Burke left the stadium frustrated yesterday after three penalties in the final shooting stage dropping him from fifth to 11th place. Today, it was a different story, as Burke had only two penalties total, compared to four yesterday. “After the race yesterday, I was determined not to let that happen again. I came out here today intending to have a good race and be on the podium.”
Finishing sixth, 1:29.4 behind repeat winner Christoph Sumann of Austria, who won in 38:24.18, with no penalties, Burke matched Jay Hakkinen’s 6th place finish in the Pursuit competition at Ruhpolding in 2000. Burke’s sixth today is the high water mark for the US program since the millennium.
The competition today showcased Burke’s skills. On a sunny plus 15-Celsius day, he started in the middle of the thirty-man field, staying there on the narrow, slushy, and rapidly melting tracks. In both prone stages, he took longer to set up than others around him, but each time shot clean. After the first stage, he was in 11th position. Another clean stage moved him to eighth position.
Coming to the standing stages, there was tension in the US camp, as standing was his undoing in the Pursuit. Missing only one target in the first stage, Burke actually maintained his spot. Over the fourth loop, he briefly moved to sixth, but then decided to follow the Austrian Mesotitsch and Norway’s Stian Eckhoff. The trio shot together, with Burke picking up another penalty, but leaving the loop in sixth position with Mesotitsch and Nicolay Kruglov of Russia chasing. With only two penalties, Burke was not to be denied today. Over the final 2.5K, he widened the margin on both of his pursuers, leaving them 11 and 16 seconds behind him at the finish.
At the finish, there were high fives and hugs from all of the staff, for the young Burke who is the sensation of the World Cup Circuit to this point. There were no frowns today as Burke talked about his race. “I felt good today and was really relaxed. On the fourth loop, I was just cruising, so I expected to have a good final standing stage. Unlike a lot of the others, I had afterburners on the last loop and pulled away from the group.”
During the flower ceremony, the smile never left Burke’s face. He was suddenly a part of very exclusive group of athletes and was part of a victory ceremony broadcast live to millions of homes across Europe. Burke’s sixth place capped the best week of his competitive career, with 13th in the Sprint Thursday, 11th in the Pursuit yesterday, and now sixth in the second Mass start of his career.
Less than two months ago, Burke had never scored a World Cup point, and now he was on the podium and ranked 22nd in the World cup Overall (just one point from 21st). “You have no idea how many times I have dreamed of this. It is a dream come true.”
When interviewed by a German television station, he discussed his rise in the World Cup rankings. “I had an excellent year of training under our two new Swedish coaches, Per Nilsson and Mikael Lofgren. That has been a big difference for me. My form has been getting better and better each week. It was just a matter of time before I was on the podium.”
Burke, a graduate of Saranac Lake (NY) High School, prepared for his breakout season mostly on his home turf, using the world-class facilities of the Olympic Training Center and the Verizon Sports Park in Lake Placid, NY, as well as traveling to camps in Sweden and Utah. Prior to this season, he and training partner, Lowell Bailey had trained at the Maine Winter Sports Center in Fort Kent.
Regarding the upcoming Biathlon World Championships in Antholz, Italy in two weeks, he added, “I am looking forward to Antholz. It is one of my favorite courses to race on. It is a good place for me.”
Burke and the rest of the US Biathlon Team now have two weeks of preparation in Austria, before the Antholz competitions.
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