FORT KENT — Sara Studebaker feels comfortable when she competes in Aroostook County and it shows in the results.
The Boise, Idaho, biathlete has represented the United States very well in World Cup biathlon events in Presque Isle and Fort Kent.
“It’s something in the water up here, I guess. I don’t know,” Studebaker said after finishing 17th in Friday morning’s 7.5K sprint race at the 10th Mountain Center.
That’s one week after Studebaker, who has trained at the Maine Winter Sports Center in the County, placed 14th in the sprint in Presque Isle, the best Cup finish for a U.S. biathlete.
“Some of us were talking about the comfort level up here. It’s really good,” Studebaker said. “The atmosphere here’s just really relaxed.”
The St. John Valley can have that atmopshere, but the fans at the 10th Mountain Center had the energy of a Super Bowl crowd on Friday, as a throng of more than 1,000 filled the stands and lined the course despite wind chills below zero.
“That’s amazing,” Studebaker said. “I don’t know if I’d be out here watching a race.”
It turns out this is a homecoming of sorts for Studebaker, as one of her first big career races, the U.S. Junior Nationals, took place here in 2000.
“It was quite a different course at the time, but it just feels very comfortable, and the people here are very supportive,” she said. “That’s just a huge part of it. It’s home.”
That was back when Studebaker was in high school, and the training she did as a young biathlete under the guidance of 1998 Olympian Eric Reynolds is paying dividends.
She also had to take advantage of her surroundings growing up in Idaho by working on her shooting.
“We went out in the desert and shot,” Studebaker explained.
She said she didn’t do a whole lot of biathlon training while attending Dartmouth College, She excelled as a cross-country skier at the Dartmouth, N.H., institution, which won a national championship in 2007.
“I had been focusing on skiing, I went to college and didn’t do any biathlon at all,” she said.
Upon graduating from Dartmouth in 2007, Studebaker moved to Lake Placid, N.Y., to begin training as a member of the U.S. Biathlon squad, and qualified for the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver, British Columbia.
Among those cheering Studebaker on Friday were her family and friends.
“It’s great having them up here. It’s mixed between being really focused on the race and what you have to do, and also taking it in and really enjoying it,” she said.
Studebaker earned a strong starting position for the pursuit race for the second time in as many weekends, and this time, she’s confident she’ll be rewarded Saturday with a better result than last week’s 28th-place finish.
“Hopefully, things will go a little better in the pursuit than they did last weekend,” she said.