The US finished in ninth place, 6:28.6 back, despite four penalties and seventeen extra rounds. This was a better result, place-wise than the same group had last month at Hochfilzen, Austria when they finished 12th. At Hochfilzen, they were 4:40.8 back, also with four penalties, but three less extra shots.
In their first relay of the New Year, the men had several opportunities to finish higher, but could not capitalize on them.
Jay Hakkinen (Kasilof, AK) one day after coming down from an altitude training camp, led off today. He left the stadium in the middle of the pack, but within 500 meters was on the shoulder of Norway’s Ole Einar Bjorndalen, challenging for the lead. Hakkinen maintained second position to the prone stage, even though Bjorndalen moved away. Hakkinen, normally a steady shot had one penalty after using all three extra rounds, pushing him back into the middle of the 22-team field. He came back aggressively in standing, needing only one extra round to clean. “I should not have had that penalty,” he said at the finish, after flying through the last loop to hand off to Tim Burke (Paul Smiths, NY) in ninth position.
Burke, the rising star of the early World Cups, looked as good as three weeks earlier. He skied with an easy confidence; shot clean on prone, leaving in seventh position. “Tim now expects to perform that way, but he was lucky on a couple of those shots,” commented Coach Per Nilsson after the clean shooting. Burke needed three extra shots to down all of the standing targets, falling back to 10th position but moved up to seventh with a great effort on the tracks. Assessing his day, Burke said, “I felt better and better each loop. I was a bit race rusty, but it is now all gone.”
Lowell Bailey (Lake Placid, NY) took over from Burke. Bailey used two extra rounds to clean prone, but lost only one position. A clean standing stage would have moved the US up in the standings. After four solid hits, Bailey fired three more times and could not get the final target to drop. Nilsson, looking at the target commented. Two of the misses were less than a millimeter off; so close.”
With Jeremy Teela (Anchorage, AK) on the anchor leg, the team was still in a position to be in the top six. Teela left the deafening roar of the packed Rennsteig Stadium, just 49 seconds out of fourth place. He maintained this position, despite needing two extra shots to clean prone. As he approached standing, the opportunity was still there. Similar to Bailey, he was shooting during an extremely windy period, taking two penalties, leaving the penalty loop in 10th position. Teela, as usual had a good kick over the final 2.5K, and moved to ninth place by the finish. Unhappy with his shooting, Teela commented, “It was my fault today for those penalties. I had a chance to get us in a better place. At least I redeemed myself on the final loop.”
Each member of the team had opportunities today, only to be thwarted by the wind or a bad shot. Nilsson, watching the Swiss team finish sixth, commented, “We should have been up there. Our boys are that good. Several of them did not take the clicks today, which would have maybe saved some extra shots and a couple of penalties. The wind is tricky here, but you have to learn to gauge it as you approach the range, and make the corrections.”
The ice-based tracks here deteriorated today with some rain and temperatures a few degrees above freezing all day. This situation will make the following days very interesting, with weather similar to today. For Friday, the organizers shortened the men’s training period, prior to the Women’s 7.5K Sprint to preserve the precious snow/ice.
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