Russell Currier had an U.S. Olympic berth within his reach over the weekend — and went out and earned it.
The 2006 Caribou High School graduate from Stockholm was nominated for the U.S. team for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, on Sunday afternoon after scoring the top American finishes Saturday and Sunday at International Biathlon Union Cup 5 races in Ridnaun-Val Ridanna, Italy.
Currier finished 23th overall in a 20-kilometer race Saturday and 30th in a 10K spring earlier Sunday, but he led all Americans entered in both events.
The 26-year-old Currier, a product of the Maine Winter Sports Center in Aroostook County, had been one of four Americans battling for the final two Olympic team berths in the biathlon — a combination of cross country skiing and rifle shooting — and had the top results of those four competitors in four races held at the Ridnaun-Val Ridanna resort over the last two weekends.
US Biathlon had nominated two-time Olympians Tim Burke of Paul Smiths, N.Y., and Lowell Bailey of Lake Placid, N.Y., to the team in November while Leif Nordgren of Marine, Minn., was nominated last month.
Bailey and Burke were eligible to earn early nominations during the 2012-13 season by gaining two top-15 finishes in World Cup or World Championship competition or by having a top-30 overall World Cup ranking. Nordgren was nominated following the December World Cups.
That left Currier, Casey Smith of Winthrop, Wash., three-time U.S. Olympian Jeremy Teela of Tonasket, Wash., and reigning world youth biathlon champion Sean Doherty of Center Conway, N.H., all contending for the final two men’s slots.
All four participated in four IBU Cup races that doubled as the final qualifying events for the U.S. Olympic team.
Currier had three first-place finishes among the contending Americans and one second-place result in the four races to earn his ticket to Sochi.
Doherty then earned the final men’s Olympic biathlon berth based on a first, two seconds and a fourth among the Americans in the four selection races, while Teela had a second, two thirds and a fourth and Smith had a second, a third and two fourths.
Doherty finished 51st overall and second behind Currier among the Americans on Saturday, followed by Teela (52nd) and Smith (69th).
Smith was 44th overall and second behind Currier among the Americans on Sunday, followed by Doherty (49th) and Teela (62nd).
“I want to congratulate the athletes on being nominated to the Olympic Team. Everyone of them has shown a dedication to excellence and a love of the sport that has led them to this outstanding accomplishment,” said Bill Burke, chairman of the US Biathlon board of directors in a press release. “I can’t wait to cheer them on in person at the Olympics and to celebrate their achievements with their families”
All nominations are subject to approval by the U.S. Olympic Committee.
“I am very pleased with the progress the athletes on the team have made. It’s the result of their focused training with some of the world’s best coaches and high performance staff,” said US Biathlon President and CEO Max Cobb. “There is one more World Cup before the Olympic Games and we are looking forward to seeing the team in action there. Our top-ranked athletes, Tim Burke and Lowell Bailey, have both had podium-level performances and the Olympic rookies have had very compelling performances that indicate personal-bests lay ahead for them this season.”