With three rough outings at the Olympics already under his belt, Tim Burke (USA) had little to lose in Sunday’s 15k mass start race. And in the words of Per Nilsson, Burke’s coach, he “went for it.”
Halfway through the race, Burke was still right in the thick of things, shooting clean, skiing aggressively and sitting at the front. But on his third trip to the range, it all unraveled again, as three misses effectively ended Burke’s race—and with it, his dreams of gold in Whistler.
Burke said he wasn’t skiing too hard to stay with the pack—on the contrary, he thought he might have held too much back.
“It was a really easy pace,” he said of the speed of the leaders—Norway’s Emil Hegle Svendsen and Austria’s Simon Eder. “I thought, ‘oh, I’ll sit back, rest, and be fresher for the shooting stages.’ I think I ended up coming in in a zone that was too low.”
Nilsson said that Burke has to walk a fine line between calm and aggressiveness on the range. Too much caution, and too much time to think, can lead to hesitations and misses.
“That’s probably the key for him to find, is this balance,” Nilsson said. “If you go for it, and if you go for it a little too much, then it can be too quick. But often, I think it’s when he holds back that he’s in trouble.”
Burke said that even though the pace wasn’t high before the misses, he still had some shaky legs in the range. Afterward, he couldn’t explain why, but speculated that maybe the pressure of being just six k from gold started to creep in.
“Maybe internally, I was feeling more than I recognized, shooting for the medals there,” he said.
Barring an unprecedented result by the U.S. relay team on Friday, Burke will leave these Games emptyhanded despite three podium finishes earlier this year. He had the fitness he needed to medal here, Nilsson said, but was undone by chaotic weather and poor shooting.
In the sprint, he had three misses, which along with a snow squall put him out of contention for the pursuit that followed. Then, in the individual, he had another episode like Monday’s, with three penalties in one of the standing stages.
While he was frustrated—angry even—after the catastrophes of the first two races, Burke had moved past that by today. He was philosophical at the finish, dissecting his errors and describing his love for the sport. And despite those three standing misses that put him out of contention, Burke didn’t give up on the race, fighting his way through two more laps to 18th place—and the eighth-fastest skiing time.
His teammate, Jeremy Teela, finished 29th. Teela, who hasn’t skied in four days due to illness, did not feel in top form, and told FasterSkier that he needs another speed workout to get his legs back.
–Topher Sabot contributed reporting
Nathaniel Herz is a reporter for FasterSkier, who also covers city government for the Anchorage Daily News in Alaska. You can follow him on twitter @nat_herz.