Cesana San Sicario , Italy , February 18. Tim Burke (Paul Smiths, NY) and Rachel Steer (Anchorage, AK) finished 38th and 39th, in today’s Men’s and Women’s Olympic Pursuit competitions. | Results
Lack of natural snow at San Sicario has been a part of these Olympic Winter Games since they started one week ago. Over the past 24 hours, and especially in the time just prior to the start of the Women’s 10K Pursuit, those conditions changed, as a strong moist front dropped more than 6 inches of new snow on the venue. Unfortunately, for Rachel Steer (Anchorage, AK), much of it fell from the sky just prior to, and during the women’s 10K Pursuit competition. Steer started at position 35 and hoped to move up today.
With the clouds dumping snow, she started the competition less than two minutes off the lead. Steer has struggled with prone shooting all season, but today cleaned both prone stages with deliberate, accurate shooting. Even though many of the women were suffering on the shooting range, she was doing well. Even with this clean shooting, she did not move much during either stage, staying between 33rd and 37th position. Steer would gain a position or two on the shooting range, but slipped back in the ever deepening snow.
Steer’s standing shooting has been better than her prone all season. Today, the standing stages proved her undoing. She missed a single target in each of the two stages, giving her just two penalties on the day. Had her skiing been going better, these would have been negligible errors. Those penalties put her on the penalty loop and she lost more ground to the faster skiers.
On the final 2K loop, the sun actually peeked through the clouds and the snow stopped. It was too late, as Steer finished 39th, 6:49.2 behind German Kati Wilhelm, who won another Gold Medal to go with the one she won at Salt Lake in 2002. Wilhelm had a single penalty today, and cruised home waving a German flag in 36:43.6. She finished with a bulging margin of victory, 1:13.6 over teammate Martina Glagow. Glagow with two penalties, finished 7.8 seconds ahead of Russian Albina Akhatova, with one penalty.
The two US Men in the 12.5K Pursuit, Burke and Lowell Bailey (Lake Placid, NY) started just two hours after Steer’s competition. Those two hours could have been two days as conditions were markedly different. The snow stopped and the brilliant blue sky once again outlined the now snow covered peaks of the Italian Alps. Even though the snow had stopped, the tracks were not nearly as fast as during the previous competitions, especially after they were regroomed just prior to the men’s start. This is something that rarely happens in World Cup Biathlon and definitely put the wax teams into panic mode.
Under those conditions, Burke and Bailey set out on their 5 loop journey. Burke shot clean in the first prone stage and rapidly moved up to 26th position. In the second prone, he missed two shots and fell out of the top 30. he followed this with two more miscues in the first standing stage. That put Burke out of the top 40. A clean final stage moved him back to 38th place, 3:57.4 behind Gold Medalist Vincent Defrasne of France. Defrasne edged Ole Einar Björndalen by 2.7 seconds. The Frenchman had two penalties to Björndalen’s three. Third went to the Olympic sprint Champion, Sven Fischer of Germany, with four penalties, 15.6 seconds back.
Burke was disappointed at the finish. “Four penalties should have put me in a position to move up. But I did not feel that good skiing.”
Burke’s good friend Lowell Bailey also had a tough day. He had three prone penalties in the first stage and fell near the end of the 60-man field. In the second prone, he lost valuable time as his first shot did not chamber and then the whole magazine fell out of the rifle. He proceeded to have only one penalty in that stage and each of the two standing stages. He finished the day with a thrilling sprint in the stadium to capture 50th place. 6:11.1 back, over Miroslav Matiasko of Slovakia.
Despite the lack of success in the Pursuit competitions, there was good news for the US Olympic Biathlon Team. Jay Hakkinen qualified for the first Mass Start competition in Olympic history. Only the top 30 competitors make this field, through a formula of Olympic medalists, World Cup Points scored during the Games, and current World Cup Standings. Hakkinen will wear bib number 30 in next Saturday’s competition.
Upon hearing that he made the field, Hakkinen was elated but stunned, commenting, “It is like winning the wild card and getting to the Super Bowl! Actually, making the field is a bit of a shock. I am really excited to have a second chance. At this stage of the Olympics, I could not have asked for anything better.”
Despite the tough day in the San Sicario stadium today for the US Olympic Biathlon Team, there will be more opportunities to for success, with next Saturday expected to be a big red letter day for the US. The dream of an Olympic medal is still alive.
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.