March 12, 2010

Little something for everyone at biathlon championships


— By

Staff Writer

Last week he was in northern California for Nordic skiing's Junior Olympics. Today he's in northern Maine for the U.S. national biathlon championships at Fort Kent.

It's been a busy month for Sam Humphries, a 15-year-old sophomore at Greely High.

''I'm trying to pursue biathlon as well as Nordic skiing,'' Humphries said, ''so I decided to fully experience both sports.''

Humphries placed 30th in a freestyle race and 21st in classical at the Junior Olympics to help New England win the Alaska Cup over nine other regions that sent teams to the competition. Over Christmas vacation, Humphries competed in the world junior biathlon trials in Alaska, and last year won age-group titles at the national biathlon championships at Mt. Itasca in Minnesota.

''He's gone from being a wide-eyed kid to being an experienced racer, which is kind of neat,'' said Mike Yeo, one of the three coaches with the Southern Maine Biathlon Club, which sent 30 kids and parents to Fort Kent.

Biathletes from the United States and Canada have been training at the Mountain Ski Center since Monday in preparation for the four-day event, which begins with sprint races this morning and continues with pursuits Saturday and mass starts Sunday. A Maine championship will be held Saturday for anyone interested in a sport that combines Nordic skiing with rifle marksmanship.

''The kids have heard about it and tried it,'' Yeo said. ''It's growing quickly.''

Chester Jacobs and Jackson Hall, a pair of eighth graders are Harrison Middle School in Yarmouth, have entered today's sprint competition. Eleven other junior high athletes with the SMBC plan to compete in Saturday's citizen races, which offer different distances for different age groups.

''For the younger kids, they'll leave the rifles on a rack (at the range) rather than ski with them,'' Yeo said.

Walt Shepard, a 26-year-old junior at Bowdoin College who swept all three races at last year's nationals, skipped the week's early training because of a flu bug, but remained determined to travel to defend his titles.

The favorite in the men's open division is Russell Currier, 21, a Caribou High grad. Currier has been competing on the World Cup biathlon circuit and recently returned from Europe.

Among the women scheduled to race are three Maine Winter Sports Center athletes from Aroostook County: Grace Boutot of Fort Kent, Andrea Mayo of Ashland and Hilary McNamee of Fort Fairfield.

Boutot, 18, won a silver medal at the world junior meet in January in Alberta, Canada. It was the first biathlon medal won by a MWSC athlete at a world championship.

McNamee, 19, has four junior worlds and will attend Dartmouth in the fall.

Another milestone for the MWSC -- which on Tuesday celebrates the 10th anniversary of its initial grant from the Libra Foundation -- was the bronze medal won by a MWSC alumnus, Jeremy Teela of Heber City, Utah, at the Vancouver World Cup earlier this month. The last time an American won a World Cup biathlon medal was 1992.

''We set some pretty ambitious goals for ourselves,'' said Andy Shepard, president of the organization. ''Ten years later we've hit or exceeded just about every one.''

Among the MWSC highlights have been hosting a 2004 World Cup event in Fort Kent and the 2006 junior world championships in Presque Isle.

''The World Cup in 2004 was the first opportunity for us to demonstrate to the people of Maine that this model, using biathlon to promote the state, could work,'' Shepard said. ''We had 20,000 spectators in the stadium (over four days) and another 50-plus million around the world watching on TV. That was a pretty profound statement that it could work.''

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

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