Antholz, Italy, February 3. Tim Burke (Paul Smiths, NY) finished 35th in today’s World Championship 10K Sprint, leading the US Biathlon Team, which qualified all four men and three women for the Championship Pursuit competitions on Sunday.
Burke, after an amazing three competitions (13th, 11th, and 5th places) 2 weeks in Pokljuka, Slovenia, hit a bump in his outstanding season today, missing one target in both prone and three more in standing, for the first time this season. The day, characterized by a strong wind, saw an extraordinary number of penalties. Only 14 of the top 40 finishers had less than two penalties.
As the top US finisher, Burke finished 1:57.8 behind Ole Einar Bjorndalen, who had only one penalty, cruising to a finish time of 26:18.8. Bjorndalen was almost nipped by the hard charging Czech athlete, Michal Slesinger, who shot clean, finishing just 4.8 seconds back .Third place was also a surprise as Andriy Deryzemlya of Ukraine, also shooting clean, was 25.8 seconds behind the dominant Norwegian. Bjorndalen commented, â€œToday was the best day for me in the last weeks. I was very satisfied with my race. It was important to have a good race to start the championships. Many times I have a good race and do not win.â€
On his 25th birthday, Burke drew bib number 1. After the luck of being the first starter, he was bitterly disappointed at the finish, commenting, â€œThis is not exactly the birthday present I wanted.â€ Later, the immediate disappointment had worn off as he added, â€œI will say one thing first: everyone better watch out tomorrow (in the Pursuit).â€
â€œI really was not nervous at the start or on the first loop. Maybe there was a bit in prone, but it was not major. In standing, I think I may have misjudged the approach. It is very hard. I hit the first standing shot, then missed the second, reset my position and then lost my cadence. The final shot was simply bad. The positive thing is that I skied well. We all had really fast skis today.
I intend to come out with a much better race tomorrow.â€
At the other end of the start list was Jay Hakkinen (Kasilof, AK), who was 103rd of 105 starters. This position gave the Alaskan a virtual free run of the tracks, and plenty of television time, as coverage continues until everyone finishes and the flower ceremony occurs. Hakkinen had two prone penalties and was in the middle of the field coming to the standing stage. He missed only one shot and moved up through the standings, to finish 38th, 2:10.6 back.
Twenty-two seconds and eight places (46th) behind Hakkinen was fellow Alaskan Jeremy Teela (Anchorage). Teela, like Burke had four penalties. Lowell Bailey (Lake Placid, NY) also had four penalties, finishing 48th, 2:45.3 back.
Coach Mikael Lofgren commented on tough day his men’s team encountered. â€œWe had too many penalties. It may have been a bit of nerves for Tim, but there were many bad shots by all of the guys. The wind was about the same during zero as it was during the race, so that should have not been a problem. We will come back tomorrow and try again.â€
For the US women in the afternoon’s 7.5K Championship Sprint, it was their best day of the season. Three of the four women qualified for the Pursuit, led by Lanny and Tracy Barnes (Durango, CO) in 40th and 41st places, while Sarah Konrad (Laramie, WY) trailed in 54th place. The Barnes twins, both with a single penalty, finished virtually together less than two seconds apart.
19-year-old Magdalena Neuner of Germany won the women’s competition in 22:46.9, with two penalties, edging Olympic Gold Medalist Anna Carin Olofsson of Sweden, also with two penalties, by 2.3 seconds. Third went to Natalia Guseva of Russia, with one penalty, 19.6 seconds back.
Tracy Barnes, who finished 2:20.7 back compared to Lanny’s 2:18.6 back, was smiling at the finish, as she discussed her best day of the year. â€œI think my good races at the Europa Cup two weeks ago (two 10th place finishes) helped a lot. I was feeling a bit intimidated in some of the World Cups before then. However, at Forni Avoltri, I was more aggressive and it carried over in this race. I finally felt comfortable on the shooting range today. It was a day when I did not feel the best, but somehow, the race came together.â€ Lanny, nauseous during the second and third loops, stopped three times in the final 2.5K, struggling to finish 2.1 seconds ahead of Tracy.
Sarah Konrad, in 54th place, had four penalties, finishing 2:51.6 back, making the Pursuit field.
Carolyn Treacy Bramante (Duluth, MN) finished 83rd, with five penalties, 6:14.2 back. Bramante cross-fired in standing and accordingly had to do five penalty loops.
Even the US team failed to score any World Cup Points, this first day of the 2007 Biathlon World Championships was a collective success. All of the men made the Pursuit field for the first time this year, while three women did the same, also for the first time this year.
Live coverage and commentary of every competition at the Biathlon World Championships is available at the World Championships Sports Network website, WCSN.com.