Who would win in a skate race, a top biathlete or nordic skier?
When you follow the independent circuits of each sport, the question inevitably comes up. And if the biathlete turns out to be competitive, what would happen if he teamed up with nordic athletes for the same relay?
Tim Burke dangled that idea in front of American ski fans two winters ago when he expressed interest in vying for a spot on the men’s cross-country relay. At the time the U.S. Ski Team (USST) hadn’t formally spoken to Burke about it, but head coach Chris Grover said he would “absolutely” consider adding a biathlete as a fourth man if he was the best skier for the job.
U.S Biathlon and the USST have since had an ongoing conversation about the relay. A cross-disciplinary team will be closer to becoming reality depending on how the upcoming season goes for the potential athletes involved; Burke isn’t necessarily the only biathlete in a position to take a shot.
“Russell Currier has been skiing well lately,” said USBA CEO Max Cobb. “I think any of them would be happy to be part of a team.”
Burke, for one, is “definitely” still interested.
“I think they do have the potential for a good result and I would be happy to be part of that team,” he said. “I’m hoping to talk a little more with Grover while he is in Lake Placid.”
A few conditions have to exist on the cross-country side for this mixed relay to happen. Grover wants to see that three of his skiers have serious medal potential at a major championship and the need for a fourth person to get them there.
“The task for us as U.S. cross-country over the next year will be to see if we can get closer on the 4 x 10 k and 4 x 7.5 k this year. If we get closer and demonstrate we need that fourth person, a skater, it becomes more interesting for USBA,” Grover said.
Differing competition schedules also have to align. As biathletes’ priority is with their own regular season, this Avengers-like alliance couldn’t take place at the Val di Fiemme World Championships this season, as it coincides with an IBU World Cup in Holmekollen, Norway. The next major relay is at the Olympic Games in 2014, and the Sochi organizers have not yet released the full schedule of events.
If men’s biathlon doesn’t have a conflicting event the day of the men’s 4 x 10 k, Grover said he also needs to be sure a biathlete could hold his own in the cross-country field. To demonstrate this, Burke or any other interested biathletes would have to hop in a FIS World Cup ahead of time and perform well.
“I think one question we want to answer is: how does a given U.S. biathlete stand up against an international [cross-country] field? Is this person faster than the men we have, or really competitive internationally? That’s something we want to figure out ahead of time,” Grover said.
“Obviously Norway’s done this; Germany has in the women’s side. So there’s good examples there.”
If all the necessary pieces fall into place, then, the U.S. could see its best athletes in cross country and biathlon donning the same relay number in the future.
Note: This article was updated at 12:30 p.m. Sept. 11 to include information from Tim Burke.
Audrey Mangan (@audreymangan) is an Associate Editor at FasterSkier and lives in Colorado. She learned to love skiing at home in Western New York.