Minutes after the last skier crossed the finish line of Sunday’s World Cup biathlon event in Presque Isle, organizers from Fort Kent descended on the Nordic Heritage Center to break down the fencing, signage, electronics, targets, flags and television broadcasting equipment.

They loaded three tractor trailers and sent them an hour up Route 161 to Fort Kent, where all the gear was unloaded and put into place at the 10th Mountain Ski Center, where World Cup No. 8 is scheduled to begin Thursday.

“They’re going to do a week’s worth of work in 24 hours,” said Andy Shepard, president and CEO of the Maine Winter Sports Center, the economic development entity responsible for bringing the world’s best biathletes to Aroostook County and putting on this two-week festival of rifle marksmanship and cross-country skiing.

As Shepard spoke from Fort Kent on Monday afternoon, he described a front loader with a forklift hoisting a luxury German automobile – BMW is a tour sponsor – into the stadium.

Shepard called the three days of weekend competition in Pre-sque Isle an unmitigated success, despite a big dumping of snow and blustery conditions for Sunday’s pursuit races that may have kept some spectators away from the venue.

“The crowd got bigger as the day went on and we finished with a full stadium,” said Shepard, who said he does not yet know the ticket sales for Presque Isle. “I would say we came very close to our target of 15,000.”

Athletes and volunteers mingled at The Crow’s Nest, a restaurant and events center in Presque Isle, Sunday night to watch the Super Bowl and perhaps do a little dancing.

Events Manager Jan Lucas pegged the crowd at between 700 and 800 and said it included six bus loads of biathletes.

“There was just a really nice buzz everywhere at the Nordic Heritage Center,” said Lucas, whose restaurant provided catering during the three days of competition. “The general feeling is that (organizers and international visitors) are very pleased with everything.”

“Everything has gone incredibly smoothly,” said Max Cobb, the head of USA Biathlon.

Today and Wednesday are designated as official training days at the 10th Mountain Ski Center, which is preparing for four days of competition beginning Thursday with the men’s 10-kilometer sprint. Awaiting athletes and spectators in the town of Fort Kent is an ice palace and a busy schedule of entertainment that includes music, crafts, fireworks and an international parade of lights from Clair, New Brunswick to Fort Kent.

“The village has been transformed,” Shepard said. “This is as much a celebration of winter lifestyle as it is a World Cup.”

With a population of a little more than 4,000, Fort Kent is less than half the size of Presque Isle, where athletes could be housed in four different hotels. Organizers originally worked with the University of Maine at Fort Kent to use dormitories during school break, but in September the International Biathlon Union changed the World Cup schedule and moved the Fort Kent competition up a week.

To solve part of the housing problem, the Maine Winter Sports Center rehabilitated an aging dormitory that will be turned into offices after the competition. About 50 athletes will stay there. The others will stay in area homes graciously vacated by residents.

“There just aren’t many places in the world,” Shepard said, “where you could do what we’re trying to do in Fort Kent.”

Shepard hastened to add that plenty of beds are available for spectators within an hour’s drive of the ski center. The website discovernorthernmaine.com has more information.

As for the competition itself, Tim Burke is expected back on the U.S. team after withdrawing from Presque Isle because of illness. He has been on antibiotics and won’t be at his physical peak for Fort Kent, but is pointing toward the world championships in two weeks.

The top U.S. biathletes in Presque Isle were Lowell Bailey and Sara Studebaker. Bailey finished 16th in Sunday’s pursuit and Studebaker placed a career-best 14th in Friday’s sprint.

Burke and Bailey, along with Laura Spector, Jeremy Teela and Haley Johnson, have all lived and trained in Fort Kent as MWSC athletes, so the 10th Mountain Ski Center is something of a home away from home.

“So we have very high expectations,” Shepard said. “The team is competing at a very high level. I think we could see something special this week.”

 

Staff Writer Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or at: [email protected]