Tomorrow, Burke, and teammates Jay Hakkinen (Kasilof, AK), Lowell Bailey (Lake Placid, NY), and Jeremy Teela (Anchorage, AK) compete in the 10K Sprint. This is the final Sprint of the season, with the US men hoping to gain enough Nations cup Points to overtake Ukraine and Italy in the battle for a top 8 finish for the season. The US men are currently in 10th place.
The top 60 in the Sprint will qualify for Saturday’s Pursuit. The week closes with Sunday’s Mass Start competitions. Burke has enough World Cup Points that he should make the Mass Start Field. Should he make the Mass Start field, he will become the first US biathlete to compete in every Mass Start during a single season.
The World Cup Final here in east central Siberia is not just another World Cup. For most of the season, the “traveling circus” of about 250 athletes, and an equal number of coaches and staff, travels across central Europe with ease. Most venues are only hours apart, so each Sunday night, teams pack the vans with ski and travel bags, rifles and anything necessary to surviving months on the road and set off for the next spot on the schedule. At times, especially when going to Scandinavia, the athletes and coaches drive while staff drives the 30 hours or so to the northern reaches of the Biathlon world.
The trip to Khanty Mansiysk is another story. First virtually everyone needs a visa, which involves paperwork, waiting for hours (and sometimes, making several trips) at a Russian Embassy on an off day in a foreign capital. Then the packing “light” for the trip to Siberia on special charter flights (four this year); teams only take what is necessary to get through the week as excess baggage charges can spoil a season’s budget. This year, all skis, and heavy gear went to Oslo airport on Sunday evening; busses for the charter flight left the US team hotel at 6 AM for a 9:30 flight. Once at the airport, retrieving ski bags and boxes from the truck to a special baggage area supplemented normal check-in. Virtually everyone took the opportunity to have a light breakfast of normal food at the airport before departure.
UTAIR, the Russian charter company from Khanty Mansiysk flies the Tupolov 154 aircraft. These tri-engine Soviet behemoths carry 95-110 passengers cramped in the rear of the aircraft while the former first class/business section is loaded with baggage under cargo nets. Despite this unusual configuration provides a fast powerful and smooth flight (comfort is not part of the trip) of four plus hours and four time zones from Oslo. Evening arrival in Khanty and the temperature is minus 9 Celsius (Oslo was plus five). After an hour or so of airport formalities: rifle inspections, visa checks and passport stamps, everyone is a moved by bus to the Hotel on Seven Hills overlooking the venue.
The drive through this “city” of 50,000 is one of contrasts. New modern office and apartment buildings abound courtesy of the booming oil business. Only blocks away, there are log cabins that look ready to collapse, even though there are lights inside and howling dogs in the yard. Strands of neon and other Christmas-like bright lights hang over the streets and downtown area where magnificent large ice sculptures dominate the city center.
With a quick move into the hotel rooms which are in small apartment style buildings with a security guard and a housemaid and cleaning lady. stationed at the door 24 hours a day, it is off to dinner. Surveying the buffet of meats and fish with gravy and lots of potatoes, everyone ate with gusto, It had been along day, and everything looked appetizing.
Having been on the ground here almost 48 hours, the fatigue of travel is slipping away. Skis are being prepared, rifles checked in and out of the locked armory for training while anticipation is building for the coming races. Because German television broadcasts the competitions live to central Europe, the starting time fro the Men’s Sprint is 5:15 PM local time. This means evening training yesterday and today under the lights. It also means a long day for the athletes of a morning run, breakfast, some dry firing, lunch, a nap, watching DVDs or reading and then training at the end of the day. It is not exactly summer in Siberia with blowing snow today and temperatures about minus five Celsius so everyone spends a lot of time inside before and after training. The dining room is the one place where everyone gathers for long meals and socializing. It is easy to see the long biathlon season is about over; even with the tough competitions ahead, there are easy smiles and jokes abound among the 24 teams here.
Thus the World Cup Final in Khanty Mansiysk is unique; it is a combination of endurance trip, cultural shock treatment and competitions all wrapped in one, far from the home of biathlon in Central Europe. However, once the first starter goes out at 5:15:30 on Thursday, everything will look like the previous eight World Cups and World Championships; 90 men trying to be the best one more time this season.
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.
TD Banknorth is the title sponsor of the US Biathlon Team. Lapua, adidas®, the Hilton Family of Hotels and Exel Ski Poles are supporting sponsors of the US Biathlon Team.