Whistler Olympic Park – U.S. biathlete Andy Soule (Pearland, Texas) made history Saturday, winning the first U.S. medal of the 2010 Paralympic Games and the first-ever medal for the U.S. Paralympic Biathlon team on the opening day of competition. After placing third in the morning qualification race, Soule, a retired U.S. Army veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom, came from behind in the final race of the men’s sitting 2.4 km pursuit to win the bronze medal.
“After I passed [Sergey] Shilov, I just hammered it and didn’t look back,” said Soule. “It felt just incredible. I’ve had World Cup wins and World Cup podiums before, but there’s nothing quite like this – in this atmosphere, in front of the crowd here with everyone watching.”
Top-ranked Irek Zaripov of Russia won gold with a time of 9:51.00, while Ukraine’s Iurii Kostiuk crossed the finish line +47.9 for silver. Soule, who entered competition ranked fourth overall in International Paralympic Committee World Cup points, posted a final time of 10:53.01.
“It was a great race,” said US Paralympic Nordic Team Greg Rawlings. “He went into it with a great attitude and just started reeling people in. He missed one and went around the penalty loop, but didn’t stress it. He just kept going and cleaned it on the final. I think his brain switched right there and he figured out that he was in the game. He was able to pick people off one at a time until he was at the line.”
“Andy did an amazing job today, coming from behind in the last loop with one penalty. It was a spectacular performance and I couldn’t be more proud of him,” said US Biathlon Executive Director Max Cobb. “US Biathlon just got involved in the Paralympics about two and a half years ago. For us, this is validation of the athletes’ hard work, of the coaches’ work with them and the fact that the American team can win medals at the Paralympic level in biathlon.”
In the women’s standing 3 km pursuit, USA’s Kelly Underkofler (St. Paul, Minn.) finished +14:39.0 for ninth place overall. Russia’s Anna Burmistrova won gold with a time of 11:24.01.
“I’m definitely disappointed, but I skied my best and I shot pretty well,” said Underkofler. “I knew I had to ski fast and try not to get caught. Oleksandra [Kononova (UKR)] started 20 seconds behind me and passed me on the first loop, which is amazing. So I was bumped back a spot and that’s where I finished, which is not exactly where you want to be.”
Biathlon competition continues at Whistler Olympic Park on Wednesday with the men’s sitting 12.5 km, women’s sitting 10 km, men’s and women’s standing 12.5 km, and men’s and women’s visually impaired 12.5 km events. For complete schedule and results, visit www.vancouver2010.com.
Contact: Allison Frederick, U.S. Paralympic Press Officer, firstname.lastname@example.org, 778-938-8721.
Biathlon: Flash Quotes
Saturday, March 13, 2010
Andy Soule, Men’s Sitting 2.4 Km Pursuit
On the final race:
I didn’t know what was going on behind me. After I passed [Sergey] Shilov, I just hammered it and didn’t look back. It felt just incredible. I’ve had World Cup wins and World Cup podiums before, but there’s nothing quite like this, in this atmosphere in front of the crowd here with everyone watching. Our World Cups are small events and not much of a crowd. It’s a very high level of competition and the competition feels a lot like this as far as tight close racing.
On the morning qualification race:
It felt good. I had a little bobble on the first downhill of the second lap. I thought I was going to lose a pole, but I recovered it. The shooting felt great and I felt fast.
On his first Paralympic experience:
It’s an exciting atmosphere. It’s a lot bigger and louder than our World Cups. It’s exciting and I’m happy to be here.
On how he got into the sport:
I was injured five years ago and I was looking for something to keep me active. Things just kind of built from there as I got into the sport over the next four years. Ever since 2007 when I made the team, this has been the goal. This has been the event that I’ve been practicing for.
On his support back home:
They take good care of me. There are several programs that have been involved along the way, both down in Texas and up in Sun Valley, Idaho that help me out. I’ve got a lot of support. I first started to ski in an event sponsored by The Hartford. They’ve been great and supportive all the way through. My mom and dad, Robert and Debra, and my finance Lauren and her parents are here.
His message for people with disabilities:
Sports have been absolutely fantastic for me to keep me active and give me something positive to do. I’m fit and I’m happy. This is a dream come true. For anyone who’s facing a disability, life goes on and there’s plenty of living to do.
Max Cobb, US Biathlon Executive Director
On Soule’s bronze-medal performance:
Andy Soule made history today. No American has ever won a medal in the Paralympics for biathlon. Andy did an amazing job today, coming from behind in the last loop, even with one penalty. It was a spectacular performance and I couldn’t be more proud of him.
On what this means for the program:
US Biathlon just got involved in the Paralympics about two and a half years ago. For us, this is validation of the athletes’ hard work, of the coaches’ work with them and the fact that the American team can win medals at the Paralympic level in biathlon. On to Sochi!
Greg Rawlings, Head Coach US Paralympic Nordic Team
On Soule’s final race:
It was a great race. In the first race, he was top three. He went into the final with a great attitude. He just started reeling people in. He missed one and went around the penalty loop and didn’t stress it. He just kept going, cleaned it on the final and I think his brain switched right there and he figured out that he was in the game. He was able to pick people off one at a time until he was at the line.
On the first U.S. Paralympic Biathlon medal:
It’s the first medal of this Games and the first biathlon medal in the Olympics and Paralympics this time around, so it gets the mojo flowin’. I talked to the alpine staff a few moments ago and they had it on the Jumbo-tron and so they’re ready to rally to. Hopefully it spreads across the village and it becomes contagious.
Kelly Underkofler, Women’s Standing 3 Km Pursuit
On her final race:
I’m definitely disappointed, but I skied my best and I shot pretty well. My legs have been a mess for the last ten days. I knew I had to ski fast and try not to get caught. Oleksandra [Kononova (UKR)] started twenty seconds behind me and passed me on the first loop, which is amazing. So I was bumped back a spot and that’s where I finished, which is not exactly where you want to be.
On the conditions:
The venue is great so far today. The fans are amazing. My friends and family are here and it’s great. We had great weather during the race. It’s starting to snow a little harder now, but it was perfect—no winds and no bright sun to get in the way. More accumulation will slow down the course, but everybody’s got to ski the same conditions.
On the challenges of the course:
On this course, it’s actually the very first turn. It’s a super tight turnaround right at the top. It’s right at an angle and a little tricky. Other than that, the sprint course is a really great course and a lot of fun.
On U.S. teammate Andy Soule’s bronze medal:
He skied so well today – shot well and skied well. It’s almost more fun for him, because they’ve got different disability classes within his race. In my class, we’re all basically one arm so there’s not that factor involved. So to have a couple of guys in front of him that he knew he could faster than, is super exciting. It’s the first medal for the U.S., so it’s huge. It’s a big day.