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U.S. biathlon team taking shape

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SOLDIER HOLLOW ? With only one day of competition left, the men's and women's biathlon teams that will represent the United States at the Olympics next month is starting to take shape.

Alaska's Jay Hakkinen, the country's best biathlete all year, leads the pack with 297.18 points after Wednesday's 12.5-kilometer pursuit race. He finished first, five seconds ahead of Dan Westover of Vermont, who is currently in third place overall for a spot on the four-man Olympic team.

Beyond Hakkinen, which competitors make the Olympic team will come down to who performs better on Thursday's final sprint race.

Heber City's Lawton Redman currently stands in second place with 296.99 points from three races, despite a seventh-place finish in Wednesday's race. Westover's 295.28 points are only an eyelash better than Heber City's Jeremy Teela's 295.27 points, and both are looking over their shoulders at Dan Campbell of Minnesota (294.99) and David Gieck (293.15) of Midway, both with a serious shot at moving into the top four.

"I wasn't thinking right," said Campbell, who was positioned well until he missed four final targets that forced him to ski a 150-meter penalty loop four times and could end up costing him a spot on the team. "I have to put it together (Thursday), and I will still have a chance to make the Olympics."

On the women's side, favorites going into the Olympic trials have reasserted themselves, with Kara Salmela of Minnesota leading the field with 299.69 points, followed by Rachel Steer of Park City with 298.55, Andrea Nahrgang of Heber City with 297 and Jill Krause of Heber City with 283.82.

Still within striking distance for the fourth spot are Kristina Sabasteanski of Midway, Carolyn Treacy of Minnesota and Deborah Nordyke of Heber City.

"I am feeling more confident now," Salmela said after her first-place finish Wednesday in a 10-kilometer pursuit race. It followed two third-place finishes earlier in the competition and moved her to the top the women's overall standings.

Sabasteanski, a favorite going into the trials, remains optimistic that Thursday's race can put her on the team. "It's not over yet," she said. "You never want to give up."

Wednesday's race was, for all intents and purposes, a last shot for most competitors, who saw their Olympic dreams wither under brutally cold temperatures on the Soldier Hollow course that will host biathlon and cross-country Olympic events in February.

Surprise leaders after the first day have faded into the pack as the pressure to make the team has mounted. Lanny Barnes, a 19-year-old from Colorado who led the women's competition after Saturday's first race, was forced to drop out after an acute case of the flu.

Curtis Schreiner of Heber City finished third on Wednesday, but it likely isn't enough. "These are kind of like pride races for me," he said. "Realistically, I need to have a really good race (Thursday)."

Bottom line, Schreiner said, is the competition to make the team has never been better, and he knows the team that will represent the U.S. will be a good one.

"We have a lot of new guys skiing real fast," he said.

E-mail: donna@desnews.com