The United States mixed relay team of Sara Studebaker, Annelies Cook of Saranac Lake, Jay Hakkinen and Tim Burke of Paul Smiths teamed up to finish sixth Friday in the World Cup biathlon event in Kontiolahti, Finland.
With temperatures close to minus-20 Celsius, Team USA posted a time of 1:29:51, trailing first-place France by 3 minutes, 28 seconds.
"Today was a great team effort," Burke said. "Everyone had a solid race in really cold and challenging conditions. I had some big problems with my rifle in prone due to the cold temps, and I was forced to hand load each shot, which cost us a lot of time. Luckily, the others gave me a good fusion and I was able to maintain sixth."
The US Biathlon mixed relay team, from left, Jay Hakkinen, Sara Studebaker, Annelies Cook and Tim Burke pose for a picture after finishing sixth in the IBU World Cup in Kontiolahti, Finland.
(Photo — US Biathlon/Nordic Focus)
"Sara had a solid first leg, was a bit slow to get started but literally warmed up as the race progressed. Her shooting was good and skiing the last loop a really good fight where she gained a couple spots, explained U.S. Biathlon women's coach Jonne Kahkonen. "And Annelies had a solid relay performance and kept us in the mix, the highlight was her fast and clean standing stage. She has been working a lot to get the standing in better shape and today it was there."
Saturday - Sprint
The US team returned to action Saturday and posted one of its best days in recent memory. The U.S. men dominated the 10K sprint with Lowell Bailey of Lake Placid finishing fifth (25:08.0/0+1), Russell Currier of Maine sixth (25:13.5/0+0) and Burke finishing 13th (25:36.4/0+1).
Martin Fourcade of France won the sprint with a time of 24:58.2 (0+1), Russia's Timofey Lapshin was second (24:29/0+0) and Benjamin Weger was third (24:59.8/0+0).
"It was a great day for Team USA," Bailey said. "You'll have to check the record books, but I believe this has got to be the best day in US Biathlon history. We had great skis and the conditions were cold but fair. I was able to ski a consistent race and I was pretty happy with my last lap. Would be nice to have found 10 seconds out there somewhere, but so it goes.
"I came down with a minor head cold when I arrived in Finland so I have been lying low most of the week. But thankfully, it seems like it wasn't too much of a factor."
"Today was obviously a great day for the team," Burke said. "I think this really shows the quality of our national team program when we have the entire team under the top-16. I was very happy with my performance today but am incredibly frustrated with my rifle malfunction in standing. My empty shell from prone simply would not eject before standing. After trying over and over again to get it out, I had to call for help and pry it out with a screwdriver before I could start shooting. At least the times stayed very close so I will not be starting too far behind tomorrow."
Studebaker led the U.S. women in the 7.5K Sprint, posting 24:27.1 with clean shooting for her top finish of the season. Studebaker was 1:19.7 back from World Cup leader Magdalena Neuner of Germany.
Cook finished 39th in 25:29.0 (0+1).
"Today was the best day ever for our men's team - we never had four in the top-16 before," said Max Cobb, U.S. Biathlon CEO. "And even then it was not a perfect day for everyone - Tim needed a range official to help him repair is rifle and lost maybe 20 seconds, moving him out to the top 10. Lowell and Russell going five and six is just terrific, and Russell clean again, how wonderful."
Sunday - Pursuit
With continued strong performances in Kontiolahti, Team USA closed the IBU World Cup Sunday with three top-15 finishes in the Men's 12.5K Pursuit.
Burke led the team with an 11th place finish (35:21.3/1+0+0+3), Bailey crossed the finish in 12th (35:23.6/2+0+2+2) and Hakkinen was 14th (35:36.7/0+0+0+2).
Norway's Ole Elnar Bjoerndalen won the pursuit with a time of 33:43.8 (2+0+0+0) and World Cup leader Martin Fourcade was second (33:57.6/0+1+0+2).
"(The pursuit) went OK, but of course we were all hoping for more after such a great day (Saturday)," Burke said. "Personally, I felt really drained out there after racing the previous two days. I made it all the way up to fifth, but struggled in the last stage. No excuses though, I had an opportunity to go for the podium but was not able to pull it together. The shooting conditions were definitely pretty tricky and it looked like most athletes spent some time in the penalty loop.
"It's funny how expectations can change so fast," added Burke. "Last year, we would have been thrilled to have three guys in the top-15, but today we were definitely a little disappointed. Our coaches help us keep that in perspective, but of course we are all anxious to crack the podium."