Kontiolahti, Finland, December 2. Jay Hakkinen (Kasilof, AK) finished todays 12.5K Pursuit competition exactly where he started, in 22nd place, while Tim Burke (Paul Smiths, NY) slipped from 12th at the start to a 28th place finish.
With today’s 22nd place, Hakkinen is three-for-three, scoring World Cup points in each competition here, making this his best-ever season opening. “I am pretty happy with the week,” he said with almost a bit of relief in his voice. In recent years, Hakkinen has been a slow starter, not reaching the form he has showed here until January.
Regarding this first World Cup week of the season, US Biathlon High Performance Director Bernd Eisenbichler added, “I think the week was perfect. We wanted to start strong with some top 15 results and we got that. The team was very focused all week. It is the best first week our team has ever had. We will only continue to get better. I think next week in Hochfilzen, we will be even better. The tracks and conditions suit our style of skiing more than here.”
Hakkinen and Burke were mirror images on the shooting range today with each missing one target in both prone stages and two in each of the standing stages. The difference between the two was after the first standing stage, when Hakkinen gained a15-20 second gap on his teammate, which he maintained to the finish. Hakkinen, in 22nd place finished 2:30.2 behind the winner Ivan Tcherezov of Russia, while Burke in 28th was 2:49.1 back. Tcherezov, with no penalties won in 32:51.9.
The Russian dethroned “King” Ole Einar Bjorndalen for at least a day relegating the Norwegian to second place, 27.7 seconds back. Bjorndalen had four penalties, but was philosophical in the post-race press conference, commenting that he was working on his shooting. He earlier said he was “committed to biathlon,” this season (as opposed to last year when he raced several cross-country events and the Nordic World Championships in Japan). Third, one place lower than he recorded in yesterday’s Sprint, today went to another Russian, Dmitri Iarochenko, who finished 1:00.5 back with three penalties.
On another gray, sunless day, marked by strong winds on the shooting range and light snowfall, Hakkinen described his race. “The pace was really high right from the start. When I was shooting standing, I just could not settle down. It is that way in the first Pursuit of the season. It takes one or two of these to get used to it. I had really good skis today which definitely helped.”
Burke, after finishing 12th in yesterday’s Sprint, seemed to be satisfied overall, in light of his day on the shooting range. “I will take 28th place and scoring points with six penalties. Still, I could not get a break on the shooting range. After the first prone, I was surprised to see all of the shots were on the edge, the opposite direction of the wind.”
After three competitions, both Hakkinen and Burke are in the top 25 on the World Cup Points list, ranking 18th and 23rd, respectively.
The US Biathlon Team, along with the other 34 teams on the Biathlon World Cup Circuit now head to Hochfilzen, Austria for competitions next Friday through Sunday. Hochfilzen and most of the alpine regions of central Europe are covered in more than a meter of snow, providing excellent conditions for the competitions.
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