KONTIOLAHTI, Finland — Starting fifth out of 127 men in Saturday’s 10-kilometer sprint at 2015 IBU World Championships turned out in Tim Burke’s favor. The American relied on what he considered “solid” 8-for-10 shooting to achieve his best sprint result since December and put himself in contention for Sunday’s pursuit.
“It was an OK race for sure,” Burke said after finishing 15th, 59.6 seconds back from Norway’s Johannes Thingnes Bø, who won in 24:12.8. “It’s been a really frustrating season for me. I was confident coming here that I’m in good shape; I’ve had a good training camp, I’ve been healthy for a long time. I wanted to come out today and put down a solid race and I think I accomplished that.”
Burke last made the top 15 in a sprint on Dec. 12 at the second IBU World Cup of the season in Hochfilzen, Austria. There, he placed 13th and went on to finish 25th in the pursuit.
Despite missing two targets on Saturday, Burke didn’t have to make as many trips to the penalty loop as several competitors did. Only two men cleaned all 10 shots (bronze medalist Tarjei Bø, of Norway, and Jaroslav Soukup, of the Czech Republic, who placed 11th), and most of those outside the top 40 missed three shots or more.
Conditions were blustery, with temperatures dropping right around freezing before the start, and a crosswind making for an especially challenging afternoon on the range. The snow was variable, too, according to Burke, who noted that some parts of the salted course were firmer than others.
Burke started out by missing one prone shot to leave the range in fifth. One lap later, he chose to shoot in the far left side of the range — not in the middle where the headwind from the right was the worst — and missed one standing target to move into third. After initially crossing the finish line in second, Burke was pleased to end up toward the front of the pack.
“As you saw, a lot of penalties, so [one miss on each stage], I think that’s average-to-good today,” Burke said. “Skiing was solid, but it wasn’t great. I felt a little bit off on the first loop and a little bit better on the second and third.”
He posted the 22nd-fastest course time and 23rd-ranked range time overall to put himself 1 minute behind the leader in Sunday’s 12.5 k pursuit.
Another US Biathlon team veteran, Lowell Bailey started 40th and placed 17th, 1.9 seconds back from Burke and 1:01.5 behind the winner, after a clean prone and one standing miss.
“I was happy with the shooting,” Bailey said after posting the eighth-fastest overall shooting time. “It was a big opportunity ski-wise, but I’m still not quite back to my shape I had in January. It’s getting better with every race.”
At the last World Cup sprint in mid-February in Oslo, Norway, both Burke and Bailey finished outside the top 60. The last time Bailey placed higher than 17th in a sprint was Dec. 19 in Pokljuka, Slovenia, where he was 16th.
“I tried to pace myself on that first lap, pushing myself, but not going under so I had something left in the tank,” Bailey said of Saturday’s race. “I definitely was fighting on the last lap, but didn’t quite have the top form I wanted to have. … It’s motivating to shoot well and it makes you push a little harder out on the course. There’s definitely a mental element to it.”
Also for the U.S., Leif Nordgren started 22nd and finished 45th (+1:56.6) after cleaning prone — like Bailey — but missing three in standing.
“That was a perfect day for a good opportunity and I blew it,” Nordgren said. “I shot very slow and conservative in prone and came away with five hits. Standing, I tried to do the same thing, but I think it was pretty windy at that point. I didn’t handle it very well.”
At the end of the day, he posted the 32nd-ranked course time.
The final U.S. skier, 19-year-old Sean Doherty qualified for the pursuit in his first World Championships race after placing 55th (+2:28.9). Doherty started 97th and had a total of three penalties — two prone and one standing.
“I got caught with less wind than I was expecting,” he noted. “I’m not sure where my misses were. The wind today was off and on. Some people got bad luck some got good luck.
“I’m feeling great skiing. I think I really did well today,” Doherty added. “My goal is to always hit more targets. I know I’m capable to do that, it’s just always kind of frustrating when it doesn’t quite happen.”
All four of the American men are slated to start Sunday’s pursuit, with Burke heading out with Yuryi Liadov of Belarus, one minute after Johannes Thingnes Bø, and Bailey starting 2 seconds later. Nordgren will start 1:57 back and Doherty 2:29 behind in 55th out of 60.
— Lander Karath contributed reporting
Alex Kochon (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the former managing editor at FasterSkier. She spent seven years with FS from 2011-2018, and has been writing, editing, and skiing ever since. She's making a cameo in 2020.