Russell Currier entered the new year with a chance to become a U.S. Olympic athlete.
Sunday afternoon he achieved that title.
Currier, a Stockholm native and 2006 Caribou High graduate, became the first Mainer to earn a spot in the upcoming Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, when he was named to the U.S. biathlon team following qualifying races in Riduan, Italy.
Currier was one of four men contending for the final two berths on the Olympic team. He was the first American finisher in three of the four qualifying races, including Sunday’s finale, and was second in the other.
“We are so very, very proud of him,’’ said Debbie Currier, his mother. “This is a dream come true for Russell. He’s had a lot of ups and downs in his career, so we didn’t want to get our hopes too high. But we are just so pleased his dream came true.’’
Currier, 26, is the first homegrown product of the Maine Winter Sports Center in Caribou to qualify for the U.S. Olympic team.
He will be joined in Sochi by four other U.S. biathletes who also trained at the MWSC: Tim Burke (Paul Smiths, N.Y.) and Lowell Bailey (Lake Placid, N.Y.) on the men’s team; and Lanny Barnes (Durango, Colo.) and Annelies Cook (Saranac Lake, N.Y.) on the women’s team.
“It’s a big day for us,’’ said Andy Shepard, the president of the Maine Winter Sports Center. “But mostly it’s a really big day for Russell and his family. He’s worked 15 years for this.
“At the center, we’ve always used our athletes as role models for the community based on their dedication, commitment, hard work and selflessness. Russell demonstrates in the most profound way possible what that looks like.’’
Currier, who will remain in Europe through the Olympics, was unavailable for comment.
The U.S. men’s biathlon team also includes Leif Nordgren (Marine, Minn.) and Sean Doherty (Center Conway, N.H.). Susan Dunklee (Barton, Vt.), Hannah Dreissigacker (Morrisville, Vt.), and Sara Studebaker (Boise, Idaho) were selected to the women’s team.
Bailey, Barnes, Burke and Studebaker were all part of the 2010 team. Bailey, Burke and Barnes also competed in 2006.
Max Cobb, the president and CEO of U.S. Biathlon, said Currier has always had great promise. He had two sixth-place finishes on the World Cup circuit in 2012.
“It would be nice to see him have those results at the Olympics,’’ said Cobb.
Cobb said Currier has a chance to compete in all five biathlon events at the Olympics. He’s one of the fastest skiers on the team.
“He has worked extremely hard on developing an unbelievable physical capacity,’’ said Cobb. “His skiing is definitely his strength.’’
Currier finished 30th in an IBU Cup 10-kilometer sprint Sunday. His time was 27 minutes, 11.8 seconds, and he missed two targets out of 10.
Currier put on skis for the first time at the Maine Winter Sports Center, and he was soon skiing to school.
“I know I wouldn’t be where I am right now without MWSC’s influence,’’ Currier said in an earlier interview. “I did have intentions of competing at a high level. The plan was to see how far I could go before I ran out of talent or interest. I’m still interested in the sport and I try not to doubt my talent.’’
Cobb said he’s excited about the potential of this Olympic team.
“I am very pleased with the progress the athletes on the team have made. It’s the result of their focused training with some of the world’s best coaches and high performance staff,” he said. “Our top ranked athletes, Tim Burke and Lowell Bailey, have both had podium-level performances, and the Olympic rookies have had very compelling performances that indicate personal-bests lay ahead for them this season.”
The biathlon team will compete in one more World Cup event before the Olympics, which begin Feb. 6.
Mike Lowe can be reached at 791-6422 or at: