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Moms are vital part of biathlon

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You've heard of soccer moms. But there's a whole new breed of sports-loving moms out there, those willing to brave frigid weather and clang cowbells until, well, the cows come home.

Call them biathlon moms.

"I am so nervous I can hardly watch," said Cindy Nahrgang, who traveled from Minnetonka, Minn., to watch her daughter, Andrea, compete this week for one of four spots on the women's biathlon team that will represent the United States in the upcoming Winter Games.

She is hardly alone. Dozens of moms and other family members from Alaska to New Hampshire made the trek to Soldier Hollow near Midway to cheer their favorite sons and daughters.

Roland Tremble from Jericho, Vt., brought eight other family members with him to cheer his son Eric, an IBM engineer who has struggled at the Olympic trials despite his family's incessant clanging of cowbells, a traditional sign of support throughout the obscure world of biathlon.

"We split up and line up at (strategic) places to cheer," Roland said. "And we have walkie-talkies to signal he's coming."

Some competitors drew from the support of friends, some of whom traveled great distances.

Lydia Ainsworth and her husband, Tim, traveled from New Hampshire to surprise their friends Andy Fisher and Doug Driessen. But they didn't want to distract them.

"We tried to hide during the race Saturday so they wouldn't lose focus," Ainsworth said.

Lyle Nelson, a former biathlete and manager of biathlon for the Salt Lake Organizing Committee, said family support is critical in this sport, which features a combination of cross-country skiing and rifle marksmanship. It is considered to be the most grueling of all Winter Olympic events.

As such, it requires unbelievable levels of physical training and mental preparations that frequently take athletes away from those they love.

"Parents are such an important part of what makes you love the sport," Nelson said. In fact, it is so grueling it is easy to give up.

Parents are the ones who usually stand by their children, encouraging them and "putting things in perspective," he said. "When you have a lousy race, they still love you."

So do the spouses. Laura Cleveland, toting her 11-month-old son, Wil, on her back, traveled from Winter Park, Colo., to watch her husband, 37-year-old Dave, a mechanical engineer who finished last on Sunday.

"It's not so much about making the Olympics as it is doing a good job," she said. "We're having a great time."

But moms were in abundance at the biathlon trials. Moms holding equipment, moms rubbing the athletes' shoulders, moms getting dry clothes, moms watching the kids.

"I am proud she's made it this far," said Bonnie Steer, who traveled from Anchorage, Alaska, to watch her daughter Rachel, who finished second on Saturday and fourth on Sunday, positioning herself to make the Olympic team.

"She's put in a lot of hard work," she said. "She's been a dedicated kid."

Curtis Schreiner's mom didn't get to watch him compete. But she was lending support back in Heber City, baby-sitting toddlers Jon and Eric.

Curtis and his wife, biathlete Deborah Nordyke, are hoping mom will be invited back in February to watch the kids during the Olympics.

Whoever makes the team, you can bet the cowbells the moms will be there.

"If Rachel makes the team, the whole family is coming," said Bonnie Steer. And that is looking like a distinct possibility.

E-MAIL: donna@desnews.com