Cesana San Sicario, Italy, February 11. Jay Hakkinen (Kasilof, AK) stamped his name in US Olympic History one more time as he finished 10th today in the 20K Individual competition, erasing his previous US best of 13th at the 2002 Salt Lake Olympic Winter Games.
Hakkinen, with three penalties, finished 1:47.9 behind Michael Greis of Germany, who toured the grueling tracks at San Sicario in 54:23. Greis had one penalty on a day when only 6th place finisher Robert Julien of France shot clean.
This first day of competition in biathlon at the 2006 Olympic Winter Games looked exactly like every other day this past week; crystal clear with brilliant blue skies, framing the surrounding jagged mountain peaks. The wind was negligible during zero but picked up from both the right and left, making shooting prone generally tricky. This wind definitely caught Hakkinen off guard in the first prone stage, where he missed two shots. This inauspicious start left the US staff very concerned. Hakkinen brightened the mood when he shot fast and clean in the first standing stage.
After leaving the shooting range, Coach Algis Shalna told the staff on the tracks to give Hakkinen a shooting correction before the next prone stage. With the adjustment made, he dropped four targets rapidly, but missed one with a split bullet. That third one minute penalty was the difference between Hakkinen and a place on the podium, as Bronze medalist Halvard Hanevold of Norway finished just 39 seconds ahead of the US biathlete.
“My shooting today was he difference between the podium and 10th place,” Hakkinen commented at the finish, “But I know it is there and we have the Sprint on Tuesday.”
The final stage for Hakkinen was clean. “Jay has great confidence in his standing shooting right now,” Coach Algis Shalna added. On the prone misses, Shalna added, “There is a lot of personal disappointment, knowing that the one split bullet was the difference between being on the podium and not. But this result should show the world and the people who support us that we can compete with the best in the world. It is a clear message.”
Coming into the final standing stage, Coach James Upham said that Hakkinen was in 11th position, but screamed into the radio as he left the final stage, “Hakkinen is in fourth position—28 seconds out—get him going! He can kill those hills.” Hakkinen continued to push to the finish, crossing in 56:10.9.
Gasping for breath, he gasped, “Everything on the course was good! The skis were super; I felt great. I just missed those three shots.”
Saying his skiing was good was an understatement, as Hakkinen had the second fastest ski time of the day to the legendary Ole Einar Björndalen of Norway who took the Silver Medal today. Björndalen’s ski time was 52:39 compared to Hakkinen’s 53:10.9.
Despite not getting the medal that he dearly wants, Hakkinen was optimistic and happy, but unsatisfied. “I am happy to get another US Best, but I came here for the medal. This is another step. I have the bar set high and I know I can win a medal.” His next opportunity will come in Tuesday’s 10K Sprint. In last February’s World Cup at San Sicario, Hakkinen placed 18th in the Sprint.
With all of the excitement over Hakkinen and a late start at number 79, Lowell Bailey’s 27th place was almost lost in the shuffle. Bailey (Lake Placid, NY) matched Hakkinen with three penalties; two in the first prone and another in the first standing stage. Bailey crossed the finish line looking like he had just had been hit by a large truck, his face etched with effort. He finished 4:22.1 behind Greis. “I just worked into it,” he commented. “But on that last loop, I was really pushing. James (Upham) said I was 28th, but it just did not register at the time. I am almost speechless. This did not exceed my expectations, but is a bit of a surprise. I have been working on my standing shooting a lot over the last couple of weeks and that really helped today.
Bailey, a first time Olympian who just returned to biathlon after three years at the University of Vermont, had a personal best today. His previous best finish at the World Cup or Olympic level was 29th in the 12.5K Pursuit competition in Ostersund, Sweden last December.
WCAP athlete Jeremy Teela (Anchorage, AK) was hoping for a repeat of his 14th place in the Individual at Salt Lake four years ago, but finished 51st today. Teela had five penalties, finishing 6:40.3 back. He had well on his way to a good result this afternoon, until the final standing stage. “My legs were shaking badly. I generally did not feel too good today, so my skiing was not the best either.” Teela missed three targets in the final stage, dropping him through the standings.
Tim Burke (Paul Smiths, NY), was a few notches behind Teela in 58th. Burke, a generally steady shot, had seven penalties today, 7:32 behind Greis. Burke was dissatisfied at the finish, commenting, “I do not know what happened, all of those shots looked perfect. My skiing was great, but the shooting was not there. But I feel confident about the Sprint.”
Burke commented on Hakkinen’s all-time US Olympic best, “It is great for Jay and our team. We all feed off of his success. Results like that give us confidence.”
Confidence is the word of the day for the US Olympic Biathlon team. Despite a couple of bumps in the road, each athlete is looking forward to Tuesday’s 10K Sprint with anticipation. Hakkinen proved that a biathlon medal for the USA is not an impossible dream. Asked what he needs to do between now and Tuesday to prepare, he replied, “Just rest. This was a tough race today. All of the work has been done, so I will just rest (which for Hakkinen means a lot of sleeping) and prepare mentally for the Sprint.”
The United States Biathlon Association is the National Governing Body for the sport of Biathlon in the United States as recognized by the United States Olympic Committee and the International Biathlon Union. The US Biathlon Association supports the US Biathlon Team and development of the sport on all levels within the United States.
2006 Torino Olypmics Biathlon Results:
Sun Feb 11: Men's 20 km Individual