Oslo, Norway March 13. Jay Hakkinen (Kasilof, AK) and Tim Burke (Paul Smiths, NY) finished just 2.6 seconds and two places apart in the 10K Sprint here this afternoon.
The close proximity of the two US Biathletes is an indicator of how tightly packed the Men’s field was in this final Sprint of the World Cup season. Emile Hegle Svendsen picked up another victory, in 25:19.9, with no penalties confirming him as the sensation of the last month. Michael Roesch of Germany, also shooting clean took second, 24.5 seconds back, with Freidrich Pinter of Austria 31.1 back in third. From that point, it gets amazingly tight. Michael Greis grabbed the final podium position (8th place), 1:24 behind Svendsen.
This puts Hakkinen in 43rd with two penalties, 2:21.9 back, just 57.9 seconds from the top eight and Burke, with four penalties, 2:24.5 back, only one minute for the top eight. There were 37 finishers in the minute between Greis and Burke, demonstrating how closely matched the top biathletes are. Lowell Bailey, after a bout with food poisoning last week finished 62nd, with three penalties, 2:47.3 back.
Both the athletes and organizers were thrilled that the competitions actually occurred today. Oslo has experienced spring-like conditions all week, with heavy rain on Monday and Tuesday, combined with temperatures well above freezing. The warm temperatures are normal for this time of year, but the excessive rain caused big problems. The most obvious was the deteriorating snow conditions, turning the tracks into slush with ice well below the surface. The second issue was the buildup of water in the stadium and shooting range. The Holmenkollen stadium is built into the side of a mountain (solid rock), with a poor drainage system. Thus, the rain built up on top of the snow, which became ice and could not drain away naturally. The coaches box and whole range area was covered with large puddles alternating with patches of wet sloppy snow. On Wednesday, Norbert Baier, Chairman of the IBU Technical Committee commented, “"It could hardly be more difficult. We are trying to put in drainages in the stadium to get the water out.”
At the same time, Austria’s Christoph Sumann: "I’ve never seen anything like it. I have no idea how competitions could be possible here tomorrow, especially with the women running before us in the Sprint that means a few hundred pairs of skis on the same course that we are supposed to use later. It’s crazy.”
Surprisingly, after adding 400 tractor loads of snow, about 20 metric tons and a long night shift by volunteers, the stadium was ready for today’s competitions. The organizers did cut it close as the work ended at 4 AM this morning.
After today’s competitions, Burke commented, “The organizers did a really good job, considering the stadium looked more like a swimming pool than a biathlon stadium just yesterday. The tracks were very skiable today, but soft and slow. We did not have any more rain, but it is very warm. As for my race, I had the 11th fastest ski time, which is good enough to be much higher than 45th, but my shooting was not there. I am really disappointed. Now I am fully focused on the Pursuit on Saturday.”
In the Women’s 7.5K Sprint, Russian Svetlana Sleptsova claimed victory over hometown favorite Tora Berger 21:47.6 to 21:55. Sleptsova had one penalty while Berger and third place Kati Wilhelm shot clean. Wilhelm was 9.9 seconds back. Caitlin Compton (Minneapolis, MN) with nine penalties finished 79th, 5:41.8 back.
Even though Magdalena Neuner finished seventh today, she took control of the Overall World Cup standings, with a 773 to 755 point lead over teammate Andréa Henkel. Sandrine Bailly of France slipped to third with 751 points while Wilhelm is out of contention in fourth with 666.On Friday, organizers will work further on the stadium and tracks to prepare for the final World Cup competitions of the season on Saturday and Sunday. Hakkinen and Burke will be the only US competitors in Saturday’s 12.5K Pursuit.