Antholz, Italy, February 10. Jay Hakkinen (Kasilof, AK) and Tim Burke (Paul Smiths, NY) surprised the crowd today in the Men’s 4 X7.5K Relay competition, by keeping the US Team near the top of the leader board for the first two legs. The US men finished ninth, 3:26.9 behind the virtually flawless Russian team.
On a perfect day with clear blue skies contrasting against the gray peaks of the Italian Dolomites, the Men’s Relay started with an unusual false start. From there, the first two legs of the relay probably seemed like a bad dream to many European biathlon fans. After the first prone stage, the clean shooting Hakkinen was in second place, 2.6 seconds behind Russia. Following a clean standing stage, albeit with three extra rounds, Hakkinen was solidly in second position, just 23.6 behind the leaders. Slovenia followed the US at the time prompting a Slovenian coach to playfully comment to US Coach Mikael Lofgren, â€œOKâ€”race over, you are second; we are third. Just like in ski jumping sometimes, one round and we end the competition here!â€
In the standing stage, the Alaskan was side by side with German Ricco Gross, who seldom misses a target. He and Hakkinen traded shots, each missing twice before Hakkinen dropped his final target, while Gross took a penalty. â€œI think both Ricco and I were shocked to be missing those shots. Each time it seemed like the target would fall and it did not,â€ Hakkinen commented.
Despite the Slovenian’s desire to end the race at this point, the race continued. Hakkinen tagged Burke in fourth position, in a group of three teams, less than one second apart. Burke now becoming used to pressure situations after two recent top eight finishes, stayed at the back of the group over the whole 2.5K. He calmly cleaned both prone and standing, with a single extra round in each. He left the range in third position, nine seconds behind Norway’s Lars Berger. Berger (one of the fastest cross-country skiers in the world) extended the gap between himself and Burke to nine seconds at the tag. â€œI did not feel so good all morning. My stomach was a bit upset,â€ Burke stated at the finish. â€œBerger got a few more seconds on me in the last loop, but that is still pretty good, not exactly like I tanked!â€ Burke tagged Lowell Bailey (Lake Placid, NY) in third position, 50.4 seconds behind Russia.
As Burke tagged, a beaming Coach Mikael Lofgren said, â€œThis is so great for the sport in the US. We had great TV exposure at the top of the standings. We can compete with anyone in this relay.â€
Bailey made the US staff sweat during his two visits to the shooting range. He needed the three extra rounds in both prone and standing to clean. This extra range time, while others cleaned with fewer shots, dropped the US team down in the standings to eighth position. Bailey was clearly disappointed. â€œI felt good out there today. All of the shots looked good; I do not know what happened. I am actually pretty bummed out about it.â€
Jeremy Teela (Anchorage, AK) took the final tag from Bailey. The US was in a group of three teams, places eight through ten. Teela needed two extra rounds in prone and slipped to tenth. In standing, although he needed two extra rounds, Teela shot with speed and authority, leaving France behind on the shooting range. He extended the gap over the final 2.5K, bringing the US to the finish, 3:26.9 behind Russia. With this result, the US men matched their 9th place from last February’s Olympic Winter Games, but fell short of their season best 7th place at Ruhpolding 4 weeks ago. Although the quartet did not improve from Ruhpolding, they continue to have consistent performances, which means a big leap in the results is not that far away.
The winning Russian team used only one extra round today to defeat Norway, anchored by Ole Einar Bjorndalen. The Russians left the Norwegian team 1:00.5 back. The Norwegians had one penalty and 11 extra rounds, while third place Germany had two penalties and 13 extra rounds, 1:32.5 back. When asked if his team’s one extra round was a record, Nicolay Kruglov commented, â€œI do not know if it is a record. Our coaches told us to shoot clean today and we did the best we could. That is the most important thing.â€
Sunday is the final day of competition here in Antholz, with the Women’s 4 X 6K Relay and the Men’s 15K Mass Start. Lanny Barnes, Denise Teela, Carolyn Treacy Bramante, and Erin Graham comprise the US women’s team, with Teela replacing an ill Tracy Barnes. Tim Burke and Jay Hakkinen are the two US entrants in the Mass Start.