Coming off the high of a top-five in Sochi, Russia, last weekend, U.S. Biathlon’s Tim Burke continued the momentum on Friday in Khanty-Mansiysk with a ninth-place finish in the 10 k sprint, the third-to-last race of the World Cup season. He recovered from a missed target in the prone stage to clean the rest of his shots and finish 1:03.7 behind Martin Fourcade’s (FRA) top time.
Lowell Bailey also had a strong finish in 11th place, just two seconds behind Burke, with perfect shooting. Between the two Americans, Khanty was the first time they’ve both placed at or near the top-10 in the same race. It was almost an actual top-10 for Bailey, but a time allowance awarded to Norway’s Vetle Sjastad Christiansen after a mid-race target snafu later bumped the American down a place on the final results.
For both athletes, Friday was a good, almost-great day.
“I am always happy with a top-ten result but of course it would have been great to hit one more target!” Burke said. “But this is biathlon.”
Given the timing of his single error, however, Burke was happy to have rebounded as quickly as he did from missing his first shot on the range. Such a mistake can cause athletes to lose focus for the remaining targets, but Burke stayed calm and made sure it was his only error.
“It was a tough start for me on the shooting range because I missed my first shot,” Burke said. “I am happy with how I was able to put that out of mind quickly and just focus on the next nine shots.”
Burke skied the seventh-fastest middle lap to move himself from 20th place after the prone stage to third before his second time on the range. Conditions were frigid and slow on the course, but Burke said the American technicians hit the mark in the wax department while other teams struggled.
“The conditions today were just like they have been here all week with really slow, cold snow,” he said. “I think you could see on the results that some of the bigger teams really missed the wax today. We have a smaller group of technicians here this week, but our guys nailed it.”
Khanty is the last weekend on the World Cup calendar, and before he leaves Russia Burke wants to reach the top-three again. It could happen with the way he’s been skiing, but within the ultra-competitive men’s field the achievement will require perfect shooting.
“I would really like to end the season with another podium but there are many other guys with that same goal,” Burke said. “I feel like I still have the shape to make that happen so it will come down to shooting. “
This was exactly Bailey’s assessment, too: “Anything less [than a clean race] and it is hard to get close to the top 15.”
Bailey wasn’t able to shoot cleanly in Sochi and consequently didn’t place higher than 30th, but in Khanty he hit all ten targets and produced one of his best results all season, after his seventh-place finish in Antholz and tenth in Hochfilzen.
“I’m happy with the result and looking forward to tomorrow’s pursuit,” Bailey said in an email.
As the second starter on Friday, Bailey was stuck with the disadvantage of receiving little in the way of meaningful feedback on the course, so “I just tried to focus on my own race and do the best I could,” he said.
The course was one that suited him. “I like this course a lot and I think it has all the elements of a great course — gradual terrain, steep climbs, lots of transitions.”.
Though he felt the snow slowing he skis down, Bailey told himself that everyone else had to deal with the same circumstances. He posted the 40th-fastest course time on the first lap, and with a closing loop that was nine seconds faster than his first he moved into tenth overall in the almost-final standings, which ultimately became an 11th place. Vetle Sjastad Christiansen (NOR) experienced some confusion on the range for the standing stage when another athlete’s wayward bullet hit one of his own targets. Officials cut 52 seconds off Christiansen’s result to account for the time it took to reset the targets, which bumped Bailey from 10th to 11th.
While Burke and Bailey put together one of their best collective days of theseason, their teammate, Russell Currier, had the best race of his winter in 43rd, 2:11.7 back from the winning time. Cleaning shooting was what made the difference for the 25-year-old on Friday.
“Long story short: The hits were good. As good as they can be,” Currier said. “Skiing was okay. About average, which I consider to be okay at best this year, but the time spent in the range was awful.”
For both his prone and standing stages Currier’s range time ranked in the 90s out of 97 finishers. The time he spent in the prone position was 29 seconds more than the fastest athlete through the range.
“The time it took me to get on the mat and take the five shots was terrible,” Currier said. “The total time cost me almost more than the time it would have taken to ski two penalty loops! This has always been my week point. It’s a good thing those targets went down.
Currier’s clean shooting record on Friday is his best one of the season.
“It may have come down to [this] series of races, but I managed to muster up at least one clean race this season!” he said. “I remember looking back at target 21 after standing just to confirm that it was another clean stage.”
After Currier, Leif Nordgren finished 53rd for the U.S. with three errors, 2:30.4 back.
The Khanty-Mansiysk World Cup continues for the men on Saturday with a 12.5 k pursuit.