PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Excited event officials and organizers gathered in Presque Isle on Thursday morning to officially launch the one-year countdown to the 2014 IBU Youth/Junior Biathlon World Championships.

The international event will be held at the Nordic Heritage Center in Presque Isle from Feb. 28 to March 7, 2014, and a large countdown calendar in the heart of downtown aims to generate enthusiasm for the event and mark time until the games begin.

At a brief press conference, organizers announced that about 350 of the world’s top biathletes under the age of 21, from more than 30 countries, are expected to be in Aroostook County for the competition.

Intent on forging regional excitement, organizers have placed a large sign in the corner windows on the third floor of the KeyBank building on State and Main streets in downtown Presque Isle noting the number of days remaining before the event kickoff.

Jane Towle, event director for the 2014 IBU Youth/Junior Biathlon World Championships, said Thursday afternoon that the KeyBank building is one of the most visible locales in the Star City, so organizers thought it was a great place to put the countdown sign.

“It takes about a good 18 months of planning to host such an event, and we already have a volunteer force of about 400 people that we have to manage,” said Towle. “Events like these generate so much excitement, they bring in so much revenue for hotels, restaurants, stores and more. The economic impact is huge.”

The athletes, coaches and other guests “will fill every hotel in central Aroostook,” Towle said Thursday.

Additional visibility also comes in the form of a new logo designed for the event. It prominently features the word “biathlon” in a lighter blue with a deeper blue image of a cluster of pine trees appearing in the letters. A silhouette figure of a biathlete in motion, using similar blue and gold colors found in the Maine Winter Sports Center, appears as though skiing out of the word “biathlon.”

Andy Shepard, president and CEO of the Maine Winter Sports Center, said that the number of World Cup competitions, Junior World Cup competitions and other events held successfully at the Nordic Heritage Center and at the 10th Mountain Lodge in Fort Kent have shown the world that The County has first-class venues.
“If you have one bad event, you don’t get another,” he said. “I think people realize that we take pride in our facility, in our events, in our athletes, and in our region. It does not take a lot for us to get ready to host these events. We have dedicated people who know what they are doing. People remember what has to be done and they do it up to IBU standards.”

The countdown calendar that will mark the days until the start of the competition was made possible through a partnership with KeyBank and the United Way of Aroostook. KeyBank paved the way for the sign to be hung inside the third-floor windows of the four-story building, and United Way of Aroostook staff members, whose offices are located in that part of the building, will maintain the sign, changing the numbers regularly.

Members of the 2014 IBU Youth/Junior Biathlon World Championships Organizing Committee recently traveled to Obertilliach, Austria, to receive a ceremonial flag from the International Biathlon Union. The flag, presented to Jane Towle, event manager Steve Towle and competition secretary Robert White, was displayed at the press event.

In the coming weeks, the Presque Isle Organizing Committee will decide leadership roles for the 2014 event. Over the summer, committee representatives will attend meetings in Sochi, Russia, the site of the 2014 Winter Olympics.