clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

2010 Winter Olympics: Tough breaks keep Burke from biathlon breakthrough

WHISTLER, British Columbia — Tim Burke figures he has one more legitimate shot at breaking through America's biathlon barrier at the Vancouver Olympics.

Because the Americans aren't considered a legitimate medal hopeful for the fifth and final race, the relay, Burke's shot at reaching the podium comes down to the 20-kilometer individual race on Thursday and the 15-kilometer mass start on Sunday.

"I've been on the podium in both of the events coming up this year on the World Cup," Burke said. "Right now I'd have to say I have a better chance in the individual. My skiing's not so great right now, and to take a medal in the mass start I'd really have to be on top form."

Burke is the first U.S. biathlete ever to don the coveted yellow bib as the overall World Cup leader, and he's America's best hope for its first Winter Games medal in the sport that combines cross-country skiing and rifle marksmanship.

But Burke was done in by a mid-race snowstorm in the 10-kilometer sprint last Sunday, which served as a double-whammy because the start times for Tuesday's 12.5-kilometer pursuit were based on results from that first race.

That rendered his pursuit performance little more than a trial run.

"I knew I had no chance for a medal or a top finish starting so far back," Burke said. "I took it easy, and I'm looking forward to the next races."

Burke's best shot at a medal might have slipped away before he even started.

A heavy snowstorm struck right when Burke pushed off from the gate in the interval start race Sunday, ruining any hope of had of catching those in front of him who had sped around the course in rainy weather. Wax technicians had prepared competitors' skis for rain, not heavy snow.

"It was the most unfair competition I've ever raced in. To start there with all that snow was really frustrating," Burke said. "When I came to the second shooting, I had snow stuck in my sight. Basically there was snow everywhere. I tried to focus on the same things like in every normal race, but it was so hard to keep that up under those conditions."

He finished in 47th in the first race and 46th in the second.

"Starting that far behind I knew that I had no chance to be anywhere in the front so I had my mind set at the individual already," Burke said after the race. "I just have to figure out what's going on with my skiing right now. I feel flat and tired, and I have no idea why. So that's something I'll have to be able to handle before the next race."

Burke may have peaked too early. He reached the first three podiums of his career on the World Cup circuit earlier this season and would have been better off had these games begun a month ago.

With Johnny Spillane winning America's first Olympic medal in Nordic combined, the biathletes are feeling pressure to end their drought, too.

Burke, who turned 28 this month, doesn't want to wait another four years for the chance to put the United States on the Olympic podium, but Norway's Ole Einar Bjoerndalen, the most decorated biathlete in Olympic history, said Sochi could very well be Burke's time to shine.

"I'm very happy for him to be so strong this year," Bjoerndalen said before these games began. "He has trained really hard for many years, and he is a huge talent. I think for sure he will get at least one medal in Vancouver, because he's shown he is really strong. I'm 100 percent sure he'll get a medal.

"But he'll have other chances as well, because he's young. This won't be his last Olympics."