On the eve of her second Olympics, Sara Studebaker hasn't forgotten the people who helped turn a curious 13-year-old skier into a world-class biathlete.
Eventually, she hopes to become one of those people for the next wave of teenagers with a dream. Studebaker, 29, begins competition Sunday at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, with the 7.5-kilometer sprint. Women's biathlon features six events (including two relays) and ends Feb. 21.
Studebaker might compete beyond this season but she does not expect to last another Olympic cycle.
"I'm really excited to coach," she said. "U.S. biathlon is in this position right now where we really need development and we really need club programs to get stronger. I'm really excited about the possibilities of getting involved in that and giving other kids the opportunities I had."
Studebaker became interested in biathlon while watching the 1998 Olympics on TV. She already was a skier and Eric Reynolds, then a coach with the Bogus Basin Nordic Team, helped her and a friend learn the sport that combines cross country skiing and target shooting.
That set Studebaker on a path that included an NCAA skiing team national championship at Dartmouth and a 34th-place finish in the individual biathlon race at Vancouver in 2010.
She has spent the past four years on the U.S. "A" team, which helps with her expenses, but still relies on some personal sponsors.
"It's just starting to hit me a little bit more each day. Wow, I'm a two-time Olympian," she said last month. "It means a lot to me in terms of the work I've put in. It makes me really proud that I can give this to all the people that have helped me along the way. From the time I was a really young skier, so many people had a part in me being where I am today. It's great to be able to say, 'Hey, we did it.' "
Studebaker left Vancouver with visions of medaling in Sochi. She made great strides in 2011, when she finished 17th in the individual race at the world championships and 34th in the World Cup standings. She slipped to 55th in the World Cup in 2012 and 66th in 2013.
She is 109th this year. As a result, she had to compete in a series of races with three other Americans for the final three spots on the Olympic team.
"I've had a lot of ups and downs since Vancouver," Studebaker said. "This year, I'm really confident in my training. I hope I can have some of my best results at the time that it really matters."
That's what happened in Vancouver. Her success carried into the next season, but she hasn't been able to match it since.
"She had that breakthrough season right after Vancouver - then, like it typically is, plateaued a bit," said Jonne Kahkonen, the women's head coach for the U.S. biathlon team. "But now she is climbing higher up again. I have no doubt she can reach her career-best results in the following weeks. The last couple seasons have made her tougher than ever."
Studebaker is part of a U.S. team that is much improved since Vancouver. Only one woman was on the U.S. A team then; now there are four.
The deeper team has become much more competitive in the women's biathlon relay.
"We're definitely in a different place as a team going into these Olympics and that feels really good," Studebaker said. " We've had two of our best relay results in recent memory."
The team, like Studebaker, also is more experienced than four years ago.
"Hopefully I'm peaking here at this point in my career," Studebaker said. "I know I have a lot more experience, which helps me a lot going into these Games vs. Vancouver. I'm definitely excited about seeing what I can do."
Chadd Cripe: 377-6398; Twitter: @IDS_BroncoBeat