AUGUSTA, Maine – Presque Isle, Maine, will get a World Cup weekend of its own next winter, officials announced Wednesday morning.
In a press conference at Maine Governor John Baldacci’s office, Nordic Heritage Sport Club Chairman Tim Vernon said that his organization would be stepping up to the plate to host a second World Cup weekend in Northern Maine, to go along with a previously-scheduled race in Fort Kent.
The competition now set for Presque Isle was originally planned for Lake Placid, at the Mt. Van Hoevenberg venue, but Vernon said that organizers there withdrew their name from consideration.
According to U.S. Biathlon Association Executive Director Max Cobb, the Olympic Regional Development Authority in Lake Placid would have had to make numerous upgrades to its facilities in order to host the event, and with its finances uncertain due to a state budget crisis in New York, “they’re trying to be conservative about the obligations that they get themselves under.”
Presque Isle has never hosted a World Cup before, but with the 2006 World Junior Biathlon Championships and the 2010 U.S. Junior Olympics under its belt, the International Biathlon Union offered them the chance. The Nordic Heritage Sport Club’s trustees subsequently voted to take on the races, Vernon said.
With just eight months to prepare, Presque Isle will have its hands full to pull off the events.
The biggest challenge for the organizers, Cobb said, will be to line up local sponsors over the next two months, which would enable the club to go into its fall planning phase with a good sense of its budget.
In addition, Vernon said that his club would need 500 volunteers. But that infrastructure is already in place after holding the Junior Olympics there this spring, he added.
“We’re just going to put those folks right back to work,” Vernon said.
The physical facility in Presque Isle is already close to world-class. Cobb said that only slight changes will be necessary, to make more room in the stadium for spectators.
The club will hold three races on February 4th, 5th, and 6th: a sprint, a mixed relay (two men and two women from each country), and a pursuit, in that order.
Teams will then compete in three more races in Fort Kent the following weekend: another sprint and pursuit, as well as a mass start.
Logistically, Cobb said, switching the Lake Placid races to Presque Isle should be easier on the athletes, although organizers had previously arranged for a charter flight to go from New York to Northern Maine.
Officials in Maine see the events as a prime opportunity to market the state’s tourism industry to the millions of Europeans that will watch the races on TV. The magnitude of the announcement was underscored by the fact that it took place at the governor’s office.
“We’re looking at somewhere in the neighborhood of 60 million TV impressions per World Cup,” said Andy Shepard, CEO of the Maine Winter Sports Center, which oversees the Presque Isle venue. “Adding another World Cup in Presque Isle—what we’re talking about now is 120 million impressions.”
“A two-week dialogue…allows us to present to [viewers] all the reasons why coming to Maine is a great idea,” Shepard said.
Cobb said that his organization has no plans to bid for bigger events in the U.S., like World Championships. But he said that they do have a goal of bringing the World Cup to the country twice every four years, and Presque Isle is also seeking to host another World Junior Championships in 2014.
To ensure that the Europeans are willing to make the trip back again, Cobb said he wants to make sure that the two events this winter are “outstanding from the athletes’ perspective.”
“We want to try [to] put our best foot forward here,” he said.
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.