Russell Currier, a 2006 graduate of Caribou High School, is heading back to the Winter Olympics.
On Saturday evening in Aster, Germany, Currier and Leif Nordgren of Minnesota were named to the U.S. Olympic Biathlon team for next month’s PyeongChang Games in South Korea by virtue of their results in recent International Biathlon Cup competitions in Slovakia and Germany.
“It was a really long two weeks, and overall, it was a long four years,” Currier said by phone from Aster. “So to finally get the news I really wanted, it’s more of a relief than a celebration at this point.”
Currier, 30, earned the fifth and final spot on the men’s team as a discretionary selection by a five-member U.S. Biathlon Association panel after Nordgren, 28, locked up the fourth spot based on his two best races in 10-kilometer sprints Saturday and last weekend in Germany and Slovakia.
Of the four U.S. men who were under consideration for the final two Olympic berths, Nordgren turned in the best performance Saturday in Aster with 16th place overall, hitting nine of 10 targets to finish 59.2 seconds behind Norwegian winner Christiansen Vetle Sjaastad, who didn’t miss a target and completed the race in 26 minutes, 46.3 seconds.
Paul Schommer of Wisconsin was the second U.S. biathlete, in 33rd place with one miss and 1:53.9 behind the winner. Currier finished 40th with four missed targets, 2:07.6 back.
Jakob Ellingson of Minnesota was scheduled to compete but did not because of illness.
Saturday’s result didn’t matter for Currier, who had placed first and second among U.S. biathletes in two sprints last weekend in Brezno-Osrblie, Slovakia. According to the USBA’s percentage-back formula, Nordgren was first, Currier second, Schommer third and Ellingson fourth.
“The past two weeks I’ve been trying to be conservative, taking my time on the range,” Currier said. “Now that that’s over, I can focus on gambling a little more, being aggressive and going for broke.”
Currier might have been able to qualify for the team earlier had he performed better in roller-ski trials in Vermont in late summer and early fall. Instead, he had to fight his way through national trials last month in Minnesota in order to qualify for the two IBU Cup events this month in Europe.
He spent the Christmas break in Aroostook County, where an extended cold spell played havoc with his preparation.
“It’s not impossible to train when it’s that cold, but it is super complicated and difficult,” he said. “I kept looking at the forecast for the place in Slovakia and it was just barely below freezing. That really kept me going.”
Currier heads next to Italy for the first of two World Cup biathlon competitions leading up to the Winter Olympics in South Korea, which for biathlon run from Feb. 9-25.
Among the five women on the U.S. Olympic Biathlon team is another 2006 Maine high school graduate, Clare Egan of Cape Elizabeth. Last month, Egan became the second U.S. woman to qualify, joining World Championship silver medalist Susan Dunklee. U.S. Biathlon filled out the rest of the team Thursday with Joanne Reid of Colorado, Emily Dreissigacker of Vermont and Maddie Phaneuf of New York.
All but Dunklee will be competing in their first Olympics, although Reid and Dreissigacker are Olympic offspring. Reid, 25, is the daughter of 1980 Lake Placid speedskating bronze medalist Beth (Heiden) Reid, whose brother Eric won five gold medals. Dreissigacker’s mother, Judy Geer, rowed in the Summer Games of 1976 (Montreal) and 1984 (Los Angeles) and her father, Dick Dreissigacker, rowed in the 1972 Munich Games.
All five U.S. men have previous Olympic experience. Lowell Bailey and Tim Burke, both of New York, are four-time Olympians. Sean Doherty (Center Conway, New Hampshire), Nordgren and Currier all made their debut at the Sochi Games of 2014, where Currier placed 50th in individual and 61st in sprint. He also skied on the men’s relay team that placed 16th.
Biathlon remains the only Winter Olympic sport in which the United States has never medaled.
“We don’t really think about it,” Currier said. “For me, it’s a matter of trying to give yourself the best probability of doing the best you can. You can’t make any bold statements in biathlon. This sport is really humbling.”
Mainers can claim a third U.S. Olympian in PyeongChang. Emily Sweeney, 24, will compete in luge. She was born in Portland and lived in Falmouth before moving with her family to northern Connecticut in 2003. Her mother, Sue, played field hockey at Scarborough High.
Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or
Source: Portland pressMaine biathlete Russell Currier bound for Olympics again