Kontiolahti, Finland, December 1. Tim Burke (Paul Smiths, NY) bounced back today with 12th Place in the Mens 10K Sprint, two days after a disappointing 49th place in the season-opening 20K Individual.
Burke looked like a new person on both the tracks and the shooting range today, with only one penalty while finishing just 54.4 seconds behind the winner Ole Einar Bjorndalen. At the finish line where he had regained his characteristic big smile as he talked about today’s competition. “I feel so much better than in the 20K. I still feel a bit off, but the improvements are huge between Thursday and today. It is so good to be back on the scoreboard (for World Cup Points).”
Before the competition started, Coach Mikael Lofgren commented, “I think Tim is a bit nervous today, but so am I.” If Burke was nervous before the competition, it disappeared as soon as he left the start. Eight-five competitors were on the tracks before Burke started, yet at the first split, he was immediately up to 13th position. After having a clean prone stage, he was in about the same position, but quickly closed on the leaders over the next 3.3K. US Biathlon High Performance Director Bernd Eisenbichler noted this, commenting, “Tim has found his pace and is moving up fast.”
With a single standing penalty, Burke continued to fly around the tracks, which feature a series of hills and a brutal uphill called “the wall” which can humble the best of skiers. Burke never let up as he picked off the 20K winner Vincent DeFrasne of France as well as Nicolay Kruglov of Russia among others in the final loop.
The effort paid off with the 12th place finish, 54.4 seconds back, going into tomorrow’s 12.5K Pursuit. As he left the finish area with a renewed spring in his step, Burke added, “This puts me in a great position for the Pursuit.”
While Burke was putting together an excellent Sprint, Jay Hakkinen (Kasilof, AK) was trying to do the same. Like Burke, Hakkinen shot clean in prone and had a single standing penalty. At one point, it seemed as if he would also clean standing, but on the final shot, Hakkinen hesitated and missed. “I just missed,” he said. “It is early in the season and I do not have that speed on the range yet.” Still Hakkinen battled for a good position and eventually finished 22nd, 1:10.9 back.
Both Hakkinen and Burke are well positioned for the Pursuit. Today’s third place finisher will start just 31 seconds ahead of Burke and 47 seconds ahead of Hakkinen tomorrow. Bjorndalen’s first win of the season topped Russian Dmitri Iarochenko by 12.7 seconds. The surprising third place finisher was Carsten Pump of Germany, who shot clean while finishing 23.3 seconds behind the Norwegian legend.
Lowell Bailey (Lake Placid, NY) and Jeremy Teela (Anchorage, AK) both missed the cut for the 60-man Pursuit field, finishing 67th and 95th, respectively. Bailey finished 2:20.1 back with two penalties, while Teela was 3:04.4 back, with five penalties.
This third day of competition of the season seemed to be almost like the other two. At this time of the year in Finland, some conditions are guaranteed—gray cloudy skies, snow flurries, and no sun, which add up to bleak conditions. The crowds, or lack thereof, as there were only a few hundred mostly Russian fans in the stadium, seem to match the dreary conditions. They lacked the enthusiasm of Central Europe. Yet the athletes are oblivious to this, as they live for competitions like today’s Sprint, which as always was full of energy, intense, and exciting. And yet again, another good day for Tim Burke and Jay Hakkinen.
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