Ruhpolding, Germany – The biathlon relay format is one of the most exciting races in the Nordic disciplines – with four skiers and eight shooting stages, there is constant drama. To win a relay, a team needs all four skiers to be on. And they need to be on in both skiing and shooting.
Today was no different, and Russia turned in a performance of impressive proportions. Breaking away on the first leg, the team never looked back, and missed only a single shot the entire day.
It was clear well before the half-way mark that the battle would be for second. At the end of the first leg, Russia already had a 30 second lead, a margin that would only increase with fast skiing and even better shooting
The US Team of Lowell Bailey, Jay Hakkinen, Tim Burke and Jeremy Teela have the US mark for best biathlon relay finish – 5th place. Today Bailey got the US off to an excellent start, with just a single miss in standing and tagging off to Jay Hakkinen in 5th, less than 20 seconds out of 2nd.
Entering the range for standing shooting, Hakkinen was in excellent position, battling with Norway and Austria. Hakkinen quickly cleaned and headed back on course in 3rd, 8 seconds up on Norway. Hakkinen posted the fastest range time for the loop. Austria held second, 10 seconds up on the US.
Hakkinen was caught by Norwegian Tarjei Boe, falling into the draft position. On the hills just before the stadium, Hakkinen attacked and took over the lead, but was unable to shake Boe. Both men shot fast and clean and headed back out on the course. Friedrich Pinter of Austria missed two shots, falling to 4th.
Hakkinen was unable to stay with Boe on the final skiing loop, and was caught by Pinter, but tagged off to Burke in 4th, just 9 seconds down on Norway and 2 down on Austria.
The US was now in an ideal position to challenge for a podium spot. In 3rd place with the top two skiers still waiting to take to the course. Burke, ready on the third leg, has been the on-again, off-again leader of the overall World Cup, and has several podium finishes this season. Teela is coming off consecutive top-20 finishes and appears to be rounding into form.
But this was no cross-country race, where a minute lead is just that, and all you have to do is ski fast to hold it. Burke looked strong on his first lap, and entered the range to shoot prone in good position behind Austria and Norway.
But Austria cleaned, and Ole Einar Bjorndalen (NOR) had just a single miss. Burk matched Bjorndalen in accuracy, but was much more deliberate on the range, losing 7 seconds.
Still within striking distance entering the standing stage, Burke struggled mightily. He missed 4 shots, resulting in a penalty lap in addition to the time needed to load extra rounds. Still in 4th, the US team was now a minute off the podium. Burke picked up some seconds on the final ski leg, but tagged to Teela still over a minute out of the top-3.
Teela shot clean in prone, and held most of the 37 second lead over 5th that he inherited from Burke.
But both Switzerland, in 5th, and Germany anchored by the strong Michael Greiss, were skiing faster. When Teela missed three shots in standing, hopes for a 4th place finish quickly went out the window. Greiss charged by on his way to the fastest ski time of the day, with Switzerland not too far behind. The US had to settle for 6th
Sixth place in the volatile biathlon relay is nothing to scoff at, and it is only the idea of what might have been that makes the race at all disappointing.
Ultimately it was a good sign of the US team’s ability to compete in the relay in Vancouver.
Russia cruised to the win, with Norway and Austria duking it out for 2nd. In an exciting race, the two teams entered the range for prone shooting neck and neck. They matched shots in almost perfect unison, and stayed tight for the ski loop. But Dominik Landertinger, anchoring for Austria, fell apart in the standing shooting. He missed four shots, resulting in a penalty lap, and a 3rd place finish.
Topher Sabot is the editor of FasterSkier.