Folks in Aroostook County are known for their warm hospitality, and the nine U.S. athletes competing in the Biathlon World Cup the next two weekends know that very well.
Five men and four women, all of whom have enjoyed training in Aroostook County, will be at the Nordic Heritage Center on Friday when the World Cup in Presque Isle gets under way in the sport of biathlon, which combines cross country skiing and rifle shooting.
Action at the Nordic Heritage Center kicks off with the men’s and women’s sprint races at 9:30 a.m., followed by the mixed relay at 2:30 p.m. Saturday, and the men’s and women’s pursuit at 10 a.m. Sunday.
The Cup competition moves to Fort Kent next week and the events in the County are the only North American stops on the World Cup tour.
Lowell Bailey of Lake Placid, N.Y., is one of the Americans to watch, particularly in the men’s 10-kilometer sprint, as he’s coming off a 12th-place finish in a Cup sprint event in Italy, the highest finish by any U.S. athlete this winter
Bailey, who was part of the Maine Winter Sports Center’s team in 2005 and 2006, is thrilled to be back in the County.
“I’ve heard a lot about the County through the various different websites that you can see, and also through (Stockholm native) Russell Currier, who has been on national team for a while,” Bailey said via conference call at Team USA’s press conference in Presque Isle on Wednesday.
Bailey is confident he can put together some solid races over the weekend, with maybe an encore performance in the 10K sprint.
“I’m looking forward to the sprint event, I’m hoping I can perform well there,” he said.
Bailey feels the Presque Isle course is set up well for competitors to have fast times.
“I’m hoping for the best case scenario (which) is fast skiing and good shooting,” he said. “I like this range. I like the way the course profile works and how you approach the range.”
Bailey and the rest of the U.S. athletes attempted to focus their training toward these Cup events, with the Presque Isle and Fort Kent competitions the last before the World Championships in Siberia.
“We really focused our entire energy starting in April on these two World Cups,” Lowell said. “We’ve reached the most important part of our season.”
Tim Burke of Paul Smith’s, N.Y., enters the weekend as the top-ranked American in the World Cup standings with 110 points, 37th in the world.
Burke is no stranger to competition in the County, as he competed in the 2004 World Cup in Fort Kent.
He has been battling illness as of late, with his status for the Presque Isle Cup in question, but Bailey isn’t doubting the determination of his teammate, who is in Presque Isle but won’t compete Thursday.
“It doesn’t take him long to bounce back,” said Bailey.
The other U.S. men competing are Jay Hakkinen of Kasilof, Alaska, Leif Nordgren of Marine-on-St. Croix, Minn., and Jeremy Teela of Hebert City, Utah. Teela’s arrival was delayed due to Wednesday’s snowstorm, but he will be competing Thursday.
Some of the top-ranked international athletes competing in Presque Isle include Norwegian Tarjei Boe, who currently leads the Cup standings with 598 points. Vincent Jay of France, who is 15th in the standings, is also competing along with Russia’s Evegeny Ustyugov, ranked 11th, and 10th-ranked Anton Shipulin, also of Russia.
The highest-ranked U.S. woman descending on the County is Sara Studebaker of Boise, Idaho, who is 45th in the Cup standings with 45 points.
The only other ranked U.S. female athlete is Haley Johnson of Lake Placid, who is 79th with four points.
Rounding out the U.S. field are Laura Spector of Lennox, Mass., and Annelies Cook of Saranac Lake, N.Y.
One of the top international women to watch is Andrea Henkel of Germany, who is third in the Cup standings with 523 points.
She has also been dating Burke for the last three years.
Other top international women include Marie Dorin of France, ranked 17th in the standings, Svetlana Sleptsova of Russia, who is 15th, and Germany’s Magdalena Neuner, who sits 12th.
Those who cannot attend the event may check out www.biathlonworld.com for results and live streaming of the races.