PRESQUE ISLE – For the last five days, biathletes from Sweden, Russia or perhaps Norway have been jogging up and down Main Street, plumes of breath billowing into the frigid air.

Locals have watched some 500 truckloads of man-made snow travel from a local farm along Fort Fairfield Road to the Nordic Heritage Center. They have snapped up cowbells and pulled out their long johns.

Today at 9:30 a.m., the event they’ve been waiting for begins.

The international biathlon community turns to Presque Isle for the first of two World Cup stops in Maine. The gun fires for the men’s sprint event at 9:30 a.m., followed by a 12:15 p.m. sprint for the women.

“It’s really neat to see,” said Mark Fullen, store manager at Mojo, a ski shop on Main Street. “You wonder what it means to the athletes. This is just another town, just another race. But it’s a big deal to Presque Isle.”

Fullen opened the store early Tuesday when he got an urgent phone call from a ski team representative.

The Germans came in looking for base wax.

The Russian team bought a wax table and ski mount, and Bulgaria snapped up another. One team flat-out forgot to bring it, the other had a mix-up coming through Customs.

Three American athletes came in looking for protein shakes.

A German TV crew was in later that day looking for multiple items.

“It wiped me out that day,” said Fullen.

Athletes were flown in on a charter Monday after gathering in Boston for the last leg north, and some needed more gear.

It was a sight to behold, said Victoria Rowe, a senior at the University of Maine at Presque Isle.

“The planes were huge. It was really cool, some of them had their Vancouver Olympics gear on,” she said. “It made you step back and say, ‘Wow, this is the real deal.’ “

The athletes seemed to be enjoying their first stop in Maine.

“It’s one of the cool and interesting things about our sport. You get to explore the towns and cities on your runs through town,” said American Lowell Bailey. “People here are constantly honking and waving, which is new for us. It’s been great.”

The real urgency has been an unusual snow drought in the area.

Last year Presque Isle had 212 inches by early February, according to Maine Winter Sports Center President Andy Shepard. After Wednesday night’s 5-inch storm, the total reached just 36 inches.

“It looks pretty, but it’s not good to ski on. If you’re going to send 150 of the world’s top skiers around a course for a week, it wouldn’t hold up,” said Shepard.

The organizing committee is using snow guns from Bigrock Ski Area in Mars Hill to make snow on land provided to them by a local farmer.

On Thursday, athletes were brought into the opening ceremony, dropped on a red carpet and greeted by hundreds of locals, including children who are part of a dance troupe.

The experience in general, said Shepard, has been exciting for the community.

After three days of competition — today’s sprints followed by Saturday’s mixed relay and Sunday’s pursuit races — the event heads northwest to Fort Kent.

“Presque Isle is a fairly rural community. Its typical people coming through here are business people, snowmobilers or some cross-country skiers,” said Shepard. “But to have 700 to 1,000 from around the world descend on Presque Isle at the same time is a remarkable opportunity.”

Staff Writer Jenn Menendez can be contacted at 791-6426 or at:

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