Every time she skied through the stadium Norwegian biathlete Tora Berger thought she was back in Norway as dozens of screaming fans from Presque Isle Middle School cheered her on and chanted her name.
“It felt really good to hear that support,” Bergen said following her second-place finish in the women’s sprint on Friday. “It felt like I was back in the Norwegian championships.”
Holding signs with the Norwegian flag on them and yelling “Let’s go Tora, let’s go!” the middle school students had “adopted” Bergen as part of a biathlon inspired curriculum in which the youngsters learned about the athletes’ countries and what goes into preparing for world cup competition.
Other students held signs supporting German and Swedish skiers and others held banners reading, “Bonne Chance Canada!” and “USA — Ski Fast, Shoot Straight.”
A small sign wished U.S. skier Tim Burke a happy birthday and once the crowd noticed it, it broke into a round of “Happy Birthday” for the Lake Placid, N.Y., athlete.
When it comes to support, it’s hard to find a more dedicated fan base than five Germans cheering on countrywoman biathlete Magdalena Neuner.
A massive banner was hung above the bleachers by Eva Moeslein, Walter Moeslein, Luis Hitzerberger, Uli Weber and Christina Lotz, all members of the “Magdalena Neuner Fan Club”
Each wore hats, scarves, buttons and jackets with their favorite biathlete’s name written or embroidered thereon.
To erase any further doubt about just who they were cheering for, all five had been given official IBU credentials identifying them as members of the fan club.
“We come from the same village as Magdalena,” Eva Moeslein, said. “For us biathlon is very important and we are happy to be here to see this.”
This is not the first time the group has traveled to see Neuner in action. It has cheered her on in other World Cup and Olympic competitions in Europe.
“This is the first time in America,” Eva Moeslein, said. “We really like it here.”
Lotz said the group plans on heading to Vermont after the competition winds up on Sunday and then it’s back north later in the week to Fort Kent where they will again hoist their banner, fly their colors and cheer on their favorite athlete in the next world cup event.
Temperatures hovered in the low 20s with a stiff breeze making it feel even colder at the Nordic Heritage Center Friday, but Timothy Humphrey brought a dose of humor and enthusiasm that helped warm things up.
Better known as “Tim the Tune Man,” Humphrey had been hired by the Presque Isle biathlon committee to entertain the hundreds of spectators who came to watch the first ever world cup biathlon competition at the venue.
He was pretty hard to miss in his oversized red, white and blue hat as he danced, sang and cheered from one end of the bleachers to the other during breaks in action at the two sprint races.
“Did you hear that?” Humphrey said as a group of school children filed past him on their way out. “That girl said I was awesome. Oh, wait, she said the skiers were awesome.”
Humphrey, who is from Hodgdon and a DJ by trade, said he pulled out all the stops to keep the students smiling.
“We did the chicken dance and all kinds of silly dances,” he said. “The kids went crazy (and) this was one of the best events I’ve done.”
With the stadium packed, Humphrey said it was fun playing to a standing-room-only crowd.
“Of course, they were kind of trapped,” he said with a laugh. “It was a captive audience.”
Outside the U.S., biathlon is bigger than the Super Bowl, Stanley Cup and World Series combined and the Europeans love their biathletes.
Keeping the world current on world cup competition in Presque Isle is the job of 72 accredited journalists covering the event for newspapers and television stations in Germany, Austria, France, the USA, Canada and the Czech Republic.
Keeping those journalists happy and supplied with up-to-the-minute information is the job of Jane Towle, the event’s chief of media.
“So far, so good,” Towle said Friday afternoon from the Nordic Heritage Center media room. “I can’t tell you how exciting it is to see all the media here and how gracious they have all been.”
Rows of tables were crammed with laptops, cell phones, notebooks, cameras with massive lenses and the latest race results as journalists reached out to their readers and viewers around the world from Presque Isle.
The German crew was broadcasting the races live to an audience estimated to be in the millions.
“We had to increase our Internet capability six fold to accommodate all this,” Towle said. “We had to get extra electrical hookups and really increase what we offered in technology.”
She said a trip last December to meet with a media chief in Austria allowed her committee to prepare for the influx of journalists.
“He gave me the information on what to expect,” Towle said. “That really saved the day.”