It for sure was a historic moment when the race director of the IBU, Franz Berger, put the yellow bib of the overall World Cup leader around Tim Burke’s neck. For the first time ever an American athlete got to be the current best biathlete in the world.
After the victory ceremony the team headed towards the hotel to pack things up for Christmas break. But the historic result will yet take a couple of more days to sink in, as it showed in a talk with Burke, High Performance Director Bernd Eisenbichler, Head Coach Per Nilsson and USBA Executive Director Max Cobb.
Tim, how would you describe your current state of mind?
Happy and tired. I am for sure incredibly excited but I think it hasn’t really hit me yet. That is a huge accomplishment not only just of me but of the whole group. I have to say thanks to everyone who helped make that moment possible. Also the ‘small’ ones behind the scene like the wax techs who supplied me with incredible skis that whole season. In these times it’s crucial that you have competitive skis. Or our sports psychologist Ross Flowers who helped me a lot to improve my mental strength on the shooting range.
Did you know on that important last loop what was going on?
Yeah, I was informed about everything. Actually I just saw yellow after my last shooting and while I was in the penalty loop I already looked where Fourcade was. With all my team members being on the course I got the times all along the way and I was basically flying over the track because they yelled so loudly. I can’t wait for Oberhof to start in yellow there. If it would be my decision I’d want to start there right away.
You come a long way since starting biathlon including hip surgery and mono…
That’s true it wasn’t at all an easy way for me. But I think those down times were important as well for taking step by step forward to where I am now. I had a major hip surgery in 2002 and I wasn’t sure if I would continue to be a biathlete after that and the mono also took me out the whole 2004 season.
Could you give us some more details on those two struggles?
In 2002 I had major problems with my hip. I couldn’t train without pain. No running, no rollerskiing, just some biking sometimes. It was a constant pain and I visited a lot of specialists but no one could figure out what it was until I found one doctor down in Nashville, Tennessee who diagnosed a non-common hip problem. They just started with a new procedure there that could help me but he wasn’t sure if I’d be able to continue as a professional athlete. That was such a hard time for me! And then the mono started coming into the season of 2004 which again resulted in one season out.
Since then you continuously moved up in the result lists. How would you explain that?
I guess the biggest factor there is our coach Per Nilsson. Before Per came into the team I didn’t score a single world cup point. The first season with him I already ranked 25th in the overall world cup. That explains a lot.
How did your training change under Per’s guidance?
Until I met him I thought I trained really hard. But getting to know him I also learned what hard training really looks like. He increased the quality and quantity and has very good eyes for the technique in skiing and shooting. When I look at videos from four years ago now I can really see a noticeable difference.
Per, how is your impression about Tim’s career until today?
Per Nilsson: It was not an easy way to make it up here. We had our first camp together in July 2006 and I figured really fast that Tim did not just want to give 100% but 120% and his wish to explore new frontiers and to learn new things. His long term dedication to that new training philosophy made him as good as he is now.
Tim, how would you describe that new training philosophy?
One can’t really describe it or the difference to others. But it is for sure a European style. Most of the team comes from different parts of Europe and apparently that suits me really well. Not only me but the whole team I guess. I am sure that I am surrounded by the best team there is and compared to other teams we have no disadvantages to get that help from all over the world. On the contrary: It made us be where we are now.
You grew up in Lake Placid, NY. Does that give you a special connection towards the Olympic spirit?
Sure it does because wherever you go or wherever you look around you see Olympic history in Lake Placid. Everything reminds me of those games and like for any other athlete the Games get to be your biggest dream.
Bernd, you are in the team for many years now. Did you ever think something like that would be possible?
Bernd Eisenbichler: I saw the progress over the years and I saw those guys reaching out to a world class level. That moment is great for the whole team that worked together over all these years. To have the yellow bib after three incredibly hard world cup weeks is just amazing. Since I am German it will make me really proud to see Tim start in yellow in January in Oberhof.
Max, how did the USBA managed to put together such a competitive team over the years?
Max Cobb: I think two factors were really important for that. We got TD Banknorth as a sponsor and they believed in us and our vision. They met the athletes 2004 in Fort Kent, Maine during the biathlon World Cup and got inspired. And that was really visionary, because back then the team ranked 15th or 17th in the Nation Cup and we didn’t score a podium for a decade. The 2nd factor is the support of the USOC. They saw the potential for that sport after Torino 2006 and supported us with funding and special services. The best team can’t survive without the necessary support so having that support really helped us to form the team background we needed for the athletes.
There won’t be a big celebration due to the fact that the team members all drove back from Slovenia yesterday heading back home or for a short break. Tim will spend Christmas with his German biathlete girlfriend Andrea Henkel in Oberhof. “This year is too important to have all that extra traveling. Instead of heading home I will use the conditions in Oberhof to prepare for the World Cup there and to celebrate Christmas with Andrea”, Burke explains.
To have a white Christmas is an amazing fact by itself. But to celebrate a yellow one might be even nicer….