Russell Currier thought he had competed on the big stage before, as part of the U.S. Biathlon team on the World Cup tour.
Then he skied onto the 10-kilometer biathlon course at the Winter Olympics in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia.
“There’s a completely different atmosphere here,’’ Currier said in a telephone interview Sunday. “We’re used to the places in central Europe or northern Europe. This is just very impressive. It’s almost like a vacation, the venue, the course, everything, compared to our normal stops. It’s very unique in its own way.’’
Currier, the 26-year-old from Stockholm who is Maine’s only athlete competing in these Winter Olympics, admittedly had a disappointing result in his first Olympic competition. In Saturday’s 10-kilometer biathlon sprint – the sport combining cross country skiing with target shooting – he finished 61st out of 87 competitors with a time of 26 minutes, 58.5 seconds. He missed the cutoff to compete in Monday’s pursuit race by one place and less than three seconds. Norway’s Ole Einar Bjoerndalen won the sprint in 24:33.5.
Except for some minor inconveniences – like the shuttle bus seldom showing up when it’s scheduled, and the result in his first event – Currier’s first experience at the Olympics has been everything he hoped.
“Oh yeah. I mean, from the result side, no,’’ he said. “For everything else, the whole thing is as good as anyone described it to me.’’
Currier spoke after completing a training run Sunday morning. He will have Monday off, then resume practicing for Thursday’s 20K individual, which starts at 9 a.m.
“There could be other races after that,’’ said Currier. “But that’s the next one and that’s the one I’m focused on.’’
He hopes to finally get together with his parents, Chris and Debbie, on Monday. They arrived last week, but because of strict security measures and his training schedule, they have yet to join up. Currier said his parents are a 15-minute gondola ride down the mountain.
“I’m just glad they were able to connect with other people there that they knew (through U.S. Biathlon) and who gave them an idea of how to navigate this place,’’ he said.
Debbie Currier said in an email Sunday that she understands the security measures and was looking forward to seeing her son.
“We are enjoying the beauty of this place, mindful and appreciative of the security everywhere, and we are having a great time,’’ she said.
And, she said, regardless of Russell Currier’s finish, they were proud to see him compete.
“We cheered as loud as we could when he skied by, (we) wanted him to know we were there and proud of him,’’ she said. “And finally (we are) at a European race where we could do that.’’
She said they could not see him on the shooting range, but knew he had missed four when he skied past them.
Russell Currier also knew what those misses – which came on his first five shots, in the prone position – meant for his chances. In a sport that combines cross country skiing with target shooting, it is imperative to minimize the misses. Each miss Saturday forced Currier, who said he wasn’t nervous, to complete a 150-meter penalty lap, which obviously added to his total time.
Currier went a perfect 5 for 5 shooting from the standing position to give himself a chance to make Monday’s pursuit.
“There are plenty of reasons to be positive,’’ said Currier. “I only missed by three seconds.’’
Vladimir Iliev of Bulgaria earned the final spot in the pursuit with a time of 26:55.9. He also missed four targets. But unlike Currier, Iliev spread out his misses – two in each position. By missing four of his first five shots, Currier knew he had to be flawless – and fast – the rest of the way.
“It’s not an easy thing to deal with,’’ he said. “But I’ve made it into the pursuit with four misses before. You just have to keep going. It’s probably much harder mentally than it is physically.
“Nowadays, our sport is so competitive that there is less and less room for error.’’
And Currier knows the next race will be tough. Shooting is not his strength and the 20K “is very heavy on the shooting.’’
But his past success – he had two sixth-place finishes in a World Cup sprint race two years ago – indicates that he can compete when he shoots straight.
“If I can make the top 30, even the top 40, that would be a good day,’’ he said.
Currier was pleased to hear about the support he is receiving back in Maine, especially the watch parties that have been organized to see him compete. But he’s also personally aware of what the home folks think.
“There’s been nonstop feedback,’’ he said. “Text messages constantly coming in. I knew I had a lot of support, but to the extent of setting up those parties, no. I just appreciate the support even though the result wasn’t what I would have liked.’’
And, yes, he admitted, there is a little bit of added pressure knowing an entire state is watching you.
“I can’t deny it,’’ he said. “There’s always a certain amount of pressure in our sport, even when you’re training, with no one watching. It’s always there.
“I just try to stay the underdog, the dark horse, and have fun with it.’’
Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or at: