When Mainers sit down to watch the Vancouver Olympics beginning Feb. 12, they may see a few names they recognize from the local sports pages.
On Sunday U.S. Biathlon forwarded nominations for its five-member men’s team and four-member women’s team.
Of those nine athletes, six have spent time training at the Maine Winter Sports Center in Fort Kent.
“The Maine Winter Sports Center has played a central role in those athletes’ abilities to stay in the sport long enough to become internationally successful,” said Max Cobb, the executive director of U.S. Biathlon. “Without the Maine Winter Sports Center, none of those athletes would be able to continue to do biathlon.”
Heading the men’s field is U.S. Biathlon’s top individual medal hope, MWSC alum Tim Burke of Paul Smiths, N.Y. Burke is the current overall leader in the IBU World Cup standings — the first American to hold the lofty perch.
Joining Burke on the men’s squad are MWSC alums Lowell Bailey of Lake Placid, N.Y., and Jeremy Teela of Park City, Utah, along with Jay Hakkinen of Kasilof, Alaska and Wynn Roberts of Battle Lake, Minn.
On the women’s side, Haley Johnson of Lake Placid, Lanny Barnes of Durango, Colo., and Laura Spector of Lenox, Mass., are all products of the MWSC program. They’ll be joined in Vancouver by Sara Studebaker of Boise, Idaho.
The teams were nominated to the U.S. Olympic Committee after the final round of qualifying races was held in Altenberg, Germany, over the weekend. Burke, Hakkinen and Teela had already qualified for the men’s team based on their World Cup standings, and Bailey and Roberts were added to the list after faring well in Altenberg.
Roberts earned the final spot, topping a field of other athletes that included Walt Shepard of Yarmouth.
“The last spot was really wide open,” Cobb said. “Walt and Wynn and Zach [Hall] … after those days [in Germany] and with the trials [in Minnesota], I think Wynn really distinguished himself and got the nod.”
Cobb said he had high hopes for the men’s team, especially in relay competition.
“I think the top four guys are all real veterans and I expected them to lead the selection process,” Cobb said. “I think we have a really strong relay team with those four guys that can contend for a medal in Vancouver.”
Studebaker, Barnes and Spector also qualified through their performances during the final week of races, joining the pre-qualified Johnson on the squad.
“On the women’s side we only have one athlete who has been to the Olympics before,” Cobb said. “Lanny Barnes was on the 2006 team and has a ton of World Junior experience. She’s been a part of every World Cup and world championships team for the last four years … then we’ve got some athletes who are just rising up to the international level.”
Cobb said that it’s important to provide an opportunity for biathlon competitors to hone their skills and build their endurance over a period of several years. Places like the Maine Winter Sports Center provide that opportunity, he said.
“The average age of the [biathlon] medalists in Torino [during the 2006 Olympics] was 32 years old,” Cobb said. “It’s a long, long road to developing the endurance and the shooting skills.”
Burke is a 27-year-old, and already among the world’s top biathletes. Teela is the oldest member of the team at 33, while Roberts is the baby at 21.
Cobb admitted that the selection process is a bittersweet one, in that nine athletes who have devoted years to their sport are named Olympians, while plenty of other hard-working athletes, like Shepard, are left waiting for their next chance.
“One of the things that’s a little bit of a tragedy of our system is we really do see [making] the Olympic team as a defining benchmark in an athlete’s career,” Cobb said. “I think too much weight is put on that, because we are leaving some really outstanding athletes home, some of whom may continue doing biathlon for another decade, some of whom may wrap their careers up at the end of the season.”
Aroostook deer meeting set
Not that many years ago, Maine’s north woods were legendary among deer hunters who made plans to visit the region every autumn.
Nowadays, things are different. Two straight winters of heavy snowfall have taken their toll on an already struggling deer herd, and plenty of people are concerned about the future.
If you’re among those who are wondering what can be done, and how the state plans to deal with the crisis, you’ll have a chance to share your opinions at an upcoming meeting.
Roland “Danny” Martin, the commissioner of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife, will hold a public informational meeting that will deal with the northern Maine deer population and other wildlife-related issues on Jan. 28. The meeting is set for 6:30 p.m. at the Fort Kent Town Office.
State Sen. Troy Jackson asked Martin to stage the meeting, and will also attend.
DIF&W regional wildlife biologist Rich Hoppe and other DIF&W staffers are also scheduled to attend.