With the World Cup underway in Germany’s Oberhof the US Biathlon Team gathered yesterday in the East German village of Altenberg to compete in the Olympic Trials Sprint race.
“We had perfect conditions both overall and on the track. The organizers prepared everything for us so we could have our trials despite the ongoing training for the IBU-Cup”, team leader Bernd Eisenbichler stated. “Everyone had the same conditions which is really important in a decisive race like that!”
Victory for Bailey and Studebaker
In the first competition of the three Olympic qualifying races this week Lowell Bailey showed his full strength again after a rough time in December. “I’ve gone through three different kinds of sicknesses this winter so I am really glad to be out of that time. I felt good again and ready to go”, Bailey stated. Despite two misses he still managed to finish first in the Olympic Trials sprint race on Thursday, with Zach Hall just finishing nine seconds behind him. Hall showed a clean shooting today but couldn’t beat Bailey on the course. Leif Nordgren came in on third place 23 seconds behind Hall.
“What really impressed both the coaches and me was the strong shooting of most of the athletes. Given the fact that those are really important races for them they pulled it together just fine. The pressure must have been quite high but nevertheless we saw a lot of clean shootings today”, Eisenbichler analyzed later the day.
In the women’s race Sara Studebaker finished first with one penalty. Laura Spector who worked a lot on her shooting over the whole summer proved that it was worth the hours of work and finished just behind Studebaker with a clean shooting. Tracy Barnes came in third, leaving twin sister Lanny just behind her.
See the result of the trials.
Two more races to come
The first round of the Olympic Trials series lays behind the athletes but there’s still more to come. While today’s race was a US-only competition, all seven men and women will start in the weekend’s IBU-Cup races in Altenberg. “The best athletes from today get to choose their start group but besides that everyone will have the same circumstances: A start in a strong international field. I am excited to see how the team will do.”
After the three races the coaches will meet with the International Competition Committee of the USBA to decide on the nominations for Vancouver. The proposal will then be sent to the USOC for final approval and the official nomination of the biathlon team for the Olympic Winter Games.
Sprint Competitions in Oberhof to Start on Friday
The pre-qualified athletes staying in Oberhof will start their competitions today with the women’s sprint. “I think, Haley Johnson is well prepared for tomorrow’s task. I trained with her in Antholz, Italy, over New Year’s and we worked a lot on her skiing technique. My feeling was that she took yet another step forward but we will see how much that extra time paid of after the race tomorrow”, coach Armin Auchentaller stated.
Saturday will be a historic moment for Biathlon in the US as Tim Burke will start in the sprint race with the yellow bib of the World Cup leader. A fact that draws a lot of attention even from the German media. But Eisenbichler knows that there have to be borders: “Although we had quite a great time in December with Tim wearing the yellow bib we are back in reality. Everyone has to stay focused and on top of their game. We can’t rest just because an American is the World Cup leader”.
Aside from all the media attention Burke is ready to hit the track: “I feel good and I can’t wait to start here!” Jay Hakkinen and Jeremy Teela will join him in the men’s sprint race on Saturday. “I think they are just as well prepared as Tim”, Auchentaller explains. “I worked with Teela on his shooting technique from December 27th to January 5th so I’m anxious to see if that pays off. Hakkinen did some normal biathlon training but he stayed in the altitude in Antholz until today to get some more advantage out of it!”
So the game really is back on zero. The next days will show if the US team can continue the success shown in December.