Lahti, Finland, February 27. The US Biathlon Team starts the final leg of the 2006-07 Biathlon World Cup season this week with Individual competitions (15K for women and 20K for men) on what Tim Burke described as, "the toughest course we have seen all year."
After a two-week break following the most successful World Championships in US Biathlon history, seven US Biathletes assembled here on Monday. The program this week includes Individual competitions on Wednesday and Thursday, followed by Sprints Friday and Saturday, and closing with Pursuits on Sunday.
The courses, which feature no steep uphills, but a lot of climbing and a daunting slope, “just like a downhill skiing,” opened everyone’s eyes during the training on Tuesday. “We did some intervals on the 4K loop today, so everyone can get a feel for the effort and technique they will need in the races,” Coach Per Nilsson commented. “It is very important to maintain good technique on a tough course like this, especially when you are getting tired.”
Besides the tough courses which wind up a long hill behind the Lahti Ski Jumps, this World Cup will be the first of the season held under true winter conditions. This winter in Europe has generally been warm and rainy with brief “cold” spells and only moderate amounts of snow. The Biathlon World Championships two weeks ago In Antholz, Italy resembled winter as there was good snow cover and the nights were as cold as minus 12 Celsius. Nevertheless, most of the competition days in Antholz were pleasantly sunny with temperatures well above freezing, great for spectators, but at times a challenge for the ski technicians.
However, Lahti is a very different story from the rest of the season. The only similarity between these competitions and the seven previous this season are the 200 plus athletes who will compete here; the core group is mostly the same from the beginning to the end of the season. Lahti, about 60 miles north of Helsinki actually looks and feels like winter. The past several weeks have seen modest amounts of snow and bitterly cold temperatures sometimes reaching minus 25 Celsius. Thus, the snow on the ground and ice on the streets and sidewalks are not going to melt any time soon. The daily ritual for street crews here in golf-cart size dump trucks, is a tour of the city center spreading more pebbles on the sidewalks to keep the “perma-ice” from putting too many people in the hospital. Everyone in Lahti is dressed for the cold with heavy parkas, thick hats, gloves and slip resistant boots, unlike most of central Europe where people are wearing the warm coats, but do not zip them up because of the mild winter.
Prospects for the week show little prospects for change: cold, some light snow and some wind. Even though it is almost March, winter and biathlon have finally converged in the same place.
With the weather cooperating and all seven US Biathletes healthy and rested, there is an air of optimism in the team, especially with the strong results form Burke (7th, World Championships 20K) and Jay Hakkinen (9th World Championships Mass Start). Both hope to continue to challenge for the podium in the coming weeks. After training Hakkinen commented, “I had some good training in Oberhof during the break; conditions were very good there and I feel well. We will just see how much is left in the tank once we start racing!”
Nilsson commented about the team in general, “It seems like the year just started, but with three more weeks of competitions, we hope to have a good finish to the season. A couple of the boys like Lowell Bailey and Jeremy Teela can still score some World Cup Points and finish the year ranked in the top 50. We also have a chance to move up in the Men’s Nations Cup standings (currently 10th, but within striking distance of 8th place).”
Like the men, the US women are looking forward to a strong finish starting with the 15K Individual on Wednesday. Lanny Barnes (Durango, CO) hopes to repeat her 15tth place from the first 15K of the season in Ostersund in the same race in Lahti. After bouts of sickness in Antholz, which kept both Lanny’s sister, Tracy and Denise Teela (Anchorage, AK) from the final competitions, these two women hope to end the year on high notes.
The tough courses, the onset of real winter and the general fatigue that every World Cup biathlete feels about this time will make this week in Lahti a challenge as well as the following competitions in Oslo, Norway and Khanty Mansiysk, Russia. Still, March may actually look like a “normal” biathlon month!
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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