Hakkinen, In His First “Professional” World Champs Race in Years, Leads U.S. Men in 31st

Chelsea LittleMarch 6, 2012
Hakkinen following eventual winner Jakov Fak of Slovenia. Photo: NordicFocus/USBA.

RUHPOLDING, Germany – After Jay Hakkinen’s sprint race on Saturday, where he missed five of ten shots including four in the standing stage, the American veteran was so upset that he didn’t have any interest talking to the press.

On Tuesday after the 20 k individual race, the willingness to chat served as a barometer for Hakkinen’s feelings about his performance.

“We can talk today,” he joked at the finish line. “It was good enough.”

Hakkinen missed two shots to place 31st, leading the American team.

“It was a real World Champs race today, and I haven’t had one of those in many years,” the Alaskan said. “It wasn’t perfect, a few of those penalties are still haunting me, but I will say, it was nice to have a decent race… It was a respectable day. So I have to be happy – it’s nice to be back in business.”

Hakkinen leaving the range.

Hakkinen’s ski time was the 54th fastest; he said he “caught a lot of really good rides, and I was concentrating a lot throughout the race.”

But as with so many of his best results recently, the key to success today, Hakkinen said, was hours of work on shooting with his coaches, essentially going back to square one and selecting a strategy to use for the rest of the week. It was essential to work through his anger with the sprint debacle.

“I just started off with some frustration shooting, just throwing off shots – hit them all, ironically,” he said. “But the last few days have been really concentrated on exactly which system I’m going to use in the race.”

It paid off today. Hakkinen started off by missing a shot in the initial prone stage, which saddled him with a one-minute penalty right off the bat. But in the first standing stage and then the second prone stage – the four shooting bouts in an individual race alternate with each other – he cleaned, and sat in 21st after three stages.

Hakkinen missed another shot in the final stage, but said that they were close misses and he was still positive about his marksmanship, which left him itching for Friday’s relay.

“The relay – I’m actually really excited because I’ve worked really hard on the shooting and I’m confident,” he said. “Especially with those missed shots, one extra round would have been nice, and I would have had those.”

Burke, Bailey, and Nordgren Stymied on the Range

Bailey skiing solo early in the race.

In their first individual starts of the Championships, in Saturday’s sprints, Tim Burke and Lowell Bailey finished disappointed in their ski speed – but they actually placed relatively well, with Burke finishing tenth and Bailey 20th.

From there on out, though, things haven’t improved for the two Americans. They’ve mostly gotten worse: in today’s race, arguably the format where clean shooting is the most crucial, Bailey missed four shots and Burke five. They placed 38th and 56th.

Earlier this week, Burke had been philosophical about his frustrations. But today, that feeling gave way to something more basic.

“It was awful,” he told FasterSkier after the race. “I’m really angry. It was just too many misses.”

Bailey had a similar assessment of his race.

“It hasn’t gone the way I would have liked, but today I was in it skiing – it was really nothing to do with ski speed today,” he said. “It was more that you can’t miss four.

“I’ve had a lot of good shooting races,” he continued. “This wasn’t one of them.”

Nevertheless, Burke said that he didn’t let the errors get to his head as the race progressed, and was still focused when he began the final bout.

“I knew if I cleaned the last stage I would still be in for a good position, so I felt totally relaxed and calm, and I just couldn’t hit [them],” he said.

But he was clearly frustrated – not only with the shooting, but also with his skiing, even though he called it “fine” and had the 17th-fastest ski time of the day. Burke was irked by his inability to catch a group that was skiing just ahead of him.

Leif Nordgren (l/back) follows Bjorn Ferry of Sweden.

“I had a great first loop because Martin [Fourcade] had just come through,” he said. “I got to ski the first loop with him, which was great, but then he was a lot faster in the shooting and I was totally solo for the last laps. It was frustrating, I could see Lowell in front of me and a big group, and I couldn’t catch up.”

Bailey’s ski time was the 20th-fastest of the day, which he considered strong since he had come down with a slight stomach bug in the last two days.

“I was surprised,” he said. “It was better than I expected.”

That enabled him to have the 18th-fastest ski time, just a second slower than Burke’s. Bailey was also significantly faster on the range, and Burke couldn’t catch him despite starting just 30 seconds back.

The final U.S. racer, Leif Nordgren, hadn’t started all week; the Americans brought five men, but each race has a quota of four. Unfortunately, receiving the start was “about the only good part” of Tuesday’s competition, according to Nordgren.

“I had six penalties, three of them were in the last stage,” he said. “It definitely wasn’t the way I wanted it to go. “

Part of his trouble, he guessed, came from the fact that he hasn’t actually competed in an international race in several weeks. Nordgren had an illness-prone middle of the season, and with just four starting positions on the World Cup, U.S. team staff weren’t recently willing to sub him in for any of the four athletes who have achieved top-ten results so far.

“From not having raced, and then coming to such a big stage with so many fans is hard,” Nordgren said. “It takes a little bit to get back into that race mentality.”

He wasn’t sure whether he or Russell Currier would be chosen for the relay, but said that “Whatever team they go with, it will be a good team.”

The bottom line, for the three men, was perhaps best summed up by Bailey.

“It’s biathlon,” he said. “There’s that shooting component.”

Full results

Race Report

Burke skiing with Martin Fourcade of France, winner of both the sprint and pursuit races this weekend.

Chelsea Little

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