Antholz, Italy, February 7. Tim Burke (Paul Smiths, NY) placed seventh in the Men’s 20K Individual competition here, giving him the second best ever US Biathlon result in the Biathlon World Championships.
Burke now ranks second only to Josh Thompson, who won a Silver medal in the same event in the 1987 Biathlon World Championships in Lake Placid, New York. Ironically, Burke is a native of nearby Paul Smiths and trains there in the off-season. Asked how it feels to have a place in biathlon history at the age of 25, Burke had a one-word answer, â€œNice.â€
Today’s competition for Burke was near perfect. He shot 90% missing just two of the twenty shots he fired. The two penalties, both in the standing stage (worth one minute each) were within a millimeter of hitting the mark. Burke finished 1:27.6 behind Raphael Poiree of France, who was perfect on the shooting range, winning in 56:14.6. Second went to Olympic Gold medalist Michael Greis of Germany, with two penalties, 26.8 seconds back, while Michal Slesinger of Czech Republic won the bronze medal to go with his silver medal from Sunday’s Pursuit competition. Slesinger, with one penalty was 39.3 seconds back.
From the outset today, Burke was never out of the top 8 except at the first split, just before the first shooting stage, when he ranked 14th. At the time, Coach Mikael Lofgren looked at the scrolling results on his computer and said, â€œTim is being conservative.â€ Burke then came to the shooing range and downed the five targets in rapid succession, leaving in sixth position.
According to Burke, he actually approached today’s competition as a workout. â€œI decided that I was going to race just as if it was a threshold combo workout (intensity with shooting). I was very relaxed from the start. I took the first two loops a little conservatively, and then realized it was going well and started to push. At that point, the effort (at this altitude) started to hurt. At each shooting stage, I was very solid and just shot like in practice. The coaches told the guys after Sunday’s Pursuit that we were capable of hitting more targets and trying too hard. That really helped me. I did not pick up my rifle until we zeroed today before the race and then it felt great again.â€
Burke’s first penalty came in the first standing stage with a close miss that caused Lofgren to grimace, muttering, â€œSo close,â€ as he recorded it on his clipboard. Despite this, several other competitors were also missing, and Burke was skiing so well that he held eighth position. The next stage, prone was perfect again and Burke was solidly in eighth position. Lofgren, twice an Olympic Bronze medalist in 1992, was just as nervous as if he was out on the tracks as Burke approached the final standing stage. Unlike his three penalties in the final stage in the Pokljuka Pursuit a few weeks ago, Burke mowed down four of the five targets and rocketed out of the shooting range. Lofgren told the staff out on the tracks, â€œTim Burke is in eighth place, six seconds from seventh and 20 from sixth.â€
â€œI felt good on the last loop today,â€ Burke stated after the race. â€œThe coaches told me I could catch a couple of people and I did, passing Simon Fourcade of France in the final few hundred meters.â€ Burke crossed in sixth place, but a later starter, Frode Andresen of Norway finished fourth, pushing Burke back to seventh.
At the finish line, Burke was nothing but smiles. â€œAfter this race, the smile is going to be there for a long time. I am so happy to have a race like this. I was bitterly disappointed in the Sprint and Pursuit. I did not perform at the level I am capable of, either day. I wanted to show people that I could do well here, in a Championship and not just in the World Cups. I knew I could have a race like this. It is such a great feeling.â€
With his historic race today, Burke secured a place in the 15K Mass Start competition on Sunday, which follows the Men’s 4 X 7.5K relay competition on Saturday. After the Flower Ceremony for the top eight finishers, Burke explained that after today, he was looking forward to both and was, â€œexcited!â€
Behind Burke, Jay Hakkinen (Kasilof, AK) just missed the top 30, finishing 31st, with three penalties, 4:47.4 back. The Alaskan, who was 18th in the Pursuit competition two days ago, missed two shot in the first standing stage and another in the final stage. â€œI was trying too hard to hit them (when his missed two) and held a bit long,â€ he commented. Hakkinen, based on the World cup Points he scored in the Pursuit also is qualified for the Mass Start competition.
Lowell Bailey (Lake Placid, NY) matching Hakkinen on the shooting range finished 41st, 6:19.6 back. Bailey edged Jeremy Teela (Anchorage, AK) by 6.4 seconds. Teela finished 44th, with four penalties.
The combined efforts of the four US men gave the team their second best day of the year, scoring 322 Nations Cup Points, second only to the 349 they scored in the Hochfilzen Sprint in December. The US men are ranked 10th in the world at this time.
Head US Wax Technician Bernd Eisenbichler commented on Burke’s historic effort today, summing up the thoughts of the whole US Biathlon staff. â€œTim had the third or fourth ski time today. I expected a lot from him but this was even beyond my expectations, seventh place with two penalties!â€
Competition continues tomorrow with the Women’s 15K Individual.
Live coverage and commentary of every competition at the Biathlon World Championships is available at the World Championships Sports Network website, WCSN.com.