Ostersund, Sweden. Tim Burke (Paul Smiths, NY) finished ninth in the 10K Sprint at the Biathlon World Championships today, the third best result of his career.
Burke has only two better results in World Cup level competitions than today: sixth place in the Pokljuka Slovenia World Cup Pursuit last season and seventh place in last year’s World Championships 20K Individual competition.
All week the wax technicians have been testing skis here in Ostersund in preparation for this opening weekend of the Biathlon World Championships. According to US Wax Technician Andreas Emslander, â€œThe snow here is very dry and slow, despite the fact that the air humidity is very high, nearing 90%.â€ Everything changed around 5 AM today as light freezing rain coated the dry snow with a thin layer of ice, followed by some light snow. Emslander continued, â€œWe had to basically start over today.â€ At that point, the wax team went to â€œPlan B,â€ testing different skis and waxes, for icy fast conditions, as they prepared for today’s competitions. These new snow conditions along with temperatures near freezing affected everyone including Burke today.
On the way to his ninth place, Burke had only one penalty, missing the first shot in the standing stage. He finished 1:05 behind clean-shooting Maxim Tchoudov of Russia, who claimed Gold in 22:25.4. Just 35 seconds separated Burke and the Bronze medal winning Ole Einar BjÃ¶rndalen of Norway. BjÃ¶rndalen had two penalties, while finishing 30 seconds behind Tchoudov. BjÃ¶rndalen’s teammate Halvard Hanevold, 19.8 seconds back won the Silver medal while matching Tchoudov on the shooting range.
Burke has been quietly full of confidence all week as he prepared for this World Championships. As soon as he hit the tracks today, he was focused and in control. Coming to the prone stage, he seemed to ignore the noise of the crowd and the competitors around him. He then calmly, but quickly settled into position and dropped the five targets in quick succession. Out of prone, he was in the top eight. With each kilometer, word came over the US radios that Burke was skiing well and picking up speed, at one point gaining eight seconds on Michael Slesinger of the Czech Republic, just in front of him. In standing, Burke was equally efficient, despite missing the first target. Once he left the penalty loop, he continued to gain on the leaders with each step, until crossing the finish line in seventh position at the time. Burke, the 39th starter, was bumped to down to ninth by later starters Tchoudov and fourth place Maxim Tcherezov.
At the finish line, Burke was smiling as he discussed his race, â€œI was very focused on this race today. I have gone through every step of it at least 100 times in the past three weeks. When the weather changed the conditions today (from the dry slow snow of all week to icy fast snow) I completely changed my tactics. I knew that the race would now be really fast, so you would have to go all out from the start. Before the standing stage, I knew from the splits that I was gaining time. It made me a little nervous, but I that was the only way I was going to get a good result. In standing when I missed the first shot, I told myself to keep going, and the rest would be hits.â€
Later, Burke commented on the ninth place after seeing the final results and just missing the eight-person flower ceremony, â€œI am a little bit disappointed in being ninth, but not really. This is a great start and I am in a good position for the Pursuit.â€
A video interview in the finish area with Tim Burke, recorded before he knew the final results follows.
Today was disappointing for the rest of the US men in the 10K Sprint, as none of the three finished in the top 60, leaving Burke as the only US man to qualify for the 12.5K Pursuit on Sunday.
Lowell Bailey (Lake Placid, NY) finished 61st, 2:31.6 back with two penalties, both in the standing stage. Bailey was just 1.6 seconds from making the Pursuit field. Jeremy Teela (Anchorage, AK) with three penalties finished 73rd, 3:00.9 back, while Jay Hakkinen (Kasilof, AK) with four penalties was 89th, 4:06 back.
By the time the last person in the field of 96 women crossed the finish line in the morning Women’s 7.5K Sprint had, one of the â€œrookiesâ€ on the US Biathlon team, Haley Johnson (Lake Placid, NY) was the top US finisher in 53rd place, with two penalties, 2:31.3 behind Andrea Henkel of Germany. Henkel shot clean to win in a fast 19:43.1.
Johnson, in her first-ever World Cup level competition was poised and focused throughout the competition. She commented at the finish, â€œI was very focused on my shooting today. The standing stage with only one penalty was my best in a long time. On the other hand, I was a bit disappointed with my skiing today. I felt a little bit sore.â€ At the same time, US Biathlon High Performance Director Bernd Eisenbichler praised Johnson’s skiing, â€œHaley’s running was very good. She was only 1:47 behind Neuner (3-times World Champion in 2007).â€
Johnson added, â€œI have raced a lot here in Sweden (she spent time here in high school) so I felt very comfortable out there today. I know the language and could understand everything that I heard out on the tracks. It was just a great experience.â€ Today’s experience made Johnson the only US woman to make Sunday’s 60-person Pursuit field.
Just missing the 60th place cut was Lanny Barnes (Durango, CO) in 63rd place, 3:07.9 back. Barnes had just one prone penalty today. Not far behind in 70th place, with five penalties, 3:30.1 back was Caitlin Compton (Minneapolis, MN). Even though she did not make the Pursuit field, Compton was thrilled with her first World Championships competition. The first words out of her mouth at the finish were, â€˜It was awesome! This is what I expected a World Championships to be like (11,000 screaming fans in the stadium and more on the tracks). In Japan at the Nordic World Championships last year, there were virtually no fans.â€ She enthusiastically added, â€œI could not tell where the prone misses were today. In standing, I thought I had hit four as I saw one start to fall, but it stayed open. Nevertheless, give me two years and I will make this a lot more exciting!â€
Tracy Barnes (Durango, CO) finished in 88th place, with four penalties, 4:56.5 behind Henkel.
Henkel’s victory showed the strength of the German women’s team. When the other three; Glagow in 14th, Neuner in 17th and Wilhelm in 21st failed to perform at their best, Henkel stepped in with another clean shooting day to claim World Championships Gold. The top three finishers all shot clean with the Silver medal going to Albina Akhatova of Russia 12.7 seconds back, while Oksana Khvostenko of Ukraine took Bronze, 23.2 seconds back.
Johnson will be the sole US woman in the Women’s10K Pursuit, which starts at 12 noon CET (6 AM EST) on Sunday.
Burke’s quest for a top eight finish in the Men’s 12.5K Pursuit, follows at 2:15 PM CET.
Live streaming video coverage of the Biathlon World Championships as well as Biathlon World Cup competitions for the remainder of the season, and archived highlights, are available by clicking the athlete photo at the top of the news column at www.usbiathlon.org.