(Editor’s note: Montana State University press release)
BOZEMAN – If it wasn’t for Montana State University there would be no 2018 Winter Olympics for Bobcat standout Johanna Taliharm.
Taliharm, a junior on the MSU Nordic ski team, competes in her second Olympic Games starting on Feb. 10 in Pyeongchang, South Korea. The product of Tallinn, Estonia will represent her home country in biathlon.
At age 19, she raced for Estonia at the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia finishing 48th-overall in the sprint after posting her first ever clean shooting result.
“I was very young then and made the team on the very last minute,” Taliharm stated. “I remember being in a huge bubble of excitement the whole time I was in Sochi. Then I went home and watched the closing ceremony from television with my mom and that’s when everything actually sunk in.”
Taliharm almost retired from skiing in 2015 due to lack of facilities and poor weather in Estonia. However, she harbored a dream to study abroad and started researching US colleges. After a lot of thought, she came to the conclusion that MSU would be her best option. And, she could continue competitive skiing.
“I would be retired from my sport if it wasn’t for MSU,” Taliharm commented. “The combination of academics, ski program, and amazing training opportunities around Bozeman are outstanding. The local skiing and biathlon community are the ones I have to give tremendous credit.”
As a young teen, Taliharm was looking for something to keep her busy after school. She had already started skiing when an acquaintance offered her an opportunity to shoot a biathlon rifle.
“I said ‘no,’ but then he didn’t really listen to me,” the business management student said. “He had invited me and two other girls my age to the range- and then I had to go. I’m glad, because I started loving shooting, even if I didn’t get good at it since recently, it was still a lot of fun.”
It was the yin and yang of the sport that pushed Taliharm to the upper-echelon of biathlon.
“I really like the intensity and energy of fast paced skiing and then the concentration and calmness that shooting requires,” Taliharm said. “It is a challenge to do them both, but that’s what keeps me so interested in this sport.”
Taliharm is first to acknowledge that when she started biathlon it was fairly arduous. She wasn’t very good in either skiing or shooting. But with another year of experience, she figured out the skiing end of the sport. In 2012, the shooting part started to come along and she qualified for the Estonian national team as an 18-year-old.
“I believe my main strength lies in my mental game,” Taliharm commented. “I usually do well under pressure and I’m good in guiding my thoughts in the right direction.”
Aside from the 7.5-km sprint, she will compete in the 15-km individual event on Feb. 14. Taliharm also has a shot at the pursuit on Feb. 12, if she can finish in the top sixty in the sprint.
Taliharm recently raced in the European Championships in Italy and is now in Estonia taking care of some details before heading to Korea on Feb. 4. She will miss the rest of the Rocky Mountain Intercollegiate Ski Association season, but will return for the NCAA Championships in early March.
Skiing on the RMISA circuit as well as training for Olympic biathlon has been a time consuming endeavor for the Bobcat that garnered Second-Team All-American honors at last year’s NCAA meet.
“She’s been predominately training for skiing but she has been able to keep up on her shooting,” said MSU Nordic head coach Matthew Johnson. “Johanna also worked with the Bridger Biathlon Club and helped coach the juniors. She went up there on Sundays and when we had off days throughout the fall and winter to keep her skills at a high level.”
For Johnson, he hopes the early season training and the first half of the RMISA schedule will help Taliharm succeed in Pyeongchang. He also hopes that the experience Taliharm brings back to the Bobcats will pay dividends as the team enters its championship season.
This winter, Taliharm’s best showing in RMISA action was a ninth-place finish in classic at the University of Utah Invitational.
“We’re racing on the RMISA circuit, which is a very competitive circuit with plenty of Olympic caliber athletes,” Johnson stated. “But on top of that and being a collegiate athlete, you have the flexibility- when you can work it out and keep your grades up and communicate with your professors- to jump off of our circuit and into other high level international competitions. For that athlete’s athletic development we think that’s a really good thing. I think for Johanna to go to the Olympics is huge both for herself and for our program.”
Taliharm is ready for her second Olympic experience and all the pomp and pageantry that goes along with the world’s largest sporting event that draws the attention of millions over the course of a two-week span. She is excited for her brother Johan who is making his first Olympic appearance in biathlon and she’s excited to be carrying the torch for Estonia and Montana State University.
“It feels amazing to represent Estonia at the Olympics, and I’m especially excited that my younger brother will be on the team as well,” Taliharm said. “I’m so proud to be representing our small country and hopefully some more people will be able to find Estonia on the map.
“My goals when returning to MSU are winning NCAAs with the ski team this March and graduating next December.”
NOTE: Former Montana State Nordic skier Jessica Yeaton will also compete in the Olympics as part of the Australian delegation.