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(HOST) Commentator John Morton says that olympic swimmers compete in minutes and seconds, while ice dancers depend on the largely subjective decision of judge. For endurance sports like cross country skiing and biathlon it’s even trickier.

(MORTON) With athletes whose development takes years, it is widely recognized that “peaking” for the Olympics is essential to achieving that elusive, best-ever performance. But for most American endurance athletes, earning a spot on the Olympic team is a prerequisite to competing at the Olympics. If they don’t peak at the tryouts, there may be no opportunity to race at the Olympics.

Biathlon is especially unpredictable. At the trials held in Fort Kent, Maine to select the athletes who will represent the U.S. in Torino, weather played a significant role in at least two of the four days of racing. The opening events were contested in a freezing rain which made it difficult to maintain a steady position on the shooting range. Many of the favorites faltered, leaving the door open for less experienced competitors to earn valuable points.

The following day, a cold front brought blizzard conditions. Athletes squinted through the swirling snowflakes to find their targets, and bent against the gusts as they struggled for the finish line. Anchorage’s Rachel Steer used her experience to win the women’s sprint, while recent UVM graduate, Lowell Bailey topped the men’s field.

After two days rest, the competitions resumed under nearly ideal conditions. The women’s pursuit format competition was won by Sarah Konrad from Laramie, WY. A 1989 graduate of Dartmouth, Sarah got serious about Nordic skiing after college, competing last year at both World Championships in cross country and biathlon. Tim Burke of Paul Smiths, NY took the men’s race.

The day of the final event dawned clear, still, and cold. By midmorning, the temperature had inched up enough to permit the scheduled start, but spectators and race officials were bundled like the Michelin man.

The seasoned veterans, Rachel Steer and Jeremy Teela, also from Anchorage, had enough physical reserves in spite of a week of tough competition, to lead their fields.

There was anxiety, elation and disappointment as points were calculated, and eventually the Olympic team was announced. As expected, Steer led the women. She will be joined by Tracy and Lanny Barnes, twins from Durango, CO, and the Dartmouth skiers, Sarah Konrad and Carolyn Treacy.

Four men will join Alaskan, Jay Hakkinen, who was pre-selected thanks to finishing among the top twenty-five, in six World Cups last season. The additional four men are Tim Burke, Jeremy Teela, Lowell Bailey, and Brian Olsen.

Within days of the tryouts, the athletes were headed to Europe for World Cups in Germany and Italy. Then they will drive to the Olympic Biathlon venue near Torino. Will they be primed for a “best ever” performance at the Games? Stay tuned.

This is John Morton in Thetford.

John Morton designs trails and writes about sports. He spoke from our studio in Norwich. His booke about the Olympics, A Medal of Honor, has recently been re-issued.

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