FORT KENT, Maine — They call themselves the “biathlon groupies.”
But don’t look for Richard Powell or Murray Wylie in any Nordic mosh-pits.
Rather, the two retired Canadian Navy veterans from Halifax, Nova Scotia, are in Fort Kent this week observing the U.S. National Championships and North American Biathlon Cup races at the 10th Mountain Ski Lodge.
“I just think [biathlon] is a great sport,” Powell said Friday morning. “It takes such focus and commitment.”
Wylie and Powell are the president and vice president, respectively, of Biathlon Nova Scotia where Powell said the sport is a relative novelty.
He hopes all that changes in 2011 when Halifax is host to the Canada Winter Games.
“Windsor [in Nova Scotia] will be the site of all the Nordic events facilities,” Powell said. “We want to promote biathlon specifically through local media and get the word out to our youth.”
Most of the provinces’ 80 biathletes now are “cadets,” junior high and high school members of Canadian military-sponsored youth development programs.
“These programs are geared to give a young person something to focus on,” Powell said. “I find young people today want to be challenged, [and] if you can challenge them and make it fun, it creates opportunities for them.”
When it comes to biathlon, Powell hopes some of those opportunities include future Olympic appearances.
He points to Lanny Barnes and Tracy Barnes-Colliander as shining examples of that optimism.
The twin sisters trained with the Maine Winter Sports Center team at the 10th Mountain Ski Lodge before being named to the 2006 U.S. Olympic Biathlon team.
While in Fort Kent, Powell said, he and Wylie are soaking up as many competitive biathlon experiences as possible.
“We want to get as much exposure as we can to the events as possible,” Powell said. “By coming here we can learn from people who have done this before.”
Fort Kent has hosted numerous international Nordic events, including a 2004 World Cup biathlon race.
Watching the interaction among the biathletes increases the men’s commitment to building a program in Nova Scotia.
“The athletes are all so keen on being here,” Powell said. “They want to compete and see how they stack up against each other.”
At the same time, Powell said he was very impressed by the level of sportsmanship during the races.
“They all support each other,” he said. “The one who does not win the medal is the first to congratulate the one who did.”
Looking ahead to the 2011 Canada Winter Games in his own backyard, Powell said it could only help the growing biathlon program.
“One of the fallouts of hosting those kinds of games is you get a legacy,” he said. “You are left with a facility that continues to get use and further promotes and fosters the sport.”
That, in turn, should result in a whole new generation of Nova Scotian biathletes and the groupies who support them.