Ostersund, Sweden, February 16. The US Relay Team finished 15th, 5:38.5 behind the Gold Medal winning team from Russia in the 4 X 7.5K Relay at the Biathlon World Championships today.
The US had a strong start from leadoff leg Lowell Bailey (Lake Placid, NY). Bailey cruised the first 2.5K in the middle of the pack of 23 teams. In the shooting range, he used only one spare round to clean prone, leaving just 15.9 seconds off the lead. In prone, he was just as effective, again using one spare round. Bailey left the shooting range in 10th position, 31.9 seconds back. He attacked the course and gained three places by the exchange with Jay Hakkinen. At the tag, the US was in seventh position, 39.6 seconds out of first.
Bailey was pleased but subdued after his leg, “I am happy with my leg. It was solid. I have not been happy with my results her so far. The relay is something different. For the last two days, I have really focused on it. It was good to come back on those guys and move up to seventh position.”
As Bailey tagged Hakkinen, the first of several mishaps occurred for the US team that defined the day. During the exchange, Bailey accidentally broke one of Hakkinen’s ski poles, which Bailey quickly exchanged for one of his own. Nevertheless, the two use different size poles and Bailey frantically called to the US coaches to get another pole for Hakkinen. “I think the officials thought I was a bit crazy waving and trying to get the coach’s attention,” he recalled. The staff successfully replaced the Alaskan’s pole out on the tracks.
Despite the mishap, Hakkinen shot clean in prone, holding on to seventh position, 43.5 seconds back. In the standing stage, everything changed fast. Hakkinen, on point seven, shot very fast, missing four of the five targets. He used all three spare rounds, picking up two penalties. By the time he was back on the tracks, he was in 14th position. He tagged Tim Burke (Paul Smiths, NY) in the same place, 2:04.8 back.
Burke skied well in the first 2.5K, but needed all three spare rounds in prone and had one penalty, dropping the US down to 16th position. The result was the same in standing, three spares, and a penalty. When Burke tagged Jeremy Teela (Anchorage, AK), the US was back in 15th position.
Teela, who struggled in January, had a solid effort today just as he had in the 20K Individual. He needed just one spare round in each stage to shoot clean, but the US team remained in 15th position. Teela fought hard in the final loop, bringing the US home in 15th place, with 4 penalties and 13 spare rounds, 3.6 seconds behind 14th place Finland. Teela said, “I did what I could with where the position I was in. I tried to catch Latvia and Finland in the final loop, but they got away from me towards the end.”
Coach Per Nilsson commented on the team’s performance today, “We had a good chance. Lowell had a super leg, 39 seconds back. Then, with the penalties, we lost it. You have no room for mistakes and especially four penalties in the relay. We did not take advantage of the opportunity we had today. Still we have the potential to be among the top teams, just not today.”
The winning Russian team led virtually from the start. All week long, both the Russian men and women have literally been sharpshooters on the range. Today was no different, as they needed five spare rounds to win in 1:22:00.7. The Norwegian team with Ole Einar Björndalen in the anchor spot had no chance, even though they used just two more spares than the Russians did. They finished 49.7 seconds back, in the Silver medal position. As expected by many, Germany took Bronze, 1:42.9 back. The Germans won the medal with Michael Greis’ superb skiing. He left the shooting range, about 9 second behind Christoph Sumann of Austria, with Greis edging his rival by four-tenths of a second at the finish.
The Biathlon World Championships end on Sunday with the Men’s 15K Mass Start and the Women’s 4 X 6K Relay. Burke is the only US qualifier for the Mass Start.
In the Women’s Relay competition, Tracy Barnes (Durango, CO) is the leadoff leg, followed by her sister, Lanny. Haley Johnson (Lake Placid, NY) is the third leg, with Caitlin Compton (Minneapolis, MN) in the anchor spot.