FORT KENT — In a sport in which making the podium is measured in hundredths of a second, timing is everything.
When international athletes descend on northern Maine in February for biathlon World Cup competition in Presque Isle and Fort Kent, keeping the times will have both the human and electronic element.
Just in time for the major event, the Maine Winter Sports Center has purchased 30 HoRa electronic timers and will place 15 at the 10th Mountain Lodge in Fort Kent and 15 at the Nordic Heritage Center in Presque Isle.
Competition covers two weeks with the biathletes in Presque Isle Feb. 4-6 and then traveling to race in Fort Kent Feb. 10-13.
“These new timers are all electronic (and) when the athletes hit the target it reacts like the manual targets tripping a flapper that comes down,” Glen Saucier, co-chief of range, said Saturday up at the 10th Mountain Lodge. “Once the athlete is done shooting and skis away, the targets remain covered for 20 seconds and then automatically reset themselves.”
So crucial is timing in biathlon, Saucier said, that three-quarters of the range volunteers are devoted to it in three distinct groups, or “lines.”
In the first line, Saucier explained, volunteers score hit and missed targets on a special form, with one volunteer responsible for every two shooting lanes.
The second line is covered by the electronic timers, with one timer set up for every three shooting lanes.
The third line is another group of volunteers scoring the targets.
During the races, runners take scores from the three lines to a communal scoreboard and to the timing hut.
“There are three redundancies in the timing system,” Saucier said. “Once the race is complete we consolidate all three lines for the final results.”
This will not be the first time Saucier and his crew of 75 timing volunteers have worked with the electronic system.
In 2004 when Fort Kent hosted the County’s first World Cup event, timers were borrowed from the Salt Lake City Olympic venue.
Since then a northern Maine contingent worked again with the technology as volunteers during last year’s Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver, British Columbia.
When it comes to timing and scoring World Cup caliber biathlon events, Saucier said, there is little room for error.
“When the race starts we really harp on there being no talking on the range,” he said. “The scorers and timers really need to concentrate.”
With skiers coming in and shooting seconds apart, that concentration is key.
Throughout the races, Saucier said, several representatives of HoRa will be at the venues keeping a close eye on the timers.
Every night, he added, those same reps break down, clean and make any repairs needed on the devices.
“Having the electronic timers means you have a lot less activity out on the range,” Saucier said. “There is no need for the volunteers to manually re-set the targets.”
While the two venues will each have the electronic devices during the year, all 30 are needed for each World Cup event.
This is going to mean some quick turnarounds following the Presque Isle races.
“The races are done in Presque Isle on Sunday and the first official training runs in Fort Kent are Tuesday,” Saucier said. “That means we have basically one day to get things moved up to the 10th mountain.”
Saucier predicts the venue will look like a “beehive” as an army of volunteers place, calibrate and test the targets and related gear.
“I can’t stress enough how important it is to have those volunteers,” Saucier said. “If we have them there is no reason we won’t pull this off.”