Ruhpolding, Germany – The US Relay team of Lowell Bailey (Lake Placid, NY), Jay Hakkinen (Kasilof, AK), Tim Burke (Paul Smiths, NY), and Jeremy Teela (Anchorage, AK) posted the best US relay result in 20 years tonight with a 5th place finish in the 4 x 7.5K Relay.
With a crowd of 17,800 fans in the stadium, the US quartet had their personal best result, topping their seventh place here in 2007. Coach Per Nilsson was brimming with pride at the finish line. Having trouble finding the right words, he commented, “It was unbelievable! It was close to a medal, which is what we are aiming for in the future. The difference was the shooting. The zero penalties plus only nine spare rounds is our best in these three years. The difference now is a couple of spare rounds. Everyone did their game plan today and that is very important.”
The “game plan” according to Nilsson is for each athlete to not be caught up in the moment and concentrate on his individual race. That was the case this evening as the US finished 2:05.9 behind Norway who won in 1:24:54. Germany finished 1:20.2 back in second, with Austria 1:43.1 back. Italy stayed just ahead of the US by 1.8 seconds to take fourth.
From the outset, the US men were in the heat of the battle for a top finish. Lowell Bailey shot clean on prone and needed just one spare round in the first leg. He passed to Jay Hakkinen in eighth position. Hakkinen skied conservatively and stayed calm in the shooting range, despite needing all three spare rounds to clean prone. In standing, he shot fast, using just one spare. He moved the US up to sixth position. Burke took over from Hakkinen, and needed one spare round to clean prone. Burke could have moved the team up but had problems with his spare round. He explained,” I had a jam and could not get it out to put in the spare round. My fingers were cold, but I stayed calm. I got out of there with one extra. It was damage control at that point.” He used an additional spare round to clean standing. At this point, Burke turned on the afterburners and moved the US up to fourth position as he passed to Teela. “Burke showed he is back in form,” said Executive Director Max Cobb. “His time on the last loop was the fastest of anyone in the third leg and fourth fastest of the day overall, just 5 second behind World Champion and the fastest biathlete this year Emil Svendsen of Norway. This is a good measure of his ski form which has been getting better with each race this month.”
Teela, the US anchor had a chance to bring the US a podium position and came through with flying colors. He shot slowly on prone but cleaned. In standing, he again maintained his cool and cleaned with two spare rounds. He left in a close sixth position, with the strong Russian team in hot pursuit. Teela, managed to pass France and close on Italy for the fifth place finish. At the finish, he said, “I do not know how I did it. All I could hear was the voices of my teammates in my mind. My legs felt horrible, but somehow I did it. I was really concerned about the Russians behind me. The important thing is that we got our best result.” Teela also had the fastest time on the last lap in his leg of the relay.
Burke added, “I am feeing great and have my form back now. It was a great feeling to have this kind of a performance here. The crowd is great here. They cheer for everyone. Everyone knows we have great potential in the relay and it feels good to finally put it together. It was awesome. We really have momentum now. As a team and individually, I really feel good and am psyched for the rest of the season.”
This is the final relay competition before the World Championships in Pyeong Chang Korea in mid-February.
The Women’s 7.5K Sprint is on Friday, followed by the Men’s 10K Sprint on Saturday. Haley Johnson (Lake Placid, NY) and Lanny Barnes (Durango, CO) are the US entrants in the Women’s Sprint.