Yesterday Tim Burke of the US Biathlon Team posted on of the top US results in the history of the sport, finishing 2nd in the 20km World Cup race in Ostersund, Sweden. Burke took some time out from preparing for tomorrow’s sprint to talk with FasterSkier about his historic performance.
You have been very close to the podium on a number of occasions. What was different this time?
I think the difference for me yesterday was the fact that I had been in those situations a few times before. Ultimately I needed to be in those situations and learn from them to be able to have the race that I had yesterday.
In the past I’ve made some mistakes at the end of the race on the shooting range and I definitely learned a lot from that and I worked on those weaknesses. I was able to put it all together yesterday.
Do you feel that was the best race of your career? Or just the best result?
If that wasn’t the best, it was close to it. I’ve had a few other good races where I was starting further back in the pursuit and skied up. It’s hard to say, but yesterday was definitely one of the best.
Going into the last two seasons I struggled a lot with my health. I really had a tough time last year – before Christmas I hadn’t scored one World Cup point. Despite that in both those seasons I was able to come back and have a good World Championships and a strong rest of the season.
Entering this year I was really relaxed because I felt like it was impossible to get off to a worse start than last year. And even if things didn’t go well, I was confident that I could bring it back for the Olympics. And just by knowing that, I was able to have a really laid-back approach at the beginning, and it worked out for me.
Did you make any changes to your training because of the health issues you’ve had at the beginning of the season in the last couple of years?
Yes. Definitely. That was one of our big goals that we focused on coming into this season. We changed up my last training period before the season – that is where I have gotten into trouble the last two years. This year the plan was to not try to do anything special entering the World Cup season. I kept up the same type of stuff that I’ve been doing all summer and fall that has been working really well for me. We decided it wasn’t worth the risk to change things up.
So I stuck to the normal program – of course I backed off a little bit, but I wasn’t overreaching at all. I deftly came into the season 100% healthy and ready to go, feeling good.
During yesterday’s race, I assume you were aware of how you were doing?
Yes. You hear the announcer when you’re coming in and out of the range – it’s very loud. And there is a huge scoreboard, so it is very easy to get a look at that as you head out of the range. So heading out on my fourth loop I knew that I was leading the race at that point – I was completely aware of what the stakes were.
So how does that affect you? You know where you are when you enter the range for the last time. Are you thinking about that? Or are you just going through your program trying to hit the targets?
That is the tricky part. I’ve worked a lot on that as I’ve struggled with that in the past few years. I focus a lot on the process of coming into the range and shooting rather than on how many targets I need to hit to win. I’m focusing on the same things that I do during training.
This was one of the top US results in biathlon ever. What do you think this means for the sport in this country?
I think it’s a really encouraging sign. It isn’t just this result- we had Jeremy’s third place in Whistler last season, a 5th in the relay last year as well and a lot of top 10s in World Championships and so on.
I think it is a sign that US biathlon is moving forward and that we can compete internationally. I hope this will have a big effect on the younger athletes – that they will see that anything is possible. And I hope it will attract more people to biathlon.
It seems that in biathlon that sport lends itself a little less toward consistency. In straight cross country races you often see the same few people at the top of the results, while in biathlon there is much more turnover. That said it also seems that the US team has struggled with consistency over the last few years. Do you see that as an issue? And is it something that the team has been working on?
You do see this in biathlon, with a bigger variation in results – mainly because of the shooting. Yesterday there were probably 30 people capable of winning the race, in Cross country there may be 10 people on the start line with a shot to win.
But with that said we definitely have been inconsistent with our results in the past few years. And it is something we’ve been working on. Most of our inconsistency has been due to poor shooting. This year we had a new shooting coach, Armin Auchentaller, come in. He started working with us this spring and has changed our shooting training and the way we approach that. We are already seeing good results.
You race again tomorrow. Have you already moved on from your 2nd place finish?
Absolutely. Obviously I’m really happy with the result and it was great fun, but that is over and it is all about the next race and the next few weeks. I have nine races coming up in the near future – it’s time to focus on that.
Is an Olympic medal one of your primary goals at this point?
Absolutely. That is something that has been a goal mine for years now. This result just gives me more confidence that it is an achievable goal, and I will be doing everything I possibly can to make that happen!
Topher Sabot is the editor of FasterSkier.