February 4

Aroostook County biathlete holds Maine’s Olympic hopes

Russell Currier is the sole native son in the Winter Games in Sochi.

By Mike Lowe mlowe@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

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Russell Currier competes at the Biathlon World Championships in Ostersund, Sweden, in 2008. Currier discovered his passion for the sport in junior high school.

2008 File Photo/Reuters

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Russell Currier reacts at the finish line after he came in sixth at the World Cup biathlon men’s 10 km sprint event in Nove Mesto na Morave on Jan. 14, 2012.

2012 File Photo/Reuters

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It took him awhile to figure it out, but when he did, he became a different person, said his mother, Debbie Currier. 

“I remember he was in the eighth grade and he asked (a Winter Sports Center coach) what it took for other people to be good at this,” said Debbie Currier. “He said, ‘Well, if that’s what I have to do, I’ll do it.’

“Pretty soon he was getting up at 5 in the morning to go skiing before he went to school. All of a sudden, he had a passion for all the exercise and food that he wouldn’t touch before. It seemed like he realized he liked (skiing) and he could be good at it.”

During the winter he would ski to school on the trails behind his parents’ home. Students were allowed to ski during recess. And he took his training to another level.

“Russell’s singular strength is his willingness to do the training, his actual love of doing the training,” said Will Sweetser, one of his first coaches at the Maine Winter Sports Center. “It’s hard to convince people to train 1,000 hours a year. Turns out that’s tough.

“But at age 14 we knew he was willing to do the training.”

He skied when he could, ran when he had to. He rode his mountain bike on the trails. He roller-skied through all kinds of weather.

“You watched him and you knew,” said Sprague. “I can remember this one cold downpour one October. It was a downpour and I was coming from Madawaska Lake into Stockholm. And as I turned the corner, there was Russell, roller-skiing out to (Route) 161. It was a downpour. Nothing was going to stop him.”

“Ninety degrees, 100, humid, weather when everyone else is looking to stay under a tree, he’s out there running, or on roller skis,” said his father, Chris.

That’s because, said a high school teammate, Currier knew where that path could lead him.

“He became committed to what he was doing,” said Joey Bard, a friend who has known Currier since the seventh grade. “He wanted to make the Olympics since he was a freshman in high school.”

‘HE WASN'T LIKE THE REST OF US’

Currier competed for the Caribou High team even as he traveled the world as a member of the Maine Winter Sports Center team. He began winning championships, both at the high school level and nationally. He was the junior national 10-kilometer cross country champion in 2006, the junior national biathlon champion in 2002, 2004, 2005 and 2006.

Naturally gifted, he blossomed under the coaching of Per Nilsson at the Winter Sports Center. Nilsson is now the U.S. national team head coach.

“They made an immediate connection,” said Sweetser. “They were great for each other the way they communicated.”

His high school coaches used him as a role model: watch Russell ski, watch how he moves. He never asked to be a leader, but became one naturally. Dave Wakana, the athletic director at Caribou, said the high school team was as important to Currier as his Maine Winter Sports Center team.

“For Russell, it was probably a low-level event, but for his teammates, it was a big deal and he wanted to do well for them,” he said. “A month earlier, or a month later, he might be going to Europe. But he knew (the high school meet) was big and he wanted to win it for them.”

Besides, said his sister Lauren, being on the high school team gave him more practice time on the snow.

“He wasn’t like the rest of us,” she said. “We were there because we had friends on the team. He had a totally different focus. He wanted to put in the work.”

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Additional Photos

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Chris and Debbie Currier pose in their home in front of bibs worn throughout the years by their son. In another room, Russell Currier’s medals hang from the arm of an exercise machine. The biathlete headed for the Olympics in Sochi, Russia, is markedly modest about his successes.

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Will Sweetser works with a ski team in Presque Isle last week. Sweetser helped train Currier when he was in the Maine Winter Sports Center’s program.

Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

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A sign alerts motorists to the likelihood of roller skiers along a road in Presque Isle, where the Maine Winter Sports Center has a world-class training facility. Such signs are commonplace in Aroostook County, where Olympian biathlete Russell Currier was raised.

Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

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Medals that Russell Currier has won through his years competing as a biathlete.

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Bob Sprague, a retired ski coach and teacher in Caribou, walks near trails where he used to help train Russell Currier. “You watched him and you knew,” he said of Currier.

Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

 


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