FORT KENT, Maine — Russell Currier needed and wanted a win at the U.S./North American Biathlon Championships and he got it comfortably at the final race on Sunday in front of his hometown fans at the 10th Mountain Lodge.
Currier, a native of Stockholm, used solid shooting and set a blistering pace on the final round of skiing to capture the men’s 15-kilometer mass start gold medal in 42 minutes, 35.4 seconds,hitting 15 out of 20 targets in four rounds of shooting.
Fellow Maine skier Walt Shepard took the silver in the U.S. championships and the bronze for the North American race, finishing in 0:44:17.8 and shooting 3-0-3-1 on the range.
Coming in just ahead to claim North American silver was Quebec’s Marc-Andre Bedard with a time of 0:43:21.8 and shooting 2-0-1-2.
“My skiing did not feel 100 percent today,” Currier said. “But it felt exponentially better than the other day.”
Currier sat out the pursuit race Saturday following a fifth-place finish in Thursday’s sprint race.
“My shooting was a little nervous in the first round today,” Currier said Sunday at the finish line. “But I just tried to do better and I started to feel more comfortable.”
After missing one target in the final stage of shooting Currier said he felt the gold could be in reach, despite the knowledge Shepard had shot clean.
But Currier was able to pour it on around the course and pulled to a commanding 46-second lead into the finish.
“This did my self esteem a lot of good,” Currier said.
On the women’s side it was a near photo finish as two-time gold medalist on the week Tracy Barnes-Colliander was unable to catch Susan Dunklee who finished in 44:57.2, shooting 3-3-0-1.
Barnes-Colliander shot a disappointing first round missing four of five targets in the prone position but shooting clean in the following three rounds.
“The snow was really fast today and a lot of fun,” Dunklee said. “It’s the kind of snow you dream of.”
Dunklee and Barnes-Colliander ended up skiing the three final laps together and for the two women, that was far more important than the final medal standings.
“We really had a lot of fun chasing people down,” Dunklee said. “You really had to have the attitude you are hunting people down and then make that your goal.”
Leaving the final round of shooting Dunklee, who shot 3-3-0-1 on the day, said she knew she was 20 seconds behind Barnes-Colliander who shot clean four of five rounds.
“I knew it would be hard to catch her,” Dunklee said. “I knew I’d have to work for it but I decided to go for it.”
It paid off when Dunklee caught Barnes-Colliander on the final hill leading into the stadium and the two entered a head to head sprint to the finish.
“It was fun and awesome to battle Susan,” Barnes-Colliander said. “That’s what biathlon was all about.”
After dominating on the shooting range all week, the Durango native and former Olympian missed four targets from the first round of prone shooting.
“After missing four I knew I had a big job to do,” she said. “I had to make a real commitment and go for it.”
Racers must complete a 150-meter penalty loop for every missed target.
“Susan is such a strong skier and I could hear her behind me,” Barnes-Colliander said. “It made for a really good race.”
Fort Kent’s Grace Boutot was three for three on the week, taking the gold in Junior Women’s mass start in 46:39.7 and shooting 1-2-0-1 on the range.
In the youth women, another local skier, Andrea Mayo of Fort Kent, took gold.
On Saturday, in the pursuit competition Barnes-Colliander and Boutot took gold while on the men’s side it was USBA’s Wynn Roberts of Battle Creek, Minn., making a break away from Yarmouth’s Walt Shepard, skiing for the Maine Winter Sports Center, after the final round of shooting to claim men’s pursuit gold.