PORTLAND (AP) – The U.S. Biathlon Association announced Monday it will move its headquarters from Vermont to Portland as part of a partnership with Banknorth Group, its new title sponsor.

The six-year agreement follows the staging of World Cup biathlon competition last March at the Maine Winter Sports Center in Fort Kent, which was the third U.S. venue, after Lake Placid, N.Y., and Salt Lake City, to play host to World Cup races.

Europeans have been dominant in biathlon, an Olympic event that combines cross-country skiing and target shooting, but American athletes have been making gains.

But the association said the U.S. Biathlon Team is enjoying its best year ever, with 17 top-30 World Cup finishes thus far this season.

The association is moving to Portland from Colchester, Vt., where it has been based for about a decade. It was previously headquartered in Lake Placid, N.Y.

Under the Banknorth agreement, the Portland-based regional banking company will also be title sponsor of the Biathlon World Cup series on the Outdoor Life Network, the only Nordic sport with a regular TV presence in the United States.

The company would not put a dollar figure on its support, but Michael McNamara, president of its Peoples Heritage Bank subsidiary, told reporters it was more than $1 million.

“Banknorth saw the impact the Biathlon World Cup had on the economy of northern Maine last winter,” said Gov. John Baldacci, who attended the annoucement. “I believe this deal represents not only a sound business decision for one of Maine’s leading employers, it also clearly demonstrates a sincere commitment to the people and the economy of Maine.”

Founded 25 years ago, the U.S. Biathlon Association supports and promotes the development of biathlon in the United States and prepares athletes for the Olympics and other international competition.

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