Russell Currier normally would battle the heat of early summer by attacking it in search of world-class conditioning.

Long roller-skiing treks on northern Aroostook County roads and target shooting at the Outdoor Sports Institute — formerly the Maine Winter Sports Center — served to create the foundational base for the Stockholm native to represent the United States in the biathlon at two different Winter Olympics — in Sochi, Russia (2014) and PyeongChang, South Korea (2018).

“I’d probably be in the middle of a heavy-volume week,” said Currier, who turned 31 on Tuesday. “Thankfully I did so much of my training in northern Maine where you get about one hot week in the year and the rest is either spring or fall.”

There’s no similar sense of urgency this year for Currier, who retired from the sport this spring after competing at the U.S. Biathlon National Championships at Park City, Utah.

“I skied pretty well, had some OK stages and was in the mix,” he said. “I didn’t have to go out there and there wasn’t a lot of (financial) support for it, but I wanted some closure instead of getting home from Korea and immediately moping around. I needed one final, definitive end.”

Retirement for Currier required just one true formality, notifying the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency of his plans.

“That part hit home, that part was weird,” he said. “Other than that you just let everyone know and they stop sending you training plans.”

A 17-year journey

Currier had receiving training plans regularly since taking up the biathlon in 2001 on his 14th birthday.

His connection with the Maine Winter Sports Center and its links to many of the country’s top biathletes and coaches of the time not only accelerated Currier’s learning curve but established lofty ambitions.

“Short answer, (the Olympics) were in the back of my mind the whole time,” Currier recalled. “It was unique being with the Maine Winter Sports Center because of the world-class staff we were working with. I had access to that kind of knowledge and could get a world-class perspective on things, so it didn’t seem too far out to think that you could make it to that level if you really went for it.”

Currier quietly earned his way onto various junior national teams, steady progress along a career path he credited to coaching and work ethic.

“I wouldn’t say I was one of the more naturally talented, I was more on the lucky side,” he said. “There are so many things you can do right and so many things you can do wrong, especially as a junior, that it’s less about natural talent and more about being motivated and making the right decisions at that point.”

Much of that motivation was directed toward those off-season workouts in the Aroostook sun far removed from the skiing meccas that would play host to his ultimate experiences.

“A lot of athletes just lose interest and flake out during training season and then claim to be in shape during racing season but it isn’t enough,” Currier said. “It was really a year-round focus and for me that was my biggest advantage, that I was always trying to do things the right way the whole year.”

By 2008 Currier qualified as an alternate for the senior team that represented the United States at the world championships, then a year later he made the national squad.

“Progression-wise it looked like I might make the 2010 (Olympic) team,” said Currier. “Then I didn’t and it really showed me the difference between a world championships year versus an Olympics year.

“It’s the same races, the same format, the same distance and the range isn’t any longer and the targets aren’t any smaller but it’s amazing how there’s so much more enthusiasm behind an Olympic team than even a world championships team or a World Cup team.”

But Currier’s Olympic determination wasn’t dashed by coming up just short in 2010 — quite the opposite, thanks in part to top-10 finishes at two 2012 World Cup races that added to his momentum.

“Going into ‘14 I was nervous but I focused on what was going to make the difference for me so I went with the safest bet and didn’t try anything crazy,” said Currier. “I knew the races where I really had to be on and brought the focus together for those, and from there whatever happened either way I could relax.”

Once Currier qualified for the 2014 Winter Games — the only Mainer to do so — he took a different approach to the biggest races of his life against a biathlon field dominated by European competitors.

“My best bet once I was there was to go for it,” he said. “I could have played it safe and had a mediocre result or tried to do something special and have a poor result or a great result. At that point my best bet was to be a little more risky.”

Currier finished 50th and 61st in his two individual races and was part of a 16th-place relay team, though he was moved up one spot in both individual events because of subsequent disqualifications related to the Russian doping scandal that beset the Sochi Games.

If Currier originally had finished 60th in the sprint race rather than 61st he would have qualified for an additional Olympic event, the individual pursuit.

“Probably half a dozen guys should have been removed from that result but so far they’ve only gotten one,” he said. “But if they had done that preemptively I would have raced the next race beyond that, the pursuit, because they only take the top 60 for that one.

“So because of it being a not-so-clean sport I was denied a race start.”

Currier left Sochi with no thought of retirement.

“I felt I had another Olympic cycle in me and was hoping to improve on my results. It was a mixed bag of feelings really. I wasn’t dissatisfied by any means, but for sure thought there was more left in the tank.”

A year later he wasn’t so sure after a 2014-15 season when he failed to make any national team, but curiosity led Currier to continue his quest for a second Olympic berth.

“I could either give it two more years and say, ‘There, I didn’t have another four-year cycle in me and tried my best,’ or ‘I did have another four-year cycle in me and made another team and tried my best.’ I was just going for it.”

Currier rebounded well enough to make the 2018 Olympic team, but as the fifth member of a U.S. men’s biathlon team that had earned just four race slots he did not get to compete in PyeongChang.

“There was no guarantee of racing, but after years of knowing what both sides felt like it was a relief to pull things together, make it through the week and come out on the better end,” Currier said.

“I was happy to be there and I was hoping for a chance to race, but you can only do your best.”

Mulling the future

While Currier remains busy in these days of athletic retirement, it’s more the routine of normal life than the unique pursuit of sporting achievement.

He recently moved to Windham and is working this summer for a Saco-based landscaping business.

“It’s nice to be completely on my own page, just going with the flow and not having any obligation for that kind of level of physical stress,” Currier said. “I’m still working working on (future) plans. I’ve got a handful of ideas, some short term and some long term, but mostly short term.”

And as for the previous life that took Currier from northernmost Maine to the world’s premier sporting stage — twice?

“I really haven’t had much time to wrap my mind around the last 17 years,” he said. “It’s on my to-do list.”

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Ernie Clark

Ernie Clark

Ernie Clark is a veteran sportswriter who has worked with the Bangor Daily News for more than a decade. A four-time Maine Sportswriter of the Year as selected by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters...