US Biathlon announces Olympic athlete nominations

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World Cup points leader Tim Burke of Paul Smith’s, N.Y., headlines the U.S. Biathlon Association’s nominations for the Olympic team that will compete next month in Vancouver.

Burke has had three podium finishes this season, including a second place in the men’s mass start race in Oberhof, Germany, on Sunday, a performance that allowed him to retake the lead in the biathlon World Cup.

Joining Burke are three others with Olympic experience: Jay Hakkinen of Kasilof, Alaska; Jeremy Teela of Heber City, Utah; and Lowell Bailey, of Lake Placid, N.Y. Wynn Roberts of Battle Lake, Minn., is the newcomer.

“We’re a team that for sure has a fair amount of experience,” Burke told The Associated Press in a telephone interview from Oberhof on Sunday. “This will be Jay’s fourth Olympics and Jeremy’s third, and these guys have been pretty successful. They haven’t taken a medal at the Olympics but they both have top-15 finishes.

“And Lowell and I were in Torino, and we had one of our best relay results there ever. So, we definitely have a team that’s different than previous biathlon teams from the U.S., both in terms of ability and experience.”

Make no mistake, though. Burke is The Man.

He represents the Americans’ best hope for their first podium finish at the Olympics.

Burke, who will be 28 next month, truly emerged as an elite biathlete during the 2008-09 World Cup season and had a breakthrough this year, with his three top-3 finishes in three different disciplines: the 20k individual race, the 15k pursuit and the mass start.

Last month, he became the first American ever to wear the yellow bib as the overall World Cup points leader, an honor he will take with him to the next stop on the circuit in Ruhpolding, Germany.

His recent success only reinforces the notion that he’s a threat to crack the hold on power that the Norwegians, Russians and Germans have held in Europe’s most popular winter sport.

It’s also a confidence boost for Burke as he prepares for Vancouver.

“It absolutely gives me a lot of confidence that my training this year was world-class and now I have confirmation of that with the results I’ve had at the start of the World Cup year,” Burke said. “And I feel I can carry that momentum over into Vancouver.”

On Sunday, Burke, who missed just two targets, retook the lead in the biathlon World Cup by finishing second to five-time Olympic champion Ole Einar Bjoerndalen of Norway in a men’s mass start race in Oberhof.

“It’s a big honor,” Burke said of reaching the podium with Bjoerndalen. “He’s the best biathlete of all time, so to be next to him is something special.”

Burke leads the standings with 329 points, three more than Evgeny Ustyugov of Russia, who finished fourth.

Andrea Henkel of Germany, Burke’s girlfriend, won the women’s mass start race. She had two misses in her 17th career victory, covering 12.5 kilometers in 40:53.6.

Burke had spent the two-week holiday break training with Henkel in Oberhof, where she lives and trains, and he said that helped him handle the windy, foggy conditions Sunday.

The four-member women’s team consists of Haley Johnson of Lake Placid, N.Y.; Sara Studebaker of Boise, Idaho; Lanny Barnes of Durango, Colo.; and Laura Spector of Lennox, Mass.

Unlike the men’s team, expectations aren’t high for the American women in Vancouver.