The lead-up to next month’s Winter Olympics is filled with stories of athletes overcoming the odds to earn their chance to compete on the world’s largest sporting stage.
But it has also generated fears of possible terror attacks at or near the site of the games in Sochi, Russia, as militants trying to carve out an Islamist state in the region have threatened to attack the event.
So serious are those threats that Sen. Angus King recently said he wouldn’t go to Sochi nor would he want his family to attend the Olympics.
For the athletes involved, competing in the Olympics is often a lifelong goal, one sought outside the realm of global politics and international conflicts.
Russell Currier, the 26-year-old native of the tiny Aroostook County town of Stockholm who last week was named to the U.S. Olympic biathlon team, is no exception.
“Anything remotely close to politics is a turnoff for me,” Currier said this week in an email from Europe, where he and the rest of the U.S. team is training in advance of the Winter Games. “Everyone else on the team would at least agree that it shouldn’t have anything to do with our sport.”
Currier said he did not have any personal safety concerns about participating in the Olympics, in part because of when the biathlon events are held.
“No. If anyone has concern for the opening ceremonies, they should know that more often than not, the biathletes don’t have a chance to attend them because we typically have the first competition of the games,” he said.
Men’s biathlon competition is scheduled to begin Feb. 8 with the 10-kilometer sprint, followed by the 12.5K pursuit on Feb. 10 and the individual 20K race on Feb. 13.
The Winter Olympics are set to begin Feb. 6, with the opening ceremonies Feb. 7.
Wescott’s bid in jeopardy
Seth Wescott’s bid to win a third straight Olympic gold medal in snowboard cross may hinge on his performance Thursday at a Winter X Games race in Aspen, Colo.
Nate Holland, Trevor Jacob and Alex Deibold already have qualified for the U.S. team based on each earning at least one top-four World Cup finish this season.
That leaves one discretionary selection available to the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association before Friday, and Carrabassett Valley’s Wescott and Nate Baumgartner both are potential candidates.
The 37-year-old Wescott, who won Olympic gold in snowboard cross in 2006 and 2010, is attempting a comeback after undergoing reconstructive knee surgery last April. He competed in just two World Cup events leading up to the Olympics and finished 49th and 31st.
Baumgartner, a 2010 Olympic veteran, has two sixth-place finishes and one eighth-place effort in his last three World Cup races. He is the lone U.S. man with three top-10 finishes on the circuit.
Both snowboarders are scheduled to compete at the Winter X Games on Thursday, and while it is not an official Olympic team selection event, Wescott has indicated he hopes results from the event are factored into any decision involving a discretionary selection.
Final nominations to the U.S. Olympic team are due Friday, with the men’s snowboard cross at the Winter Olympics scheduled for Feb. 17.
Knee injury sidelines Howard
Detroit Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard, a former University of Maine All-American and one of three goalkeepers selected for the U.S. Olympic team, was pulled midway through Monday night’s NHL game against St. Louis at Joe Louis Arena with a left knee injury.
Early indications from multiple reports suggest the injury is minor, and Howard’s status in the Red Wings’ lineup is considered day-to-day. Detroit’s next scheduled game is Wednesday night against the Chicago Blackhawks.
The knee is the same one in which Howard suffered a sprained medial collateral ligament last month, which caused him to miss eight games over three weeks. The severity of the new injury may have an impact on Howard’s availability for the Winter Olympics next month.
Team USA’s first game is scheduled for Feb. 13 against Slovakia.
Howard, Jonathan Quick of the Los Angeles Kings and Ryan Miller of the Buffalo Sabres were selected as goalies for the U.S. Olympic team, with Howard likely slotted as the No. 3 goalie on the roster.
Howard, 29, has compiled a 9-12-8 record with a 2.64 goals-against average and .916 save percentage this season for the Red Wings, who were fifth in the Eastern Conference’s Atlantic Division after Monday’s 4-1 loss to the Blues.
He had played well since his selection to the U.S. Olympic team earlier this month, compiling a 1.90 GAA and .950 save percentage in his first six January games.
Howard, a 2012 NHL All-Star who lives at Green Lake in Dedham in the off-season, already has represented the United States in the Under-18 World Championships, the World Junior Championships and the World Championships.
At UMaine, Howard was named an All-American in 2004 and was also selected to the Hockey East first team, as Hockey East’s top goalie, and the Hockey East tourney MVP in 2004 when he led the Black Bears to the NCAA Division I championship game.