Antholz, Italy, February 11. Jay Hakkinen (Kasilof, AK) notched his best World Championships result and the second top ten finish for the US Biathlon Team in this Biathlon World Championship with ninth place in today’s 15K Mass Start competition.
Hakkinen with his ninth place finish eclipsed his 10th place in last February’s 20K Individual at the Torino Olympic Winter Games. Today, he finished 52.9 seconds behind Olympic champion Michael Greis of Germany. Both Hakkinen and Greis had two penalties. Greis, winning in 37:52.1, topped teammate Andreas Birnbacher by 14.4 seconds, leaving the retiring Raphael Poiree of France, third, 28.1 seconds back.
Although Hakkinen missed the flower ceremony (top 8) by one place, he was in contention for the whole competition. â€œI was happy to be fighting for the podium all day, so that makes it a good race. But I am disappointed to not be in the top eight,â€ he commented at the finish. From the outset, he was on the leader board. In the first shooting stage, he picked up the first of two penalties. Still he left the penalty loop in 16th position as many others also missed at least one shot.
From this point, he steadily moved up. The second prone stage was clean and fast, bolting him up to 10th position, 27.4 seconds back. He skied in a group for the next 3K before the first standing stage. Now Hakkinen politely informed his opponents that he was for real, as he rapidly dropped the five targets in succession. Leaving the shooting range, he was in fourth.
At this point, he was just behind Poiree. Head Wax Technician Bernd Eisenbichler called over the radios, â€œTell Jay to stay there. Do not try to go ahead.â€ As an experienced biathlete, Hakkinen was thinking the same thing, â€œI was very conscious of where I was. I was doing a smart biathlon race.â€
In the final shooting stage, he incurred hi second penalty of the day. Fortunately, most of those, save the eventual top four also had one or more penalties. Hakkinen left the packed Antholz stadium in fifth position, 38.6 seconds behind Greis, but closely followed by Norwegians Bjorndalen and Andresen as well as Sven Fischer and Austria’s Christoph Sumann. Over the final 3K, Hakkinen fought all of his rivals, but several skied faster. He held on to ninth place in a photo finish with Matthias Nilsson of Sweden.
Looking back on these Championships where he finished 18th in the Pursuit and 9th today, Hakkinen seemed almost satisfied with the outcome. â€œI think my preparation as well as our team’s overall was well planned and very professional. We did everything necessary to have good results. I wish I had hit that standing shot, but being able to compete for a top finish is a great feeling. I can tell you that I am really looking forward to next year’s World Championships that are not at altitude.â€
Today, Hakkinen topped teammate Tim Burke (Paul Smiths, NY) as Burke did with his 7th place to Hakkinen in the 20K Individual. Burke was in shooting trouble from the outset, picking up six penalties on the day. He finished 24th, 2:36.6 back.
Despite Burke’s disappointing finish, the US team had an extremely successful World Championships: two top 10 individual finishes, ninth place for the Men’s Relay team, Hakkinenâ€˜s 18th in the Pursuit, and for the first time, two competitors in the Mass Start competition. This list of results says only one thing; the 2007 Biathlon World Championships showed the US Biathlon Team can compete for medals in the coming seasons.
The US did not field a team in the Women’s 4 X 6K Relay, as another athlete fell ill on Saturday evening, leaving only three healthy women available to start. Illness has plagued many teams in the latter part of this championship week, keeping stars like Kati Wilhelm of Germany, Raphael Poiree of France, and Anna Carin Olofsson of Sweden out of one or more competitions. Germany won the Women’s Relay in 1:14.19.1 using seven extra rounds. France, with one penalty and seven extra rounds followed 1:07.08 back, while Norway, with one penalty and six extra rounds, 1:29.7 back captured third.
World Cup Biathlon now takes a break, resuming in two weeks in Lahti, Finland, followed by competitions in Oslo, Norway and Khanty Mansiysk, Russia.