AFTER THE WHISTLE

Poiree who?

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If you don't know who Raphael Poiree is, chances are you are not alone.

No, he isn't the newest kicker in the NFL or the latest sensation of the CART racing circuit.

No, the Frenchman is in an elite class of athletes that includes Russian Pavel Rostovtev and Norway's Bjoerndalen Ole Einar.

Still lost? Well all of them are top athletes in the sport of biathlon which combines cross country skiing and shooting and not a one of them is exactly what you would call a household name outside of Europe.

In the United States your average sports fan can relate to football, basketball and baseball. There are a few really adventurous sports fans that also watch hockey (at least when the playoffs begin) and an occasional golf tournament.

You see, it's not like young children in this country grow up dreaming of the day when they will be a star in biathlon or for that matter Nordic combined. No, that privilege is reserved for athletes with way too many letters in their names who grew up in places where a wool sweater is the perfect wardrobe choice for a Fourth of July picnic.

The truth is that if not for the Olympic Games, most Americans wouldn't know the sport of biathlon exists. Let's face it most sports enthusiasts in this country are consumed by a very limited range of sporting events. If it doesn't happen on a court, rink, lined field or a diamond, it just doesn't peak most Americans' interest. They think most winter sports only take place every four years at the Olympics.

Sports like biathlon, Nordic combined and ski jumping are interesting, but most Americans will never take the time to learn the details of how these sports work or the names of the athletes who excel in them.

Most Americans will also never enjoy the thrill of watching these great events unless it's during the Olympics.

This summer the administration at the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club decided to expose this community to the sport of biathlon.

And why not?

Steamboat has been one of the biggest supporters of Nordic combined in the world and I think it will be equally supportive of its Nordic cousin biathlon.

This winter many young Steamboat athletes will be trained in a sport that rewards athletes for endurance on skis and accuracy with a rifle. It's a chance for the club to draw the ranching community into the sport and expose a new generation of athletes to a different event. This new group of athletes will learn about American stars like Jay Hakkinen who competed in Nagano and Salt Lake City.

Sure ,these days guys like Poiree are dominating a sport that exists outside the scope of most Americans.

But someday young skiers in Steamboat will know Raphael Poiree is a French soldier who enjoys cinema, tennis and movies. But more importantly they will know he skis like a machine and hits 92 percent of his targets in the prone position and 84.8 from the standing position.

Maybe a few of those local athletes will know that they can do just as well, or even better, at the Olympics.

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