Biathlon memories stick as athletes part

Austrian biathlete Tobias Eberhard takes a moment during World Cup Biathlon action in Fort Kent on Sunday to meet his young pen pal Mariah Mink of Fort Fairfield and her mother, Maryann Mink. Mariah had written Eberhard earlier this year, and when the athlete learned the girl had lost her father three months ago, he made it a point to spend some time with her and present her with one of his racing bibs.
Austrian biathlete Tobias Eberhard takes a moment during World Cup Biathlon action in Fort Kent on Sunday to meet his young pen pal Mariah Mink of Fort Fairfield and her mother, Maryann Mink. Mariah had written Eberhard earlier this year, and when the athlete learned the girl had lost her father three months ago, he made it a point to spend some time with her and present her with one of his racing bibs.
Posted Feb. 13, 2011, at 8:45 p.m.
Last modified Feb. 13, 2011, at 9:18 p.m.

In Fort Kent, World Cup is a family affair.

Husbands were working with wives, parents were working with children, cousins were working with each other. It seemed no matter where you looked around the 10th Mountain Lodge, families were working together as volunteers over four days of racing.

Out on the range, Ben Paradis was volunteering in the timing area, something he has done for countless Nordic skiing events in Fort Kent.

“We love it,” Paradis said Sunday morning before the men’s mass-start race got under way. “Biathlon is just a great sport, and we just love to help out.”

Thanks to his wife, Nancy Paradis, the top finishers in each of the six races at the World Cup event took a bit of northern Maine with them.

The Cross Lake woodcarver supplied hand-carved wooden figures, which were presented to first place finishers during award ceremonies.

That the skiers had a good surface on which to race was thanks to their son Michael Paradis, who had been working around the clock over the past five days grooming the race trails.

In the stadium, all activities not related directly to racing were under the direction of Carl Theriault, who was volunteering along with his wife, Pat, and his parents, Lucian and Marie Theriault.

“This is a wonderful thing for our community,” Carl Theriault said.

“There is no amount of money that can buy the kind of satisfaction you get from volunteering at an event like this,” his father added.

A fleet of school buses took athletes and spectators to and from the venue, and it was up to volunteers such as Venette King to keep everyone informed and entertained on those rides.

King, who volunteered along with her sister Burnette Bowker, said she even had to demonstrate to some of the athletes how to properly eat a ploye, that St. John Valley buckwheat pancake.

One of those bus drivers was Joanne Guimond. Her daughter Iris Guimond was the tour guide in her bus.

“I had to fight to make sure I was on the same bus as my mom,” Iris Guimond said as the bus drove through Fort Kent over the weekend. “We are having so much fun meeting the people and telling them all about Fort Kent.”

It’s all in the production

For four days, they were the voices of biathlon in Fort Kent. Housed in the top floor of the 10th Mountain Lodge’s timing building, the production team of Peter Graves, Chad Salmela, Johann Thoren, John Nightengale and Taylor Robins kept up a running commentary and play-by-play calls for each of the World Cup races.

Graves, the host announcer, described his job as part broadcaster and part traffic cop.

“I set up the play-by-plays, and Chad takes up where I left off with his color commentary,” Graves said. “Part of the beauty and intensity of what we do is you need to be a really good multitasker.”

The team relies on live video feeds coming in from the course along with their own observations to keep dozens of racers, their times, shooting scores and race details straight.

It’s a system that has come a long way from Graves’ early days of standing on the back of a pickup truck with a bullhorn calling races.

Thoren is the man credited with taking the job of race calling to new levels by transforming it into more of a spectacle to include pre- and post-race commentary and entertainment.

Keeping the crowd entertained was the job of Robins who compares himself to “the guy that keeps the audience laughing until [David] Letterman comes out.”

All the production team members have worked together on multiple Olympics and world championships over the years.

“This one in Fort Kent is special,” Graves said. “It’s here in America, and we want to do a good job for the Americans.”

An athlete’s kindness

Nine-year-old Mariah Mink got some up close and personal time with her favorite biathlete on Sunday.

The Fort Fairfield resident is a member of the Maine Dance Academy whose members had adopted Austrian biathlete Tobias Eberhard and exchanged letters with him before he arrived in northern Maine.

When Eberhard learned, through letters from members of the dance studio, that Mink had lost her father just three months ago, he made it a point to seek her out in Fort Kent and present her with a race bib and team hat.

“I never met anyone famous before,” Maria said on Sunday. “It was cool to meet him.”

Her mother, Maryann, said she was touched the elite athlete would take the time to meet with her daughter.

“I could not have been happier,” Maryann Mink said. “For him to go out of his way like that really means so much to us.”

Some final words

After months of planning, organizing, 18-hour days and four days of racing, Nancy Thibodeau, event chairwoman, could no longer spell “biathlon.”

That hardly seemed to matter as she and her army of volunteers wrapped up World Cup Biathlon action Sunday afternoon.

“It’s hard to find the words right now,” Thibodeau said from the competition office. “It’s just a feeling of elation and satisfaction.”

The moment the final medal was presented at the end of the women’s mass start on Sunday, crews were swarming around the 10th Mountain Lodge removing large production cameras, banners, lane markers and everything else used to create the world-class biathlon course.

From start to finish, Thibodeau said, the event went well, with no major glitches despite dealing with the nonstop needs and requests from athletes, coaches, reporters, photographers and VIPs.

“It went so well because we had great people who knew what needed to be done and took care of it,” Thibodeau said. “The volunteers responded and the IBU officials said they are extremely pleased with how well everything went.”

Max Cobb, president of the U.S. Biathlon Association, agreed.

“We could not be happier,” he said. “The athletes and spectators had a great experience here.”

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