US Men Again Raise the Bar: Tenth Place in Nations Cup Highlights Record-setting Season
The 2007 Biathlon Season was another record-setting year for the US Biathlon Team, led by the men’s squad of Tim Burke (Paul Smiths, NY), Jay Hakkinen (Kasilof, AK), Lowell Bailey (Lake Placid, NY), and Jeremy Teela (Anchorage, AK).
If 2006 was a renaissance year for the men, then 2007 was a coming of age for the group. Led by the new coaching staff of Per Nilsson and Mikael Lofgren, the US Team started fast and never looked back. Before the first World Cup in Ostersund, Sweden, Nilsson commented, â€œThe athletes are really eager to start racing. We have had some good training and physical testing in the past few weeks,â€ At the same time, the athletes could feel the same excitement in the staff, as Lowell Bailey added, â€œI think the coaches are as excited as we (the athletes) are.â€ From the outset, this excitement and enthusiasm transformed into a year of excellent performances for the men as well as a step back up the performance ladder for the women.
The men finished the 2007 season with an all-time high 10th place in the Nations Cup standings, scoring 4244 points. They were in heated battle with Italy and Ukraine until the final competition of the season for eighth through tenth places. When the dust settled, the US was 10 points shy of ninth place Ukraine while Italy finished eighth. Still the US men had made a huge leap from 15th in 2006 with 3084 points to 10th, scoring 1160 more points this year! This put the US team within striking distance of perennial powers like Austria, Sweden for the first time.
The US potential surfaced in the Men’s 10K Sprint at the Hochfilzen, Austria World Cup in December. Three US men finished in the top 25 (a record), with Burke in 10th, Bailey 18th, and Teela 21st, giving the US 349 Nations Cup points in one competition. That day the team ranked THIRD, with Germany at 400 and Russia at 372. Norway, France, Austria, and Sweden were all behind the US. Several other times, including the World Championships 20K (322 points with Burke in 7th) the US either beat or gave the powerhouses a good scare.
This big potential was further reinforced with seventh place in the 4 X 7.5K relay at Ruhpolding. After finishing ninth the previous week, Coach Per Nilsson expected more from the four men, â€œI told the boys after the 9th place in Oberhof that they should be up there in 5th to 7th place; they are that good.â€ The group delivered with performances described by the stadium announcer several times as, â€œsensational.â€ An outstanding second leg from Tim Burke, with aggressive skiing (alongside Raphael Poiree) and only one extra round, combined with Lowell Bailey’s two extra rounds and equally fast skiing were the keys to success. US Biathlon Executive Director Max Cobb punctuated the importance of the day, exclaiming above the din of the stadium packed with 15,000 fans, â€œI do not remember ever being in seventh place in a relay. It is pretty exciting!â€
At the Biathlon World Championships in February, the US team continued to roll. Tim Burke finished seventh in the 20K Individual, the second best ever World Championships result for the US. A few days later, Jay Hakkinen finished ninth in the 15K Mass Start, claiming third on the all-time list. In between, Burke and Hakkinen teamed up with Bailey and Teela to finish ninth in the 4 X 7.5K Relay. All four also qualified for the 12.5K pursuit, another World Champs first!
When the dust settled, the US had three top 10 finishes (two individuals and a relay) at World Championships for the first time ever!
Tim Burke led the team throughout the season, finishing the year ranked 25th in the world, another all-time US best. At the same time, Jay Hakkinen ranked 41st for the year, Bailey 72nd and Teela 76th, giving the US four ranked men, another first.
While the US men were moving up to the top 10, the US women, led by Lanny and Tracy Barnes (Durango, CO) were reestablishing themselves, after a disappointing 2006 season. The women made a nice jump from to 17th place in the Nations Cup from 20th in 2006, despite several setbacks from illness during the year. The women scored 2726 points this year compared to 2286 last year. Lanny Barnes set the tone for the group, with a personal best 15th place in the Ostersund 15K Individual, and being consistently the top performer for the US women.
The women had their best day of the year in the World Championships Sprint. Both Barnes sisters and Sarah Konrad (Laramie, WY) qualified for the Pursuit, while scoring a season best 258 Nations Cup Points to rank 12th on the day.
Eurosport Biathlon commentator and five-time biathlon Olympian Michael Dixon validated the year for the US Team, â€œI think the US was the most improved team in the World Cup this year.â€
â€¢ Prior to this season Burke had never scored a World Cup Point
â€¢ 25th in Overall World Cup with 267 points, 6 times in top 15 and twice in the top 8 — US Best end of season ranking
â€¢ Qualified for all five Mass Start competitionsâ€”first time for US
â€¢ 6th place, Pokljuka, Slovenia Mass Start- best US result in 7 years
â€¢ 7th place, World Championships 20K Individualâ€”second best US all-time
â€¢ 10th place, Hochfilzen 10K Sprint
â€¢ Pokljuka World Cupâ€”13th 10K Sprint, 11th 12.5K Pursuit, 6th 15K Mass Start
â€¢ Scored World Cup points in 18 of 24 competitions
Burke’s season ended with a thrilling final competition at Khanty Mansiysk where he charged to 17th place in the last loop, getting the nod in a photo finish over five time Olympic medalist Halvard Hanevold. Still fresh and smiling after almost 4 months of competition, he commented on his breakthrough year. â€œThe season as a whole has not sunk in quite yet, after the first couple of races when I scored points, I thought, â€˜I think I can finish in the top 50 at the end of the year.’ Finishing in the top 25 well, that is something I have dreamed of all my life. Now I am more motivated than ever before.â€