US National Biathlon Championships and collegiate event start Friday in Fort Kent

4 weeks ago

FORT KENT, Maine – Athletes from as far away as Norway, Canada, and Alaska are gearing up to participate in the US Biathlon National Championships at the Fort Kent Outdoor Center.

The three-day event begins Friday, with the sprint competition and collegiate championships, followed by the pursuit competition on Saturday and relay races on Sunday. A total of 145 athletes will compete in the events. Biathlon combines cross country skiing and rifle target shooting.

On Thursday, teams were training and getting accustomed to the layout at the Fort Kent Outdoor Center.

Carl Theriault, who is both chief of competition and sits on the outdoor center’s board of directors, said that open training took place Wednesday and official training on Thursday.

“It’s basically set up like a race,” he said. “They’re out there shooting, skiing and getting used to the course.”

Each team gets an hour and a half to train, Theriault said.

“They ski loops around the stadium and some of the shorter courses and they come in and shoot,” he said. “They’re just trying to get used to the range, because every range is a little different.”

He said there are about 20 teams consisting of roughly 10 members each, typically five men and five women.

This year also marks the U.S. Biathlon Association’s first ever collegiate championship event, which will occur alongside the sprint event on Friday. The collegiate event, according to the USBA, will recognize the best college biathletes, and include participants from 13 different schools throughout the country, including the University of Maine at Fort Kent.

Theriault said the collegiate championships will coincide with the national championships.

“They’re actually skiing together,” he said. “We’re trying to encourage more colleges to support a team.”

As an example, Theriault said Paul Smith’s College, which is in New York State, has a biathlon next to its school, much like how UMFK has the Fort Kent Outdoor Center. He said he hopes the collegiate championships will encourage more schools to reduce tuition by supporting athletes involved with the biathlon.

Several noteworthy athletes are slated to compete in the upcoming competition, including Deedra Irwin of Wisconsin, a biathlete for the Army National Guard who competed in the 2022 Winter Olympics. 

“She’s had some really phenomenal performances this year,” Theriault said, “a lot of top 10 World Cup results.”

Sean Doherty, a New Hampshire-based biathlete, will also participate in the biathlon. 

“He was a Junior World Champion several times, and now he’s on the world cup team,” Theriault said. “And he’s been in three olympic games now. He’s really, really talented.”

Doherty competed in the 2014, 2018, and 2022 winter olympic games. 

Races for the sprint competition are set to begin at 9 a.m. Friday and will go until roughly 1:30 p.m. On Saturday, pursuit competition races will start at 9 a.m. and finish at roughly 2:30 p.m. A 5:30 p.m. awards banquet will be held at the University of Maine at Fort Kent gym. Tickets for the banquet, according to a social media post from the Fort Kent Outdoor Center, are sold out.

And on Sunday, the relay races are set for 9:30 a.m. and will finish at noon, after which a volunteer lunch will be held. Relay awards will be presented at the stadium after the final race.

Scores will be available online at fkocresults.com.

Theriault said the recent snow pushed back Thursday’s training session to the afternoon, giving volunteers time to plow and groom the trails, but it should be an overall benefit to the upcoming competition.

“When it gets cold tonight, it should be excellent tomorrow for the race,” he said. “So we’re in luck. Winter came two weeks late, but we got it.”