Hochfilzen, Austria, December 15. Through the first two World Cup competitions of the new season, the US Biathlon Team, led by Tim Burke (Paul Smiths, NY) is off to a fast start going into the holiday break. Three men, Burke, Lowell Bailey (Lake Placid, NY), and Jeremy Teela (Anchorage, AK), as well as one woman, Lanny Barnes (Durango, CO) has qualified for the 2007 Biathlon World Championships, scheduled for early February.
After the Torino Olympic Winter Games last February, it was very clear that the four men who composed the ninth place Olympic Relay team would form a strong nucleus in the coming seasons. Jay Hakkinen (Kasilof, AK) had “won” the first leg of the Olympic Relay competition, and the team of Tim Burke, Lowell Bailey and Jeremy Teela rallied to an outstanding result, just 2:31.9 off the Gold Medal performance of Germany. With this outstanding performance, the group left Torino inspired and dedicated to stepping on the podium in Vancouver or sooner. Hakkinen, in placing 10th in the 20K Individual competition and 13th in the Mass Start at Torino had set the bar for the other three men.
A summer of hard training with the new US Biathlon Coaches, Per Nilsson and Mikael Lofgren has done three things for this group of men: revitalized the career of Jeremy Teela, who has struggled since 2003; raised Lowell Bailey’s results another notch from his Olympic season, and brought the long-promising Burke to the forefront of US Biathlon this year. Hakkinen has been relegated to the position of fourth man so far this season. It was recently discovered that he was suffering a viral infection, leaving him with sub-par results so far. He is now recovering and will be ready for the Oberhof, Germany World Cup just after the New Year.
Hakkinen will be back battling for the top spot soon. Nevertheless, Burke is the sensation of the young World Cup season. He has probably received more attention from television and stadium announcers this month than any US biathlete in recent memory. This is simply because his battles for top 15 positions, and his dramatic efforts in the Hochfilzen relay (leaving the stadium in fourth position after prone) were totally unexpected by the Europeans. Several times during the Hochfilzen relay competition, the announcer broke into English, commenting on how the 24-year-old New Yorker was more than holding his own with the best German, Austrian, and Norwegian biathletes.
Burke’s performances may have been a surprise to the European media, but not to the US coaches. Mikael Lofgren commented after Burke placed 10th in the Hochfilzen 10K Sprint, “Per (Nilsson) and I both think Tim will be a very good biathlete in the coming years. All of the boys made good improvements this year, when comparing our summer testing to late November. However, Tim made huge improvements, much bigger than anyone else did.”
Burke’s promise of success dates back to 2002 when he won his first Senior National Championships in Fort Kent, ME, while still a junior competitor. He also placed 11th in the World Junior Championships that same year. Since then, his career has moved along the highway of success, albeit with a few potholes along the way. He made his World Cup debut at 2004 in Ruhpolding, as a late replacement for an ill athlete. He endured a 12-hour car ride from France to get to Ruhpolding, and finished a now unimpressive 82nd in a race punctuated by a snowstorm, which affected everyone but the first 25 competitors. At the time, he commented,” I was pretty nervous on prone. Once I started shooting, I definitely calmed down. Standing was great. I am really happy to get this over with-- the crowd was pretty amazing." Standing nearby, Ricco Gross of Germany, fourth that day smiled, "Why should you be nervous--from the Europa Cup with no fans to 50,000 today?"
That same year, the then 21-year old Burke made his debut at the World Championships in Oberhof, with his best result 61st in the 20K Individual. He closed that year with 43rd and 49th places in the Pursuit competitions at the Lake Placid and Fort Kent World Cups.
From there, he expected to make big improvements in performance, but those potholes literally jumped in front him, delaying the promise of success. While training in Norway in 2004, Burke ended up with an infection in a tooth and his jaw, dragging his early performances down. During this time, he suffered an ignominious fall while entering the shooting range in Oslo, in front of 10,000 spectators. He went home for Christmas to have his dental problems taken care of, only to come down with the flu.
Somehow, he managed to make the 2005 World Championships Team, moving up to 55th in the 10k Sprint. He also had a personal World Cup best 37th place in the Pokljuka Sprint, taking him up another notch.
Unbeknownst to the international media, Burke actually had a solid season last year, picking up another PB in the Hochfilzen 20K Individual with a 33rd place finish. His 37th and 38th places in the Sprint/Pursuit combination in Torino were the best on the US Team. Making the Olympic Team fulfilled a childhood dream, but Burke left Torino hungry for bigger success.
He came into this season with big goals, as shown in this section from the current US Biathlon Media Guide.
Tim made big strides this past year, finally getting over his string of bad luck – surgery, impacted tooth, falls, viral infections, and the flu. Now he is looking for the big results. “I hope to have many top 30 finishes next year. To do that, I must have consistent shooting. I could have easily done that this year, so I really think I can do it next year. I wouldn’t be surprised to jump into the top 15 here and there with great shooting.”
Burke has more than fulfilled his own predications so far this season, He has scored World Cup points in every competition so far: Ostersund—20K Individual, 30th, 10K Sprint 22nd, 12.5K Pursuit, 19th; Hochfilzen—10K Sprint, 10th place, 12.5K Pursuit, 19th. He currently sits in 19th place in the overall World Cup standings.
After a few days home, the now-recognized Burke is training in Fort Kent, where as he says, “at least there is some snow here, so I can train; I will probably stay here until there is some snow in Lake Placid,” He reflected on his season to date. “I could not be happier about how the season has gone so far. I hope to keep it going when I get back in competition next month. Each year, I have been chipping away at this, and now it is pretty exciting to finally be where I always thought I could be.” Reflecting on his inauspicious debut in Ruhpolding in 2004, he added, “Back then, I always hoped this (to have the big results and get the recognition in the stadium), but I was far from it then.”
These days, Tim Burke exudes confidence; he was a bit nervous when he started near the front in the Hochfilzen Sprint. By Sunday, in the relay he was fearless, shooting aggressively and taking on all comers on the tracks. With those attributes in his repertoire, it is likely there will be more headlines and more announcers talking about Tim Burke as well as his teammates Bailey, Teela, and Hakkinen.
Burke, along with Bailey and Teela, who have 18th and 21st place finishes, respectively this season, are not competing in this weeks’ final Osrblie (but relocated in Hochfilzen, because of lack of snow) World Cup.
In the Women’s 15K Individual on Wednesday, Lanny Barnes, with three penalties placed 65th, 6:46.7 back while her sister Tracy, with six penalties, placed 88th,. 10:44.3 back. Andrea Henkel of Germany won her third competition in a row, with one penalty in 45:25.7.
In the Men’s 10K Sprint on Thursday, Jay Hakkinen showed improving health and form with 59th place, 2:10.4 back despite four penalties. Hakkinen had the 32nd fastest ski time for the day. Brian Olsen (Heber City, UT) placed 93rd, with three penalties, 3:43.7 back. Olympic Champion Michael Greis of Germany won in 25:03.7, with one penalty.
Competitions continue through Sunday with sprints on Friday and Saturday and Relays on Sunday. Live streaming video coverage of Biathlon World Cup competitions for the remainder of the season is available by clicking the Biathlon World Cup logo at the top right of the page at www.usbiathlon.org.
The United States Biathlon Association is the National Governing Body for the sport of Biathlon in the United States as recognized by the United States Olympic Committee and the International Biathlon Union. The US Biathlon Association supports the US Biathlon Team and development of the sport on all levels within the United States.
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