“The season that never was continues at its steady pace.” That was how Russell Currier, a three-time national team biathlete and 2014 Olympian opened one of his blog posts in late March of this year.
According to that month’s post and the two months prior, Currier’s ski career had reached an all-time low. While the two seasons prior (2013/2014 and 2014/2015) involved him racing on the national team and within seconds of top-20 times on the International Biathlon Union (IBU) World Cup, the year after saw Currier relegated to a reserve-athlete status. Within two years he had been dropped from the national team and was watching races he had formerly been competitive in from the screen of his laptop.
The sudden change wasn’t easy on him.
Currier, now 29, had spent countless hours, even as an eighth grader, with a headlamp and bounding poles on his hometown hills in Stockholm, Maine, contemplating how many 5:30 a.m. intervals he could fit in prior to school, while his peers contemplated how many more times they could snooze their alarms.
He had worn the U.S. colors competitively not only at IBU World Cup events, but at the Olympics in Sochi, Russia, as well. But last season, he watched his former US biathlon teammates race against the backdrop of Italy’s Dolomite mountain range, while he looked on from the couch.
“I went from being convinced I was going to keep racing biathlon to looking for something else whether it was marathon racing or just a whole new career,” Currier said on the phone from Maine. “It was a little tricky trying to find a definitive decision by the end of April.”
But by the end of April, Currier had reached a decision. Throwing caution to the wind, he decided once more to live, eat and breathe biathlon.
“…[Here’s] to thrashing it for another round,” Currier wrote in an April blog post. “In the long run, if I win I win and if I lose, I win.”
“I just wanted to see if I could produce any results or make anything happen again,” Currier said in November of his decision to give biathlon another go.
According to US Biathlon Chief of Sport Bernd Eisenbichler, Currier’s decision to continue was also encouraged by his national team’s coaches.
“Russell was unsure in the spring, if he should continue with the sport after a disappointing season 15 – 16,” Eisenbichler wrote in an email. “We had a couple of calls together with him and the coaches and at the end of this discussion process he decided to keep going.
“It was clear for everyone involved, that some things at the shooting part must change and Russell and his coach at home Seth Hubbard put forward a good strategy and we could provide a few good resources to support that,” Eisenbichler continued in the email. “We know, that Russell has the physical capacity to lock top results at the [World Cup].”
With that in mind, Currier got back in the training lane. He spent his summer and fall once more in “the County”, exploring Northern Maine’s treasured trails and roads. Involved with the Maine Winter Sports Center since the beginning of his biathlon career, he remained affiliated with the revamped-and-renamed center, now the Outdoor Sports Institute (OSI), despite it shifting its emphasis away from elite teams. Along with its name change, Currier also witnessed a change in financial support when the program drastically reduced its Olympic Development Team funding in the spring of 2015.
“It was mostly in terms of resources,” Currier explained. “When you have to make a trip happen to qualify for a team and you need the support financially to make that plane ticket and that hotel room, it made things different in terms of needing to be a little more careful. But the core is still there. We still have practices held every few mornings a week and we still have races.”
Since no senior elite biathlon team for OSI presently exists, Currier spent much of his offseason training on his own or with under-23-aged athletes who joined OSI for the summer. The work appeared to pay off, and by late August, Currier was racing well at this year’s US Biathlon time trials in Jericho, Vermont.
In order for Currier to be selected to US Biathlon’s World Cup team, however, he needed to also perform at Biathlon Canada’s time trial races on Nov. 9 and 10 in Canmore, Alberta.
In Canmore’s two 10 k sprints, Currier placed 10th on Day 1 (the third U.S. man behind Lowell Bailey and Tim Burke, respectively) and seventh on Day 2 (again, the third U.S. male behind Burke and Bailey, respectively, both of which had already prequalified for the World Cup). A day after the races finished, Currier received an email informing him that he had been selected to compete in World Cups 1, 2 and 3 on the IBU World Cup this season.
“It was a huge relief,” Currier said of being named to the team. “It feels good and it was just a huge relief.”
His selection includes the IBU World Cup opener in Östersund, Sweden, as well as races in Pokljuka, Slovenia, and Nove Mesto, Czech Republic.
But in order to race those weekends, Currier must requalify at an IBU Cup prior to the start of the World Cup season, since he did not race any World Cups last season. Currier planned to leave the U.S. this Tuesday, Nov. 22, for the IBU Cup in Beitostølen, Norway, this Friday through Sunday.
“In order to prevent anybody coming out of the blue that isn’t qualified to be on the World Cup, or shouldn’t be there, they have a standard you have to meet at the IBU Cup just below the World Cup,” Currier explained. “So I have to fly to Beitostølen first, race the sprint race there [on Friday] and meet the standard.”
