Clare Egan is one of the more erudite athletes you will ever meet.

The Cape Elizabeth native and U.S. Olympian speaks six languages and is working on a seventh (Russian). She has a master’s degree in linguistics. She writes with clarity and insight, and recently described a dreary training ritual as “a quotidian slog.”

And yet consider what happened earlier this month.

Moments after her first top-10 finish in a World Cup biathlon event, there she was, being interviewed on television in Slovenia. Egan dropped articles in her speech, turning “was” into “vuz” and sounding like Natasha from “Rocky & Bullwinkle,” cartoonishly Eastern European. Somehow, like the man holding the microphone, she no longer sounded like a native speaker of English.

She groaned when asked about it in a phone conversation from Nove Mesto, Czech Republic, where the International Biathlon Union tour is holding races this weekend.

“I do sort of remember,” said Egan, 31. “My face was stuck in a smile.

“My instinct is to communicate with people in a way they understand. When I’m in a normal place of self-awareness, I can control for that. But I was oxygen-deprived and euphoric, and that’s what came out of my mouth.”

Oh yes, euphoria.

Egan had finished sixth in a field of 60 in a pursuit race in Pokljuka, Slovenia, on Dec. 9 by hitting 19 of 20 targets. She skied the 10-kilometer course in a time faster than any other competitor, including the Olympic silver and bronze medalists.

It was the first of 10 World Cup events this winter in a season that Egan has said will be her last. She considered retirement from the sport after the 2018 Olympics. But with the IBU calendar touching down in Utah in February, she decided to give biathlon one more shot.

And now, without Olympic pressure, she is basking in the glow of a new coach – Armin Auchentaller, a native of Italy back with the U.S. team – who understands Egan’s need for balance in life and sport. Her offseason training included a vacation break and the flexibility to sleep in some mornings and work out on her own between sessions with the U.S. team.

The payoff is showing in these three pre-holiday World Cup events, where detailed competition analysis shows Egan’s ski times markedly faster.

“At this point of the season, typically I’m in the 50s,” she said of her ski time finishes. “I think my best time (in previous seasons) was in the 20s, and I’ve had some slow times, in the 80s.”

In her opening race this winter, her ski time ranked 11th. Her second race, a sprint, saw an improvement to sixth.

With one missed target, she wound up 15th overall to qualify as one of the 60 women in the Pokljuka pursuit.

“We always had confidence in Clare’s capacity,” said Max Cobb, the CEO of USA Biathlon, by phone from Utah. “We knew she had potential for speed we hadn’t seen yet. I think whenever you’re really happy, that helps with training a lot, but I think there’s no question the hard work she did training for the Olympics is a part of what got her to where she is today.”

The second World Cup stop in Hochfilzen, Austria, on Dec. 14-16 did not go as well for Egan. She missed four of the 10 shots in the sprint and finished 65th, missing the pursuit by 9 seconds. She bounced back in the four-women relay, however, needing only one extra round to clear all 10 targets to match teammate Susan Dunklee for the best performance on the team, which finished 13th after being ranked 21st in the world.

Egan entered World Cup No. 3 in Nove Mesto this weekend ranked 29th in the world. She was the top American finisher Friday in a 7.5K sprint (26th place) and again Saturday in the 10K pursuit (20th), and moved up to 23rd in the World Cup standings. She’s the only American who has qualified for the 12.5K mass start on Sunday.

“This is one of the coolest places we compete,” Egan said of Nove Mesto, which last hosted a World Cup in 2016 and was expecting daily crowds of 35,000 in a stadium open only in the direction of shooting. A tunnel leads in and out of the range area. “Last time I was here, when you emerge from this tunnel into the stadium, it was so loud I couldn’t even hear myself talk.”

Egan also serves as chair of the IBU Athletes’ Committee and while in Austria attended her first IBU board meeting in person. The rest had been by phone from the United States.

An outspoken advocate for clean athletes and more rigorous drug testing, Egan is giving biathletes a voice at a time when the IBU’s former president and secretary general are under investigation for possible doping, fraud and corruption. Police raided IBU headquarters in Salzburg, Austria, in April.

Cobb said biathletes could not have a better representative than Egan.

“She’s putting a lot of energy into it and has kept up with all the issues really well,” he said. “She’s got a nice way of making sure her voice is heard. I think she’s impressed the other board members.”

As for her voice in the aftermath of a demanding but rewarding biathlon race, well, there’s room for improvement – and it seems as if she’ll have many more opportunities.

“Our team joke is that I’m getting worse at English every week,” Egan said with a self-deprecating laugh, “and by the end of the season I’ll need a translator.”

Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or:

[email protected]

Twitter: GlennJordanPPH

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