Never before had Russell Currier so much as cracked the top-50 in a World Cup biathlon. Until Saturday.
Currier, a 24-year-old from Stockholm, Maine, finished sixth at the World Cup 10-kilometer sprint in Nove Mesto, in the Czech Republic. Tim Burke finished 11th. Lowell Bailey came in 21st and Jay Hakkinen 31st.
Currier finished 23.2 seconds back of the winner, Emil Hegle Svendsen, who crossed in 27:13.1. French brothers Simon and Martin Fourcade took second and third.
The strong U.S. finish, led by Currier, underscores the enhanced legitimacy of the American team as it builds toward Sochi and 2014.
It's a question of persistence, patience and, of course, performance -- not unlike that delivered by the U.S. men's Nordic combined team, which broke through at the Vancouver Olympics in 2010.
Currier is now the fourth man on the U.S. team to finish top-10 already this season -- evidence that, finally, the Americans have some depth.
Burke, Bailey and Hakkinen are veterans.
Leif Nordgren, for instance, anchored the U.S. relay to a sixth-place finish at the 2011 world championships.
There are others. But everyone associated with the program has long understood that Currier -- who is a product of the Maine Winter Sports Center -- could be a star.
If -- and this has always been the big if -- he could just dial in the shooting part of the sport.
Russell's skiing: solid.
The shooting: that has, over the years, needed work.
After a camp this fall, in Utah, he and his coaches went back to the drawing board. They changed the sight on his rifle. They worked on the way he went about taking his breaths during the prone segment of the shooting. They worked on what he was thinking about in the shooting range.
"We changed up the focus and committed to a few thought processes ingrained into my head so that every time I come into shoot, no matter where I am, it's the same consistent thought process -- so that I get a foundation of consistency," he said late Saturday.
If that sounds elemental -- at this level, sometimes simple things can make a big difference.
It was really windy Saturday out on the Nove Mesto course. Didn't matter.
Russell Currier shot clean. No penalties.
"It's this American dream," said Bernd Eisenbichler, the U.S. team's high-performance director. "…In the end, he has proved he has the potential to belong on the podium. It's super."
Russell's was one of only two clean shooting performances on the day.
"I haven't been this excited about racing since I was 14," Russell said afterward. "It feels like -- I just can't keep the grin off my face. It is everything I wanted this sport to be."