Tim Burke became the first-ever American biathlete to pull on the yellow bib of the overall World Cup leader last winter, but first place still eludes him–he has never won a race outright. This year, he intends to change that.
“I would love to win a World Cup, to know that on that day, I was the best biathlete in the world,” Burke said.
Burke didn’t get any victories last year, but he came tantalizingly close. Two second places and a third helped him on his way to donning the yellow bib, and a smattering of top-fifteens cemented his place in biathlon’s upper echelon. He had a disappointing Olympics, plagued by poor shooting, but still managed to hold onto 14th place in the World Cup overall standings with a few solid races at the end of the season.
After a month of rest and recovery, Burke is settling in for another four-year run—he’s already committed to racing through the Sochi Games in 2014. He has purchased a house in his hometown of Lake Placid—strategically located near the Olympic Training Center, where he eats for free—and is waist-deep into training for the upcoming season, midway through a three-week, 80-hour block.
According to Burke, the basics of this year’s training program are the same, although the structure is slightly differently due to World Championships occurring late in the winter—more hours and a little less intensity than this time last year.
The American team wrapped up a camp in Lake Placid a few weeks ago, and in a month, they fly to Europe for another: five weeks at altitude in Italy and Germany.
While in Germany, Burke will also compete in an invite-only summer biathlon race in the beginning of August, rolling through the streets of the town of Puttlingen. According to Burke, the event is attended by some 20,000 spectators and aired live on German television. Some of the top biathletes in the world will be competing, including Olympic medalists Michael Greis and Christoph Sumann.
“I was really excited to get an invite,” Burke said. “It will be a fun experience, for sure.”
The rest of the camp in Europe will be spent primarily on rollerskis—the venues in Italy and Germany have immaculate training loops and roads nearby. And then, there’s always shooting.
Burke said that he’s focusing especially on his standing shooting this year, which has been his weak point in the past. Already, he has been experimenting with some new positions, which he said have left his accuracy “better than ever before.”
There’s also shooting speed—the time spent preparing to fire, and between shots. Last year, the American team hired a new shooting coach, Armin Auchentaller, who has already made Burke more efficient in the range–but there’s still room for improvement.
Burke’s skiing technique will also see some tweaks, especially his V1. On gradual climbs, Burke said that he has often persisted with his V2 a little too long, where instead he would be better suited by using a climbing gear. He plans to perfect a longer, slower-tempo V1 stroke this summer to help him push through that type of terrain, once the winter gets rolling.
After his 14th place last year, Burke said that he’s shooting for a top-10 finish in the overall World Cup standings. And two rare races on American soil hold special importance, since they’ll take place in Maine, where Burke lived for three years.
“That was a home away from home for me for a while,” he said. “I’m really fired up to go up there and race in front of all those people that I know.
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.