Though Currier still needs to requalify for the IBU World Cup, Eisenbichler has complete faith in Currier’s ability to compete against other World Cup regulars, grounding his decision to select Currier based on his recent sprint performances.
“Just like in the past years, we kept one spot open for the Dec [World Cups] on the men’s side,” Eisenbichler wrote. “We agreed to take the winner of the roller ski trials (2 races in Aug and 2 races in Oct) and one athlete by discretionary choice to the WC prep camp in Canmore and decide there after the camp is finished, whom of the two we take on to the [World Cups] in Dec. Russell won the trials and Paul Schommer was our discretionary pick.”
“Both worked very well at the camp and were close in training, but Russell was stronger than Paul in the two races at the end of the camp,” Eisenbichler continued in the email. “As he was also the winner of the trials races we decided to pick Russell. on top of the Biathlon complex performance, Russell showed also a higher level at physical side in terms of ski speed.”
As Currier prepares to pack his bags for Europe and potentially another full World Cup race season, he is relieved to be back on US Biathlon’s World Cup Team, but also more open to adjustment than he’s perhaps been in the past.
“It’d be nice to stay on the World Cup … and then beyond that it would be nice to make the 2018 team,” Currier said of his goals within the sport. “But after last season, it’s just kind of a day-by-day, month-by-month structure, more so than in the past. At this point, it’s just if I can say I tried, it’s better than nothing. If I try, I succeed.”
We asked Currier to give our ’17 Questions for 2017′ a go. Here are his responses:
1. Biggest change in your life in the last five or so months since the ski season ended?
I invested in a new, French-made stock. Since I’ve been using the same stock for the last six years, it has taken some adjustment. My neighbor is a machinist and has helped me out with a lot of custom made parts that supplement the original design. He made me a bladed trigger a while back, which is exactly what it sounds like, an incredibly sharp trigger which creates a major incentive not to jerk the trigger quickly.
2. Biggest change in your training?
This will be my lowest year in terms of volume since I was a junior. However, I’ve added in a little more intensity and the overall quality of my training has been better.
3. Major areas of improvement you’ve seen so far?
The base for my position in prone is much more stable this year. Tight and consistent groups are possible now. I worked a lot this summer with one of the professional marksmen that has assisted USBA in the past – he’s an Olympic gold medalist, so he has a lot of good advice. Though the sports are fundamentally similar, they are executed at different speeds and heart rates, so there’s a lot of adaptation that has to take place.
4. Whom you’ve been working closest with this offseason (coaches or training partners)?
OSI’s (Outdoor Sports Institute is the renamed Maine Winter Sports Center) Seth Hubbard has been a super helpful coach despite the lack of resources for an OSI elite team. Since OSI lost funding it has been a bumpy road. As one of the only places in North America with a fully paved, world class biathlon venue, it’s still a great training ground and is open to more attention
5. Best trip in the last five months (and why)?
Canmore, it just felt nice to be back in the training camp schedule and working with the national team again. Plus, it’s great to get on snow as early as October to readjust to the different feel of natural skiing.
6. Favorite cross-training?
Running, it’s the most affordable and all terrain form of training there is. There’s a certain ease and ensuing calm in doing something your body was made to do.
7. Favorite non-athletic activity or pastime this summer?
Mostly nerd things and it’s finally deer season. Though, I’m down to one afternoon left to see anything in the field.
8. Song that was your jam this summer?
We’re Not Going To Make It – The Presidents and Lingonberry was my favorite jam.
9. All time favorite race moment?
Maine State meet class B Sophomore year. Very few in Rumford saw that win coming.
10. First thing you pack in your bag when you leave for Europe?
Noise cancelling headphones, batteries for headphones, then back up headphones. I think mental recovery is as important as physical recovery, and quiet is a crucial part of that. On the road, that can be hard to come by.
11. Venue/event you’re most excited to visit this season?
Nove Mesto, CZ. Nice, closed in and well balanced profile. A course built more for skiers and less for TV cameras.
12. Who will win the men’s and women’s World Cup titles this year?
I don’t follow XC enough to make a bold decision and biathlon is too off the wall inconsistent to call.
13. Biggest sacrifice you feel you’ve made choosing this career path?
14. If you could change one thing about your sport, what would it be?
No doping, no politics.
15. What did you have for breakfast this morning?
A lot. About half of my caloric intake comes from breakfast. I really think highly of breakfast
16. In 5 years, I’ll be ____?
About 1/8th of the way done with my education.
17. In 50 years, I’ll be ____?
Gabby Naranja considers herself a true Mainer, having grown up in the northern most part of the state playing hockey and roofing houses with her five brothers. She graduated from Bates College where she ran cross-country, track, and nordic skied. She spent this past winter in Europe and is currently in Montana enjoying all that the U.S. northwest has to offer.