FORT KENT, Maine — Olympians and top biathletes from around North America are in northern Maine for the U.S. and North American Biathlon Championships at the 10th Mountain Lodge that start today and run through Sunday.

Athletes began arriving in Fort Kent early in the week for unofficial training with 80 racers expected to participate in the three days of competition.

“The trails are holding up really well,” event coordinator Nancy Thibodeau said. “We’ve had to shovel some snow on the hills but the skiers are going to have some great trails.”

Among the competitors are Hilary Johnson and Laura Spector, members of the 2010 U.S. Olympic Biathlon Team, 2006 Olympian Tracy Barnes-Colliander and Maine Winter Sports Center skiers Grace Boutot, Russell Currier, Andrea Mayo, Beth Ann Chamberland and Walt Shepard.

“This should be a fun event,” Currier said during his training runs on Tuesday. “There’s definitely a perk racing here because you can depend on the hometown fans cheering you on.”

Competition kicks off today with opening ceremonies at 9:50 a.m. followed by the sprint competition at 10.

Friday is a training day with racing resuming at 10 a.m. Saturday with the pursuit competition and wraps up Sunday with the mass start competition at 10 a.m.

“Everything is looking good and the training is going really well,” said Melinda McAleese, coach with the U.S. National Team. “The trails here are incredible and we are geared up and ready for this last race of the season.”

Temperatures in Fort Kent are forecast to be in the high 40s during the day but cooling to the mid-20s at night.

“This is really our precursor to the World Cup next year,” Thibodeau said. “Everything at these races will be to World Cup standards.”

Fort Kent will host a World Cup biathlon series event next February. The last time the World Cup was in northern Maine was a 2004 race at the 10th Mountain Lodge.

“From the competition side we are running these races as if a World Cup event,” Thibodeau said. “These are the same courses we will use in 2011.”

Boutot, a Fort Kent native fresh off her European Championship races in Otepaa, Estonia, as part of the U.S. Junior National Team, is looking forward to this week’s competition on her home course.

“I’m really excited,” Boutot said. “There’s a lot of Canadians coming and top athletes from around the country [and] the competition is going to be really tough.”

Saturday afternoon non-biathletes can try their hand at the sport in a special citizens’ race beginning at 1 p.m. with a training and introductory clinic.

The citizens’ races are open to anyone regardless of age, but organizers recommend youngsters 9 and under have a parent escort them around the course.

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Julia Bayly

Julia Bayly is a reporter at the Bangor Daily News with a regular bi-weekly column. Julia has been a freelance travel writer/photographer since 2000.