FORT KENT — The flag wasn’t large or ornate. Three horizontal bands of white, blue and red on a piece of poster board and affixed to a dowel.

On the back were some facts about Russia and the name and image of a Russian biathlete, Ivan Tcherezov.

The boy who made the flag and picked out Tcherezov was a fourth-grader from Madawaska Elementary School. He wore a green cowbell around his neck and cheered for all he was worth Thursday on the opening day of the World Cup biathlon competition at the 10th Mountain Ski Center.

A German television crew came over to interview the boy. A Russian photographer took his picture with the flag. Tcherezov hit nine of 10 targets and finished seventh.

“This was an opportunity, a once-in-a-lifetime thing for some of these kids,” said Marc Albert, a sixth-grade teacher in Madawaska. “It was great.”

With a bushy, black beard and blaze-orange snowsuit, Albert was impossible to miss Thursday. With school canceled Thursday and Friday, Albert was one of half a dozen Madawaska teachers who volunteered to bring three busloads of kids to Thursday’s 10-kilometer men’s biathlon sprint.

They weren’t in school, but Albert knew this was an educational experience they wouldn’t soon forget.

“I think it just makes them appreciate what we have here,” he said, “that others from other countries are coming here to do something. I think that makes them appreciate what they have, for one thing.”

Indeed, 72 athletes from 19 nations took part in Thursday’s race, won by Emil Hegle Svendsen of Norway. Ignoring temperatures that never rose above 7 degrees, he hit all five targets from prone position and missed only one from standing.

Nine men shot perfectly, including runner-up Michael Slesingr of the Czech Republic and third-place finisher Tarjei Boe of Norway, but Svendsen skied faster than them all, even with the additional 150 meters of his one penalty loop.

Lowell Bailey, the first American finisher, missed his first and last shots on the range. The final miss dropped him from the high teens to 31st.

“That’s really frustrating,” he said. “I went for it and … yeah, it would have been nice to hit that. This is the best field in the world. You can’t afford to miss two.”

The other U.S. men, Leif Nordgren, Jay Hakkinen and Tim Burke, finished 43rd, 44th and 47th, respectively. Hakkinen didn’t miss a shot, but an early-season bout of mononucleosis played havoc with his training, so his fitness level isn’t on par with his peers.

Nordgren and Burke shot perfectly in prone, but missed two and three targets while standing.

Jeremy Teela, the fifth U.S. biathlete, scratched after feeling ill and coughing while taking a warm-up loop less than an hour before the race began. Coaches tried to reach alternate Russell Currier, whose home in Stockholm is 40 minutes from the 10th Mountain Lodge, but they didn’t connect. Otherwise, Currier could have raced Thursday morning and, had he placed among the top 60, qualified for Saturday’s pursuit as well.

“That was a pity, for sure,” said U.S. men’s coach Per Nilsson. “He would have loved to have raced here.”

Currier is among the first Aroostook County athletes to rise from town recreation programs to the World Cup circuit. These races in Presque Isle and Fort Kent may inspire others.

“Hopefully, it will encourage them to get out and do some skiing,” said Albert, the sixth-grade teacher from Madawaska, as he kept an eye on a few dozen students climbing on snowbanks. “The guys like the fact that they’re shooting here. They didn’t realize that. ‘Whoa, they’re skiing with guns and they’re shooting?’

“Boys like that stuff, some of the girls, too, because we’ve got some hunters here.”

The students, from grades three through eight, quieted down quickly when an ambulance backed in toward the lodge. An Austrian biathlete, Sven Grossegger, had difficulty standing after experiencing back spasms and was taken away as a precaution.

“Look at the worried look on their faces,” Albert said.

Soon enough, frowns returned to smiles and muffled voices grew louder.

“It’s something that might spark their interest, some of them,” Albert said. “But it’s just cool. It’s a community event. They love it.”

Staff Writer Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or at:

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