Hochfilzen, Austria, December 5. One year ago, the Biathlon World Cup season started in Ostersund, Sweden under minimal snow conditions, then coming here where there was a ribbon of trucked-in glacier snow winding through green fields. This year, the weather pattern is different. Finland had decent snow cover and cold temperatures last week, while here in the Austrian Tirol, it seems like mid-January with snow piled everywhere and pine trees drooping from the heavy wet snowfall of the past 24 hours.
Everyone is happy to be at this venue, which has become one of the best mid-sized facilities on the World Cup circuit. Last week was dark and gray from “dawn” to “dusk”. Yet today with light snow falling, the skies are bright and the mood is equally bright on hopes for good results run high.
After a long day of travel on Monday, when most teams encountered delays and cancelled flights out of Helsinki, the US team is now in preparation for this second week of competition. On Tuesday, training was limited to skiing with every athlete commenting how slow the tracks were as wet snow fell for most of the day.
Today as the US men were put through an intensity workout by US Coach Per Nilsson, Tim Burke commented, “It is fast out there now, getting a glaze on the top (from a light rain/snow mix). In fact, it is so fast it is a bit scary in places.”
This week’s competitions and the tracks here suit the strengths of the US Biathlon Team, with a Sprint/Pursuit format on Friday and Saturday, followed by a Relay on Sunday. Accordingly, Nilsson planned a training session to prepare the team for the three competitions.
“This is a better place for us than Kontiolahti,” he explained. “Kontiolahti had the constant up and down with the big climb just before the range. Here, there are more transitions and opportunities to build up speed, on both the lower meadow and on the other side of the valley. The athletes are doing some harder work on both parts of the course, so they will have a better feel during the races.”
Going into the Sprints on Friday, the US has two men, Jay Hakkinen (Kasilof, AK) and Tim Burke (Paul Smiths, NY) ranked in the top 25 on the World Cup Points list, at 18th and 23rd respectively. Both performed well in the Sprint last week, with Burke 12th and Hakkinen 22nd (as well as ninth in the Individual). These two pair with Lowell Bailey (Lake Placid, NY) and Jeremy Teela (Anchorage, AK) to form the US Men’s Relay Team that makes its season debut Sunday morning. Last year, this quartet placed 7th in the Relay at the Ruhpolding (Germany) World Cup, and 9th in the Biathlon World Championships. After a good summer and fall of preparation, the team hopes to move higher in the results this year, challenging powers like Germany and Sweden.
In its seventh place performance at Ruhpolding last year, the team was a mere 2:27.4 out of first place, in a competition that takes almost one and a half hours. At the time, Nilsson commented what it would take, for the team to move into the upper echelons of the event.
“If you look at the 13 extra rounds (but no penalties) and compare to Sweden and Austria, fourth and fifth, with four (plus one penalty), and six extra rounds, we were right with them. Each extra round takes 8-10 seconds, so do the math. Our boys can ski with any of them; the difference is on the shooting range. We will get better.” The prognosis remains the same, with Sunday being the first test of the season for the US Relay Team.
In the meantime, the US men and women will continue to prepare in the real winter conditions (with even some sun expected later in the week) here in Hochfilzen. The green grass of last December is a distant memory.
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