RUHPOLDING, Germany – Like Canada’s JP Le Guellec, Tim Burke had a rough time in Saturday’s 20 k individual. He missed one more shot than the Canadian for five total penalties, a killer in the format which assigns a minute of added time for each missed shot.
Burke and his coaches initially assumed he probably wouldn’t make the pursuit, but he managed to make the cut in 56th place.
Once he left the arena after the pursuit, Burke identified the root of his shooting problems and was determined not to let it happen again.
“I wanted to be a lot more aggressive today,” Burke said after the 12.5 k pursuit on Sunday. “Yesterday I was really hesitant, and I saw that in the breakdown, my shooting times were really slow. Actually for me usually the slower I shoot the worse I shoot, so today the goal was to come in just like in training. I feel like I carried through until I missed the last shot.”
He did: Burke was clean for the first 19 of his 20 shots, and then just let it slip on the last one. It was painful to head to the penalty loop, but he still managed to climb to 34th place, buoyed by the 17th-fastest ski time of the day.
“It’s kind of bittersweet,” Burke said of his race. “It’s one of my best races of the year, but starting back so far I couldn’t do much. It’s tough here with the downhill approach to the range, there’s so much good shooting. It makes it really tough to move up. But I’m happy with the performance, so that was good.”
It was a bit of a confidence-booster heading towards the Sochi Olympics. Next up for the U.S. team is the last pre-Olympic World Cup, a weekend of racing in Antholz, Italy.
“I’m feeling good headed in there,” Burke said. “It’s absolutely my favorite track on the World Cup. I’ve had some of my best ski races there, and I’m especially looking forward to it after here, which is my least-favorite track on the World Cup.”
Many teams are racing lightly in Antholz or skipping it entirely; part of the Norwegian men’s team will be training in Lenzerheide, Switzerland, while their female star Tora Berger said she’ll only do one or two of the races. Le Guellec said he’d only start the relay, and other teams have various plans to stay rested and training for the upcoming Games.
For Burke, though, popping a few good races in Antholz is the best preparation he could imagine. He’ll race the full schedule.
“I feel like I do need the starts,” he said. “I’m someone who needs a lot of races. It takes me a while to get going. The normal pattern for me is to get going by World Championships or the Olympics, and then keep going until the end of the season. So I need those races.”
Last season, Burke placed second in the 20 k individual at World Championships in February, and then just kept going. His late-season push was a large reason that he placed third in the discipline rankings for both the individual and mass start: he had four top-ten finishes in the last three weeks of the season, including two fourth-place results.
So from now on, the plan is to keep racing and keep training, and hope for the same outcome, both at the championship event and beyond.
“I won’t be doing too crazy of a taper,” Burke said. “I usually don’t deal with a big taper. It won’t be an issue for me. I’ll be moving around plenty.”
Also in the pursuit, Lowell Bailey had one penalty to move from 25th up to 21st after leading the U.S. in the individual; Leif Nordgren had two penalties to move from 53rd up to 46th.
In the women’s pursuit, Susan Dunklee scored some World Cup points in 33rd place despite having four penalties and starting 41st.
Chelsea Little is FasterSkier's Editor-At-Large. A former racer at Ford Sayre, Dartmouth College and the Craftsbury Green Racing Project, she is a PhD candidate in aquatic ecology in the @Altermatt_lab at Eawag, the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology in Zurich, Switzerland. You can follow her on twitter @ChelskiLittle.