Hochfilzen, Austria, December 8. Tim Burke (Paul Smiths, NY), led teammates Lowell Bailey (Lake Placid, NY, and Jeremy Teela (Anchorage, AK) into US Biathlon history as the trio finished 10th, 18th,and 21st,today in the Men’s 10K Sprint. This is the first time three US Biathletes finished in the top 25 in the same World Cup competition.
Burke’s first words at the finish were, “Four for four!” This was Burke’s fourth top thirty in four competitions this season. The 10th place today is another personal best for Burke, topping his 19th place in the 12.5K Pursuit competition in Ostersund, Sweden last Sunday. He was visibly happier today than Sunday when he was “simply “pleased” with his result.
The afternoon Men’s 10K Sprint, had conditions that were worse than even the women faced in the morning, when it was already warm and sunny, deteriorating the snow. The plus 15-Celsius temperatures made the snow look more like deep sand than snow for all of the men. The snow on the tracks is a dull ribbon of glacier snow, brought to the venue by the organizers from several of the highest glaciers in Austria, cutting through brown fields of brown grass. The positive part of this situation is that there is snow here at all; the negative is that the tracks are very soft and slow for everyone. US Biathlon Coach Mikael Lofgren commented before the women started at 10:30, “When we started testing skis at 7:30; the tracks were perfect, with a light crust on top, but now the women are sinking down already. By the time the men start, they will sink down to their knees!”
Burke started in 25th position. In prone, he faced a wind that shifted left to right twice. Keeping his calm, he had only one penalty. Even with the penalty, he was close to all of the top men, about 45 seconds behind Michael Greis of Germany who eventually finished second. In the standing stage, the young New Yorker was brilliant, literally drilling the five shots. He left the stadium in 10th and by the finish was in sixth position, after only 25 of 119 men had finished. He lost a few places as the competition progressed, ending up 10th, 1:10.9 behind Norway’s Ole Einar Bjorndalen, who now is four for four, in the victory category this season. Greis, with one penalty finished second, 39.2 seconds back, while third today went to Matthias Simmen of Switzerland, with two penalties, was 46.5 seconds back.
Burke’s 10th was a mere 2.7 seconds from an eighth place podium finish. Beaming at the finish, he stated, “Today’s effort was like a 20K; the snow was so deep. In places, it was up to here (pointing at a spot just blow the knee). I really had to fight in prone with the changing wind. Nevertheless, the standing was very relaxed. They felt good and I just let them fly.” Burke was extremely nervous last week starting in the top group, but today he felt differently. “I was totally calm today (starting 25th). After last week, I am fine being up there now.”
The story does not end with Burke, as his teammates Bailey and Teela were the perfect supporting cast today. Bailey started near the end of the field at number 96. Like Burke, Bailey missed a single prone shot. Going into the standing stage, he was about 30 seconds behind his friend. With a clean standing stage, he left about 25 seconds behind. With each stride, Bailey was gaining on the field, moving from near 30th position to 18th at the finish, 1:27.1 back. His 18th place was a personal best also, topping his 27th place in the 2006 Olympic 20K Individual competition. “I skied very conservatively on the first two loops, but went for it on the last one. It is good to get my World Champ’s qualifier (top 30 finish).” he commented.
With his hard last loop, Bailey overtook teammate Jeremy Teela in the final standings. Teela, an earlier starter finished three places (21st) and 3.3 seconds behind Bailey. Teela shot clean on prone for the first time this season and had a single standing penalty. The staff was pushing him just as hard as his teammates on the tracks, as the split times indicated there was less than 20 seconds between 10th and 30th positions throughout the day. The 21st place was Teela’s best result since a 20th place at Ostersund in December 2004. Teela expected more of himself, “I was dead on the last loop. Usually, I can kick better than almost anyone can, but today, I was just hanging on. I felt really slow.”
The three US men all had just one penalty each today, leading Bailey to comment, “We all had one penalty,—that is super!” Coach Mikael Lofgren added, “That is the way it should be. The three boys were super today.” His counterpart, Coach Per Nilsson said, “I told Mikael that I expected we would have at least three in the top 30 today, but this is even better than I imagined. The boys are in a very good position for tomorrow’s Pursuit competition.” The three top 25 finishes gave the US men fourth place in the Nations Cup score today, another high point for the US program. For the season to date, the US men are in 8th place in those rankings.
Jay Hakkinen (Kasilof, AK) placed 79th today, with two prone penalties, 3:32.2 back. Despite this result, it was a breakthrough day for Hakkinen, as he cleaned standing very fast for the first time this season.
For the three US women in the morning 7.5K Sprint, it was another day of frustration in the soft snow under warm temperatures Lanny Barnes (Durango, CO), had a good start, cleaning prone, which kept her in the top half of the field. In the standing stage, her normally reliable shooting missed the mark three times. On day when the skiing is so hard, every missed target adds to the struggle and she fell rapidly down the standings. She finished 68th, 4:36.7 behind the winner, Andréa Henkel of Germany. This left Barnes 31.5 seconds from making the cut for Saturday’s 10K Pursuit. Henkel shot clean today, leaving rising Polish star Magdalena Gwizdon, who also shot clean, 30.6 seconds back. Third went to Yingchao Kong of China, 37.4 seconds back with one penalty. Only two of the top 10 women had more than one penalty today.
Lanny’s sister Tracy had two prone penalties and another on standing, giving her the same three penalties as her sister. Tracy finished 77th, 5:04.2 back. Sarah Konrad (Laramie, WY), starting at 106, near the end of the field had three penalties on both prone and standing. She finished 89th, 6:01.1 back. Although none of the US women made the pursuit field, Burke, Bailey and Teela will start tomorrow, all less than one minute behind the third starter. Like today, the competition will surely be very close. The competitions here conclude on Sunday with relays for both men and women.
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