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You may be enjoying the mild December weather, but they're gritting their teeth at Camp Ripley. The US Olympic Biathlon trials are coming up at Ripley at the end of this month; with the snow cover thin - and getting thinner - organizers are scrambling to avoid an Olympic meltdown.
ANNALESE BAUMMER, from Minnetonka, and Nick Koshnik, Detroit Lakes, have been training at Ripley in advance of the trials. Though most exposed hillsides are bare as November, they say the trails, which run through the woods, can still be skied.
Baummer: It's pretty covered. There's just, you know, like square foots that are uncovered, there aren't like huge patches or anything; it's pretty good.And plenty of worry is being expended. This, after all, is the event where the US Olympic biathlon team will be assembled. Not one of the prime time Olympic sports, with its unusual combination of cross-country skiing and target-shooting, but Olympic nonetheless. A hundred of the nation's best biathletes have bought tickets to Minnesota; of these, four men and three women will win places on the US team for the upcoming games in Japan. A few of the competitors, like Baummer and Koshnik, are already here; most will arrive right after Christmas.
Koshnik: As long as we don't get a warm front in a week or two, then we'll be OK. Still worried though. You gotta worry about trials.
Theilen: ...and the first thing we might do is hand 'em a shovel and say, "If we're gonna do it here, you have to help shovel."Jeff Theilen chairs the organizing committee for the trials. Though the US Biathlon Association could still decide to move the event to Vermont, Theilen's determined that Camp Ripley prevail, so he's assembling another team - a volunteer truck-and-shovel corps. They plan to spend Saturday hauling in snow from parking lots in downtown Little Falls, then shoveling it onto the biathlon course - guarding the trails against the dread specter of gorgeous weather.
Theilen: We feel that we've got enough snow yet, with some shoveling and some hauling, to put the competition on. And with any luck we'll get some snow here in the next couple days.US Biathlon coach Piotr Bednarski, sailing into view on fluorescent green skis, has seen worse. Four years ago, for example, when he competed at the Olympic trials in Alaska.
Bednarski: It was icy, it was raining, we had a base of an inch or two of ice. Everyone shoveled and scraped. It came together, but it wasn't pretty.Bednarski says it's important for conditions to be as near perfect as possible - a perfect trail gives every athlete a chance for his or her best performance. Which comes back to Saturday. Here's Bednarski's pitch: if you ever wanted to be part of the Olympics - to serve your country - this is your opportunity.
Bring a shovel.
Bednarski: We're gonna have a mountain of pizzas. And a mountain of snow. And we're gonna take care of it. Snow first, preferably.