At Lake Placid the female runners and threaders ranged from age 22 to 29. A handful were married; none had kids. Many belonged to the National Guard, which helps bankroll its biathletes. Joining the national team is like signing up with the Green Berets, except that sometimes you have to pay your own way to battle. Coach Walter Pichler demands total commitment and requests an eight-year enlistment. Most of the '94 team quit after the Olympics, including one Joan Guetschow, who persevered through two Olympics despite having lost her big toe to a lawn mower. "Joan was trying to make a little extra cash," Fritzel says. "She did it for the team."
The squad trains and races together 11 months a year. "The sad part is that when we go on vacations, we often go with ;ach other," says Fritzel. But the sport has its consolations. "We don't make much money in the biathlon," says Fritzel, "but we do get more out of James Bond movies."
The only team member with a license to kill is Skinner, who was born in Wyoming and has been a hunter since she was 13. 'We all prosper from Ntala's ability to shoot," says Fritzel. "She makes a mean antelope fajita."
For all the attitude shown by members of the women's national team, their favorite pastime is knitting. Five of the six have formed a support group they call Knitters Anonymous. Skinner has been known to suddenly put down her yarn, rise from her chair and announce: "Hi, my name is Ntala, and I have a Pearl Jam." That's biathlete talk for someone who purled when she should have knit.
To the American public, however, biathletes might as well have been cable-stitching. Despite the pleasant 34° temperature, spectators at Saturday's women's 7.5K sprint barely outnumbered the letters in Viljanen-Sabasteanski. At least it's a long name.