You can always count on snow in northern Maine. Throw in skis and guns, and you’ve got a recipe for a pretty good week.
Three days of racing kick off this morning at the North American Biathlon Championships in the biathlon-crazed town of Fort Kent, Maine. The fields are small, but competitive at the top, with four biathletes racing fresh off the 2010 Olympic Games: Americans Haley Johnson, Laura Spector, and Wynn Roberts, and Canada’s Marc-Andre Bedard.
The dark horse is Caitlin Compton, an American who competed at the World Biathlon Championships in 2008, but switched back to cross country raced for the U.S. team in Vancouver. She arrived yesterday fresh from the cross country World Cup in Norway, drummed up a rifle, and decided to race at the last second.
There’s nothing on the line but bragging rights, but that was enough to draw 128 elite, master, and youth biathletes out of the woodwork. And the event will be a dress rehearsal for the World Cup that will be held here next year.
Things get going today with the sprint, which is 10 kilometers for the men and 7.5 for the women, both with two rounds of shooting: prone, then standing.
Results from the sprint are doubly important, because athletes then start Saturday’s 12.5/10k pursuit with a handicap based on their times from Thursday. Win the sprint, and you’re the first one out on course for the pursuit, with a head start equal to your margin of victory over the second place finisher. Sunday’s 15/12.5k mass start will be the last race of the championships, and for that competition, everyone starts with a clean slate.
In addition to the Olympians, the fields feature strong contingents from the host club, Maine Winter Sports Center, including hometown hero Russell Currier (he’s not technically from Fort Kent, but nearby Stockholm is close enough to win him some loyalty). Other threats to podium on the men’s side are Casey Simons, Zach Hall, Walt Shepard, and Bill Bowler.
For the women, aside from Spector, Johnson, and Compton, the challengers are BethAnn Chamberlain, Susan Dunklee, Annelies Cook, Katrina Howe, and 2009 World Junior Championships silver medalist Grace Boutot.
With the country’s top men and women racing in Europe on the World Cup circuit, the racing should be tight. We’ll have complete coverage of the events—check back later today for results and a report from the sprint.
Nathaniel Herz is a reporter for FasterSkier, who also covers city government for the Anchorage Daily News in Alaska. You can follow him on twitter @nat_herz.