When it came to qualifying for the 2018 Winter Olympics, Cape Elizabeth native Clare Egan wanted to leave nothing to chance.

Four years ago, as a neophyte in biathlon, she narrowly missed being selected as one of the five women on the U.S. Olympic team that competed in Sochi, Russia.

So Egan set a goal to make the 2018 Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea. And not just to qualify, but to avoid being on the bubble until a few weeks before the Games begin Feb. 9.

“I saw how traumatic the (2014 Olympic) trials experience was for the people who were there,” Egan said, “people who had been working for four, eight, 12 years, whatever, and almost made it but didn’t, or they barely did. So I said I’m going to do it decisively.”

On Saturday, Egan officially joined Susan Dunklee of Vermont on the women’s Olympic biathlon team, based on Egan’s performance in recent World Cup events in Europe. Four women will compete for three remaining positions, with the qualifiers to be announced Jan. 15.

“It hasn’t set in yet,” said Egan, 30, while speaking by phone Monday from her apartment in Lake Placid, New York. “I think I’m going to shed so many tears of joy at some point. Right now it’s a very strange balance between belief and disbelief, and happiness and disappointment, and relief and also the drive to train to do better.”

NO BIATHLON MEDAL EVER FOR U.S.

Biathlon, which combines riflery marksmanship with cross-country skiing, is enormously popular in Europe and the only Winter Olympics sport in which Team USA has never won a medal. Competitors carry a .22-caliber rifle on their backs as they race through snow-covered trails on skate skis. At regular intervals, they stop at a shooting range to fire from 50 meters at five circular targets. Each race has two or four shooting stages. Missed shots result in penalty loops or added time, depending on the event, so leader boards can change suddenly.

Egan grew up as a three-sport athlete at Cape Elizabeth High, with cross country in fall, Nordic skiing in winter and outdoor track in spring. She won individual state titles in the 400-meter dash and 300 hurdles as well as Nordic classical, and a team title in cross country.

Wellesley College had no Nordic ski program when Egan arrived as a freshman, so she started one in her first winter on campus. Because she spent her junior year in Europe studying languages, she was able to extend her NCAA eligibility beyond graduation and compete in cross country, skiing and track at the University of New Hampshire while earning a master’s degree in linguistics.

After college, she dedicated two years to cross-country skiing before trying biathlon. After one race, she was hooked. In March 2015, in only her second season of competition, she scored a point in the World Championships in Finland by placing 40th in a 7.5-kilometer sprint.

ROLLER COASTER OF A SEASON

For this Olympic cycle, Egan had three opportunities to qualify. Phase I included a World Cup medal last season, which Dunklee accomplished with a silver at the World Championships in Hochfilzen, Austria. Phase II included a Top 30 finish at one of the first three World Cup events this season, in Sweden, Austria and France.

This month in Austria, Egan knocked down eight of 10 targets and placed 35th of 102 in Sprint competition. Less than 10 seconds separated her from 30th, and automatic Olympic qualification.

“Of course, I was a little sad that I was 35th and not 30th,” she said, “but that was a major relief, because my races before were not very strong. I knew when I had that result it was likely to be enough.”

That’s because if no U.S. athlete within a gender met the Top 30 standard, “then the team will be filled to a maximum of two athletes,” according to the U.S. Biathlon criteria. Egan, who continues to improve in her sixth language, Korean, reads this stuff carefully.

Sometimes, too carefully.

“It says, ‘the team will be filled to a maximum of two athletes,'” said Egan, who also placed 53rd in the 10K Pursuit in Austria. “I feel like there is enough wiggle room in there that they could say, ‘We’re just going to fill it with one.’ ”

Aside from Dunklee and Egan, the U.S. World Cup team included only one other woman, rookie Emily Dreissigacker of Vermont, whose best finish was 81st. Still, Egan wanted to leave no doubt last week in France, particularly because her parents, Tom and Hillary, flew in to cheer her on.

Instead, suffering from a cold, Egan finished 81st of 93 women in Thursday’s Sprint and failed to qualify for Saturday’s Pursuit. Not wanting to pass germs on to her teammates, she bunked with her parents instead.

“Their trip turned out to be more about taking care of me than watching me perform,” Egan said. “I ended up flying home early, before even my parents, feeling sad, feeling sick.”

Then came the announcement that Egan, along with Tim Burke and Sean Doherty, would be joining pre-qualifiers Dunklee and Lowell Bailey on Team USA in South Korea.

“It was not at all how I thought it would happen,” she said. “I had this romantic notion of crossing the finish line and seeing the result. It was a really good reminder that I just need to get rid of expectations about how anything pertaining to the Olympics is supposed to go or supposed to feel.”

Her roller coaster of a season is back on track. After spending Christmas with her boyfriend’s family in Rochester, New York, Egan will fly back to Europe on New Year’s Eve to continue the World Cup season with two events in Germany and a third in Italy before heading to South Korea.

Egan is the second Maine native to qualify for the 2018 Olympics. On Thursday, Emily Sweeney, who was born in Portland and attended elementary school in Falmouth before her family moved to Suffield, Connecticut, in 2003, earned a spot on the luge team.

The only other Mainer to compete in Olympic biathlon is Russell Currier of New Sweden. Currier, 30, competed in three events in Sochi and is among four men battling for the final two spots on the men’s Olympic team.

FEELING OF ‘IMMENSE GRATITUDE’

Back in Lake Placid, Egan is still fighting a cold. She’s still processing the news. She’s also feeling something more, a sentiment particularly acute for someone who for the past decade has been unable to celebrate Thanksgiving with family.

“The other feeling I have now is one of immense gratitude towards so many people, and that’s actually overwhelming,” she said. “I don’t even know how to begin to reach out to all my coaches, and my parents, and the list is far too long to even start recognizing the people.”

The list of Olympians from the town of Cape Elizabeth just doubled. Joining a category that previously included only Joan Benoit Samuelson also has Egan searching for words.

“I honestly,” she began, and paused. “I can’t really believe it on the one hand. On the other hand, I knew I could do this.”

Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or at:

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Twitter: GlennJordanPPH

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