Russell Currier’s Olympic dream may come true this weekend.
The Stockholm native and 2006 Caribou High School graduate will compete at the International Biathlon Union World Cup stop in Ridnaun-Val Ridanna, Italy, and Currier’s performances in two races will determine if he lands one of the final two men’s berths on the U.S. Olympic biathlon team that will compete in Sochi, Russia, next month.
“Making an Olympic team would mean a lot to me,” said Currier via email from Europe this week. “It’s the highest level of competition most sports have to offer. Biathlon happens to be one of the most physically demanding sports in the world. In the past decade the competitiveness of the World Cup level has only increased, it’s tighter than ever. Any good result that I have comes with a worthwhile sense of accomplishment.”
The 26-year-old Currier, a product of the Maine Winter Sports Center in Aroostook County, is one of four Americans in contention to join three-time Olympians Tim Burke and Lowell Bailey and first-time Olympian Leif Nordgren on the U.S. team in the biathlon — a combination of cross country skiing and rifle shooting.
“Skiing has typically been my stronger side of the sport,” said Currier. “It’s not always that I’m skiing fast, but my shooting still has a ways to go. The work and talent is all there. It’s just a matter of execution, which is much easier said than done.”
US Biathlon nominated Burke and Bailey to the team in November while Nordgren was nominated last month, leaving Currier, Casey Smith, Jeremy Teela and reigning world youth biathlon champion Sean Doherty all contending for the final men’s slots.
Currier got off to a good start in that final pursuit of a trip to Sochi last weekend. He finished 25th overall and first among the American contingent in the first of two men’s 10-kilometer sprints at Ridnaun-Val Ridanna, an Italian resort near the Austrian border, followed by a 55th-place showing good for second among the Americans in a second 10K sprint the next day.
“Training has gone well all year,” said Currier. “The coaches and I didn’t want to try anything too different. We have a good formula and there was no real reason to try anything crazy during an Olympic year.”
Doherty, meanwhile, has had first- and fourth-place finishes among the U.S. biathletes in the last two races, while Teela has finished second and third and Smith placed third and fourth.
This weekend’s races are a 20K event Saturday and a 10K sprint Sunday.
“To be honest, I try not to think about the numbers and points in regards to team naming,” said Currier. “We have two more races and my best bet to secure a spot is to focus on the process and not so much where I am in relation to the others.”
The U.S. Olympic Biathlon team is scheduled to be announced Monday.
Other Maine hopefuls continue quests
Several other Mainers also will continue their pursuit of U.S. Olympic team qualification this weekend.
Greenville native Jeremy Cota, Farmington’s David DiGravio and Troy Murphy of Bethel will be in Deer Park, Utah, competing in the moguls at the first U.S. stop of the FIS Freestyle World Cup tour.
That event and subsequent stops next week at Lake Placid, N.Y., and Val de Come, Quebec, will help determine if any of those skiers earn one of the three available Olympic tickets to Sochi on a U.S. men’s moguls team that has been led by 2010 Olympic bronze medalist Bryon Wilson and fellow 2010 Olympian Pat Deneen.
Halfpipe skier Simon Dumont of Bethel returns to action at Breckenridge, Colo., in an effort to boost his Olympic resume.
Dumont needs two top-three finishes in the three remaining qualification races — at Breckenridge, Mammoth Mountain in California and Park City, Utah — to boost his chances after missing the first World Cup stop in Breckenridge due to a concussion suffered during a practice run and then finishing fifth at Copper Mountain, Colo.
U.S. Olympic selection criteria in the ski halfpipe begins with having two top-three World Cup finishes against the entire race field. Those Americans who achieve that standard then are ranked based on their best two qualifying events compared with other U.S. athletes.
Aaron Blunck, a 17-year-old phenom from Crested Butte, Colo., is the only American with two top-three finishes to date. With three races left, however, he has not yet clinched an Olympic berth.
And two-time Olympic gold medalist Seth Wescott of Carrabassett Valley and Alex Tuttle of Stratton both are seeking U.S. team berths in snowboardcross, with the next qualification event scheduled for Saturday at Vallnord-Arcalis, Andorra.
Wescott has yet to compete on the World Cup circuit this season as he recovers from knee surgery last April but is scheduled to make his season’s debut in Andorra. Tuttle finished 27th (fifth among Americans) at Montafon, Austria, and 35th (seventh among Americans) at Lake Louise, Alberta.
A subsequent World Cup qualifying race scheduled Jan. 17-19 at Veysonnaz, Switzerland, has been postponed until after the Olympics due to a lack of snow.
As many as four snowboardcross racers will be selected to represent the United States at the Olympics, with World Cup points figuring into the mix if competitors haven’t achieved two top-three finishes.
American Alex Diebold of Manchester Center, Vt., did score a third-place overall finish at Lake Louise.