Olympic hopeful Michael Brothers is a man on a mission

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— If Air Force Capt. Michael Brothers had his way, there would be one more year before the Olympics.

The Olympic biathlete hopeful, who grew up in Laramie, Wyo., but often skied in Steamboat Springs, will start his bid for a spot on the U.S. biathlon team on Saturday after a year of training for the Olympics through the Air Force World Class Athlete Program.

"I think I'm as ready as I'll be for the Olympics this year," he said. "It would be nice to have an extra year to practice shooting. It's still my weakest part of the sport. It's so hard to be 100 percent at both."

It is not a surprise that Brothers whose parents, Lyman and Jane, moved to Steamboat a few years ago is a strong cross-country skier. After competing in the sport in high school, Brothers qualified for nationals four times as a member of the team at the Air Force Academy and won the 15-kilometer freestyle race his senior year.

Although he stopped racing competitively after graduating in 1994, a friend suggested he try a biathlon, something that would be a perfect fit for Brothers, who had experience with shooting while growing up on a ranch.

It did not take long before Brothers got hooked on a sport that requires speed for a ski race and steadiness for shooting.

"It's an addictive sport. It's very challenging skill wise," Brothers said. "It puts together two sports that are complete opposites."

Brothers does admit he could use a little more time to smooth out his shooting technique. One of the skills required of biatheletes is the ability to slow down their heart rates after skiing a cross country leg so that they can shoot well enough to hit a target.

On Saturday, Brothers will compete in the first of four races that will be used to determine the U.S. team for the 2002 Olympics. At the Olympic venue, Solider Hollow in Utah, the three best times from the four races will qualify.

To qualify for the Olympic trails, which takes the top 15 percent of biathletes in the country, Brothers had to score 85 points in this fall's racing series. Competing with 30 to 40 of the top biathletes in the country, Brothers said the competition is tougher in Olympic years as former Olympians return with the hopes of making the U.S. team.

"In the top 30, it's hard to rule out anybody. We have got so many athletes who could win on any given day," Brothers said.

When Brothers competed in the Military Olympics, he had the chance to compete against some of the world's best athletes. And, his best finish last year was a fifth place at a national competition.

"If I can do that in a couple of races in a row, I have a pretty good shot at making the team this winter," Brothers said.

Brothers started training for the biathlon in 1998 and started training full-time last January.

Selected as a World Class Athlete, Brothers had the unique opportunity for the military to support his training, which has taken place on Utah's Olympic course for the last few months.

In October, he began training on snow in Alaska and has been working with other military World Class Athletes from the Army and Navy.

"It is a proven program," Brothers said. "The program has shown to work for many individuals. It's a win-win situation for the military."

The Olympic trials for the biathlon run are on Saturday and Dec. 30 and then, Jan. 2-3.

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