FORT KENT, Maine — National biathlon competition is returning to northern Maine March 7-10 with the USA Biathlon Championships at the 10th Mountain Lodge in Fort Kent.

Athletes from around the country will compete for national titles in biathlon sprint, pursuit and mass start with some familiar faces taking to the course and range, according to Nancy Thibodeau, event director.

Thursday gives competitors the opportunity to do practice runs at the 10th Mountain Lodge. Opening ceremonies at 9:50 a.m. Friday kick off three days of racing with competition in the sprint race classes beginning at 10 a.m. Participants will compete in men, junior men, youth men, women, junior women, youth women, boys, girls and master levels.

On Saturday, two rounds of pursuit racing take off at 10 and 10:50 a.m.

Racing winds up at 10 a.m. Sunday with the popular mass start races.

This is the final weekend in the USA championship series.

“At the end of competition Sunday, the USA biathlon champions in sprint, pursuit and mass start will be named,” Thibodeau said.

Among those competing is Maine Winter Sports Center athlete and current Fort Kent resident Katrina Howe, who has been working with area schoolchildren this past year.

“We’ve been talking about healthy lifestyles and the importance of getting outside, eating healthy and the opportunities that can arise from being active,” Howe said Wednesday morning. “We’ve been watching some races and talking about biathlon rules and races.”

About 100 of those SAD 27 students will be on hand for the races this weekend, she said.

“It’s always fun to race at home,” Howe said. “I live in Fort Kent now so this is what I call a hometown course.”

Howe has raced over the past year in Estonia and Russia and earned enough points to be eligible for world cup competition.

“That would be a big step for me,” she said. “This is only my fourth year doing this.”

In all, about 50 racers are expected over the weekend, including 20 from Canada who are racing for North American championship points.

Fans should be on the lookout for Sean Doody, who is coming off silver and gold medal wins in the junior world cup, and Maine Winter Sports Center skier Raleigh Goessling, Thibodeau said.

Organizers are confident the weather will cooperate for both skiers and spectators, though Thibodeau did say the recent warm temperatures have presented a few challenges.

“Last Saturday we set up hundreds of the ‘soldiers’ — the markers between shooting lanes on the range — and they all tipped over in the melting snow,” she said. “We have had to send volunteers out to reset them.”

An army of about 100 volunteers will be working the event, Thibodeau said.

“I don’t think I have the words to explain how important these volunteers are,” she said. “There is just no comparison for the work they do.”

On Wednesday, some of those volunteers were out putting the final touches on the racecourse, which is anticipated to set up nicely with some cooler temperatures.

“The course is a little soft right now,” Howe said. “But I know they are hard at work out there so I know it is going to get better and better.”

All USA Championship races are free and open to the public with free parking available at the 10th Mountain Lodge venue.

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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.