of trying to continue her career in the sport once she gets to college. She is looking at schools with biathlon ranges nearby and said she wants to keep competing as long as she can.
There are more national and world competitions that she has her sights set on over the next year. The upcoming Winter Olympic Games in Beijing are set for 2022. The family knows how difficult it would be to make a team like that at age 19 in a sport where many athletes are at their peak in their mid-20s.
Just like she approached it as a seventh-grader four years ago, Kaisa isn’t looking too far ahead. But she smiled when the question of the Olympics was brought up.
“I do think about it,” she said. “It would be the ultimate goal to make one of those teams, but it would be a hard challenge. I’m going to try my best to see how close I can get.”