PRESQUE ISLE — The two Austrian announcers kept letting everyone at the Nordic Heritage Center know that they were watching “Super Sunday.’’
In the U.S., of course, that means the NFL championship.
But in the biathlon world, that means pursuit races. Four were held Sunday during the IBU Biathlon Youth/Junior World Championships. It’s the sport’s most exciting format, a chase to catch the winner of the previous sprint race.
The fans who filled the bleachers – some visiting from Norway, Sweden or Canada, but mostly Americans – certainly saw some exciting races.
They saw Sean Doherty, an 18-year-old from Center Conway, N.H., win his second gold medal of the championships with an even more impressive display than his victory in Friday’s sprint, when he won by two seconds. Sunday, he won by 63.6 seconds.
That prompted a lot of flag waving, cowbell ringing and chants of “U.S.A.! U.S.A.!’’
Officials of the International Biathlon Union would like to see more of that.
Biathlon is the most popular winter sport in Europe, drawing high television ratings for every World Cup event. The sport doesn’t attract much interest in the U.S., but Sergey Kushcenko, first vice president of the IBU and secretary general of the Russian Biathlon Union, sees biathlon making strides here.
“American biathlon is growing up,’’ he said through an interpreter.
He noted the success of three World Cups in Aroostook County, at Fort Kent and Presque Isle, and now two youth/junior world championships at the Nordic Heritage Center.
He sees great promise in American biathletes, with the likes of Tim Burke and Lowell Bailey challenging for World Cup podiums, and young stars like Doherty winning gold medals in world youth championships.
But, he said, U.S. biathlon officials have to find a way to gain the public’s attention.
“There is a lot of potential to develop the biathlon in the United States,’’ said Kushcenko, who is also on the board of directors for the Brooklyn Nets of the NBA. “When presented right, it could be a spectacular event and generate a lot of interest in the United States.’’
And television needs to be involved.
“In Europe, biathlon is popular because of its presentation,’’ he said. “TV has really changed the landscape of biathlon in Europe. In the U.S., there is a lot of competition from really big leagues, like the NBA, the NHL, the NFL. So you need to present biathlon in the right way.’’
While the small towns of Aroostook County are a fine place to hold competitions, bigger cities need to become involved, said Kushcenko. In Europe, biathlon competitions are staged in large cities to make the sport accessible to everyone.
Kushcenko suggests using New York’s Central Park as a race venue, where the usual rifles would be replaced by laser rifles, simply to show how much fun the sport is. “If you do it with the top athletes, the best biathletes, it could work,’’ he said.
Andy Shepard, CEO and president of the Maine Winter Sports Center, said it is important to have big competitions in the U.S. The sport receives more media attention, including papers in New York, Minnesota and Colorado.
“Having competitions like this in the United States is important to the development of the sport,’’ he said.
The World Cup is scheduled to return here in two years. Asked if there would be more world championships here, Kushcenko said, “I am absolutely certain, yes.’’
SHEPARD NOTED that the U.S. has won eight medals in the youth/junior world championships in its history. Five have been won by Doherty.
“I think it’s obvious he is a special talent,’’ said Shepard.
The rest of the U.S. team, many of whom are in their first international competition, have done well. Maddie Phaneuf, who trains at MWSC, took fourth place in the youth women’s sprint with clean shooting.
“This has been a good opportunity for them to get experience at this level, to see what it takes to compete at this level and prepare to do better next year,” said Shepard.
Phaneuf, he said, “now knows that she can compete at this level.’’
THE ATHLETES have Monday off before competition resumes Tuesday. The youth women’s 10-kilometer race starts at 10 a.m. and the youth men’s 12.5K is at 1 p.m. On Wednesday, the junior women’s 12.5K starts at 10 a.m. and the junior men’s 15K is at 1 p.m.
Relays are Thursday and Friday.
Mike Lowe can be reached at 791-6422 or at: