KATHRYN OLMSTEAD

Biathlon a lesson for students

Posted Feb. 03, 2011, at 7:18 p.m.
Last modified Feb. 03, 2011, at 11:33 p.m.

When biathletes from around the world compete at the Nordic Heritage Center in Presque Isle on Feb. 4 for the World Cup Biathlon Championships, Eva Dunn will be cheering for Michael Greis of Germany. Noah Kinney, Grace Braley and Sean Keegan will all be rooting for Norway’s champion Tarjei Boe. And Parker Lambert will be pulling for Andrei Makoveev of Russia.

The students will be wearing athletic pinnies or bibs they designed on their computers with the biathlete’s picture and biographical information on the front panel and the nation’s flag with details about the athlete’s home country on the back. They hope to meet the skiers and get their pinnies autographed.

They and their classmates from Marianne Dyer’s seventh-grade social studies and English class at Presque Isle Middle School each selected an athlete to learn about and cheer for when the school attends the men’s races at the Nordic Heritage Center on Feb. 4. After conducting online searches to learn about the athletes and their countries, the seventh-graders were busy last week finishing their pinnies and making shakers labeled with flags of competing nations to use as noisemakers during the races.

These projects are a few of the ways students in Presque Isle and Fort Kent will help their communities welcome biathletes to northern Maine for back-to-back World Cup events in Presque Isle Feb. 4-6 at the Nordic Heritage Center and Fort Kent Feb. 10-13 at the 10th Mountain Center. Several thousand spectators are expected in northern Maine, with an additional 120 million television viewers watching live in Europe. Biathlon, which combines cross-country ski racing and rifle marksmanship, is Europe’s most popular winter sport.

Curriculum guides and presentations provided by the Maine Winter Sports Center, which operates the two biathlon venues, have inspired teachers in both towns to use the biathlon to help them teach everything from geography to math, economics to health. Mrs. Dyer’s students studied the typical meals, training programs and mental attributes of biathletes, comparing their own daily diets, physical activities and character traits to those of athletes.

Students in Elaine Hendrickson’s seventh-grade social studies and English class at PIMS picked a country and learned about not only its athletes, but also the country’s average income, currency, exchange rate, form of government, distance to Presque Isle and the time difference, should the athlete want to call home.

Those homes include Norway, Sweden, Finland, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Austria, France, Canada, Japan, China, the Czech Republic and Slovenia, in addition to the U.S. and a half-dozen other countries. Presque Isle and Fort Kent are stops seven and eight in the 10-stop Biathlon World Cup circuit, which began in Oestersund, Sweden, on Dec. 4, and ends in Oslo, Norway, March 17.

Armies of volunteers in Presque Isle and Fort Kent are giving thousands of hours under the direction of Max Saenger, who helped found the MWSC in 1999 and who was biathlon manager for the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, British Columbia. More than 550 have signed up to help in Presque Isle, according to volunteer coordinator Mary Lawrence and her assistant Charlie Beck. In Fort Kent, volunteer coordinator Tammy Cote has 400 people ready to work, many of whom learned their tasks when Fort Kent was host to the World Cup in 2004.

“We’re lucky to have so many willing people, and we are grateful for each and every one,” Cote said, adding that the biathlon generates tremendous pride in the community.

Nancy Thibodeau, event director in Fort Kent, said volunteers have come to love the sport, and enjoy meeting and knowing the athletes. “They are a great group of people — professional and down-to-earth.”

Organized into between 30 and 40 committees, volunteers handle a host of details to assure events run smoothly: arrivals and departures, food service, transportation, accommodations, security, publicity, vendors, parking, energy, radios, phones, culture and hosting, sponsorships, ceremonies, television integration, finance, venue, medical, accreditation, to name a few, in addition to key functions of the races themselves: competition, range, course and timing.

“There’s a lot of that old Aroostook County work ethic,” said Nathan Berry, involved for the first time as NHC president. “I’m looking forward to seeing the spectacle unfold.”

“I’m a lifer,” said David Cambridge, Presque Isle’s chief of course, who started volunteering when his daughter was a cross-country skier in the early days of the MWSC. “Ten years later, I’m still at it. It’s a lot of fun. I’ve met a tremendous number of nice people — volunteers, athletes, vendors. People will take a week of vacation to stand out in the cold.”

“It’s just the best example of County spirit,” said Jane Towle, chief of media and promotion in Presque Isle. “People take time off, put things aside, for the good of the County.”

And if you are looking for Presque Isle Middle School seventh-graders at the Nordic Heritage Center on Feb. 4, they will be wearing bright blue hats knitted by five volunteers with yarn donated by a yarn store at the Aroostook Centre Mall.

Kathryn Olmstead is a former University of Maine associate dean and associate professor of journalism living in Aroostook County, where she publishes the quarterly magazine Echoes. Her column appears every other Friday.

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