With the U.S. men’s team notching their best day ever in Saturday’s sprint, hopes were high that the team could place athletes in the top ten or even the top five in today’s pursuit.
But although the Americans were frequently close, they couldn’t pull it off. After starting with bib 6, Russell Currier missed a shot in the first prone stage which dropped him to 12th; and while Tim Burke, starting with bib 11, was able to clean both prone stages and move into the top ten, penalties in the standing stages dropped him back out of it.
Burke finished 16th, leading the American team.
“I was very happy with my skiing today but I just could not quite get the shooting together for the last two stages,” he wrote in an e-mail to FasterSkier. “I felt comfortable and I thought I was taking good shots but the targets just would not fall.”
He was able to stay in the top 20 despite five penalties thanks to his skiing: Burke notched the ninth-fastest time over the 12.5 k course. He missed a block of training in the spring and early summer after getting surgery for compartment syndrome, but at this point in the season it’s not slowing him down.
“I feel like I am getting stronger on the skis with every race now so I am really looking forward to next week,” he said. “Hopefully I can finally combine a good ski race with solid shooting.”
Bailey was just two places and seven second behind his teammate. He had three penalties, and moved from 21st up to 18th.
“The shooting was again extremely challenging today, especially in standing, so I was happy to end the day with only three misses,” he told FasterSkier.
Jay Hakkinen, too, improved several places; after cleaning both prone stages and moving from 31st to 20th at the race’s halfway point, he lost his touch in the standing stages and missed two shots in each of them. Still, he finished 27th.
That left Currier – the one who’d had the best shot at the top five, and who even after the initial penalty had seemed set to finish in the top 20. With a single missed shot in each prone stage and two more in the initial standing stage, he sat in 17th place. He was also skiing fast – at the end of the day, he owned the 13th-fastest course time.
“Prone was decent and ski speed was great,” Currier told FasterSkier. “The wax techs really nailed it today.”
Currier was ultimately done in by the wind, however, which roughly doubled in speed during final shooting stage, right when athletes’ legs begin to be particularly shaky and shooting becomes the most difficult. Currier missed four shots.
“The wind was an issue,” Currier said. “Consistent wind isn’t the best, but it’s manageable. It’s the random gusts that make it impossible to deal with. That’s more or less what I had in the last standing stage.”
After 600 meters of penalty loops, Currier tumbled to the mid-30s. Though he had an extra half-kilometer of skiing in his legs, he still attacked the final loop and skied into 35th place. As he crossed the finish line, he made frustrated gestures at the cameras.
A few hours later, though, he was able to see his performance in a more positive light.
“Even though today was not a great race, it was not too much of a bad race either when you break it down,” he said.
Overall, his results from his first weekend of World Cup racing this season leave him enthusiastic.
“The original goal for the season was two top 40’s,” he explained. “Technically I can cross that one off the list now. I would really like to stay in the points from here on out just to prove that Saturday’s result was not a fluke of any sorts. This week’s race series proves that everything is on good pace. If I play my cards right it could be a very good season.”
Hopefully, the men can continue to work together. At various points in today’s race, Burke and Currier, Bailey and Currier, and Burke and Bailey were together.
“It was fun to be around both Russell and Lowell during the race today,” Burke said. “I think this helps give the race a more relaxed feel because it seems more like practice.”
“It was great to have all the guys in it to the end today,” he said. “It was almost like one of our team time trials!”
Mixed Results for Canadians
After starting in 32nd and 35th positions, Canadians Brendan Green and Jean-Phillipe Le Guellec saw their races take opposite trajectories.
For Green, the pursuit went pretty much as planned. He missed only a single shot over four stages and slowly crept up to 20th place.
“The wind definitely still made a strong presence, but I took my time in the range, made sure my standing set up was solid, and thankfully ended the day with just one penalty,” he told FasterSkier.
While he was pleased with what he called a “pretty good day”, the usually speedy Canadian said that he hasn’t felt his best. That was illustrated by his ski time, which was the 31st-fastest today.
“I found the racing a little tougher on the whole,” he said of the pursuit. “I felt a little flat and more tired skiing today, but thankfully my shooting kept me in the game.”
The same could not be said of Le Guellec, who missed six shots and did not finish the race. While several athletes shot just as poorly – Currier, for example, as well as last year’s overall World Cup leader Tarjei Bø of Norway – they had the luxury of starting with higher bib numbers, so even with many penalties they were still skiing in the mix.
After Le Guellec’s missed shots, he was well out of the top 40, and decided to drop from the race instead of completing the final loop.
The final Canadian starter, Scott Perras, started with bib 45, missed six shots, and dropped to 47th.
Despite the team’s up-and-down fortunes and the difficult conditions here in Nove Mesto – which is a new addition to the World Cup schedule – Green said he had enjoyed his stay.
“When the weather cooperates I like the venue here,” he told FasterSkier. “The course is solid and the fans are awesome! All in all I’m quite happy with my week of racing.”