FORT KENT, Maine — In the world of competitive biathlon, the sprint is considered a skier’s race, but on day one of the U.S. and North American Championships it was the shooting that carried the day at the 10th Mountain Lodge.
Former Maine Winter Sports Center skier Tracey Barnes-Colliander, who trained at the 10th Mountain Lodge with her twin sister Lanny Barnes, shot clean in both rounds to claim the North American women’s sprint title while Casey Simon of the U.S. Biathlon Team shot clean from the standing position, winning the men’s North American sprint title.
Fort Kent native Grace Boutot took first place in the junior women’s category, despite crashing into the fence on one of the turns.
Participants in Thursday’s race shot once each from the prone and standing positions in the sport that combines cross-country skiing and marksmanship.
Racers must complete a 150-foot penalty loop for each missed target before heading back out to the course.
Racers said gusting winds and a soft course made for challenging conditions Thursday.
“The wind gusts while I was shooting in the prone position made it tough,” Barnes-Colliander of Durango, Colo., said. “The course was tough and didn’t set up overnight so that made it slow and really tough.”
Wednesday night was the first night in weeks temperatures did not drop below freezing, making for challenging grooming operations.
Barnes-Colliander, a member of 2006 U.S. Olympic Biathlon Team, completed the sprint in 26 minutes, 50.05 seconds, just six seconds ahead of second-place finisher Claude Godbout of Quebec. She shot clean from the prone position and missed one standing, ending her race in 26:56.69. U.S. biathlete Haley Johnson was third in 0:27:35.38.
On the men’s side, U.S. team member Casey Simons used a clean standing round to edge out MWSC skier Walt Shepard by a margin of nine seconds.
“I felt really good about this race,” Simons said. “I could feel Walt behind me putting on the pressure and tried to keep in my mind why I do this.”
Simons said this week’s competition comes at the end of a long season and he is trying to keep the race fun.
This week’s competition marks the final race series for Shepard and he felt good about his second-place finish.
“I saw Casey shoot clean ahead of me and I know he’s a great racer so I knew I had to shoot clean if I wanted to catch him,” Shepard said. “I ended up missing one shot but still had a great race.”
Shepard said he will get his chance to even the score during Saturday’s pursuit competition.
“When the margin is as close as it was in today’s race you can nit-pick the race all you want,” he said. “But that’s what the pursuit is all about.”
In the pursuit event, racers leave in the order of their finish from the sprint race.
Stockholm’s Russell Currier, who suffered from a stomach ailment Thursday, came in a disappointing fifth with a time of 29:43.46 with four missed shots on the day.
“That was not good,” Currier said at the finish line. “This is how most of my race season has been going. Hopefully I’ll feel better on Sunday for the mass start.”
Boutot said Thursday’s event was an interesting race.
“The conditions changed a lot and it got really soft on some of the bigger hills,” she said.
While not happy with missing three shots — one from prone and two from standing —Boutot said she is pleased with her finish time of 30:39.76, a full minute ahead of runner-up Addie Byrne.
“I did have a spectacular crash into the red fence on one of the corners,” Boutot said. “But I recovered OK and Saturday will be better.”
Biathletes have an official training day Friday and racing resumes with the pursuit event at 10 a.m. Saturday at the 10th Mountain Lodge.
Saturday also includes the Maine Biathlon Championships and a citizens race kicking off at 1 p.m.