I wonder how many Maine skiers realize that Maine has had a skier in every Winter Olympics since 1948.

The only exception was 1956, and that year we had an Andover skier, Al Merrill, as a coach, so Maine is covered. This year, it’s only a question of how many Maine skiers will be in Vancouver. Kirsten Clark has retired after a long career, but fellow CVA skier Bode Miller is back on the U.S. Ski Team and looking for another shot at the Olympics. Bode may officially be from Franconia, N.H., but is still watched closely by everyone at CVA and Sugarloaf.

Naturally, we are all watching closely to see if defending Olympic gold medalist in Snowboardcross Seth Wescott of Sugarloaf works his way through the World Cup season. Seth said that that the SBX qualifying is determined the five World Cups races prior to February. After the first two, the Farmington native was sitting second in the standings as the top American. With four spots available, he is in good shape. He has been dominant in the time trials — fastest in Argentina and second in Telluride. Wescott had four good days of riding at Sugarloaf the first part of Christmas break. He leaves Monday for Austria and two more World Cups events.

Those who watched the SBX World Cup at Sunday River last winter will have a good idea how the event goes. Jeff Ihaksi, who designed that course and the one in Turin, Italy, where Wescott won the Olympic gold, is also designing the course for the Olympics.

When I checked with Rick Bisson at CVA about its grads and students with Olympic hopes, I learned that they have several, some from the U.S. and others looking ahead to someday representing their countries in the games. Dimitri Gedevanishvili, a junior, will race alpine for the Georgian Republic, and Woo Hyun Cho is working to qualify to represent Korea in moguls. If he makes it, he could compete against a pair of CVA grads — Farmington’s Dave DiGravio and Carrabassett Valley’s Jeremy Cota, who are competing in the qualifying trials at Steamboat. Veteran CVA grad Emily Cook is in a strong position to qualify for freestyle aerials.
Ben Morse of CVA is on the alpine development team and is among the young skiers hoping to do well enough in NorAms to get a shot.

Another organization working to qualify athletes for the games is the Maine Winter Sports Center. MWSC operates alpine ski areas Black Mountain and Big Rock along with cross country and biathlon facilities in Presque Isle and Fort Kent, where it trains athletes for national and international competition. It also operate a cross country center at Pineland in Gray.

Executive director Andy Shepard said that MWSC alumni will play a prominent role in the Olympics. I knew his son Walt was striving to make the team, but I didn’t realize that his main competition would come from other skiers out of the Maine program.

The trials started with 23 skiers competing for six spots in Altenburg, Germany. Shepard hopes to join fellow MWSC biathlete Tim Burke in making the trip to Vancouver. Beth Ann Chamberlain, a Minnesota skier married to Maine racer Dave Chamberlain, is vying for one of three spots on the women’s team. She was ranked fourth after the trials. 

Dave Chamberlain of Bethel is Maine’s best hope for an Olympian in cross country.

Having the biathlon facilities at Maine Winter Sports Centers has allowed Maine to become a force in an Olympic discipline dominated by the Europeans. While I haven’t seen the facilities at Fort Kent, I have watched skiers training and shooting at the Presque Isle center during the summer on roller skis

The skiers take loops on the paved track, swing into the range positions and fire at the targets. For each miss. a competitor is assessed a penalty, which means a skier can have the fastest time, but lose with missed shots. Hunters can relate to the requirements as can any veteran who has qualified on the range. All shooters know that breath control is a key element. Anyone who has ever tried to steady a rifle after jumping a deer halfway up a mountain side, can understand the difficulty to get one’s breathing under control in the middle of a cross country race. It’s a real test of conditioning and discipline, and Maine Winter Sports Center has made Maine a leader in this Olympic Sport.

Watch for the results in the trails. We could have a bunch of Maine athletes on alpine skis, snowboards, freestyle, cross country and some with rifles slung on their backs to watch in British Columbia in six weeks.

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