Following the 2006 Olympic Winter Games, US Biathlon received increased funding from the United States Olympic Committee, allowing the organization to hire world-class high performance and coaching staffs and get on track to win its first Olympic medal.
Nearly four years later, Tim Burke led the overall world cup standings for several weeks, demonstrating the program was on the right track. However, at the Vancouver Games, Team USA did not make the podium, and only had one top-10 finish. Now, with four different athletes having already secured top-six world cup finishes this season, the U.S. biathlon team has never been better positioned for success in Olympic competition. Burke ended 2012 with another trip to the podium and a No. 6 world ranking.
The biathlon competition in Sochi will feature five different events, including the individual, sprint, pursuit, mass start and relay competitions. The individual competition is the classic biathlon race, covering 20 kilometers for men and 15 kilometers for women, with four shooting lanes in each discipline. The first and third shooting stages are taken from the prone position, while the second and fourth are fired standing. The sprint is an abbreviated version of the individual event, in which men race 10K and women race 7.5K, each shooting two rounds – one prone and one standing. In the pursuit competition, athletes start in a staggered fashion depending on their time in the sprint race.
One of the newest formats, the mass start competition covers 15K for men and 12K for women, with four shooting stages. In each race, the 30 highest-ranked athletes start simultaneously and take their place at the first shooting stage depending on their starting number. Finally, the relay consists of four-person teams covering distances of 7.5K for men and 6K for women. Each leg of the race includes two shooting stages – one prone and one standing. Once an athlete has fired all eight rounds of their ammunition, they must ski a 150-meter penalty loop for each missed target.
A world-class cross-country ski and biathlon center is being built for the Sochi Games. Situated to the northwest of the Rosa Khutor Alpine Center, the facility includes a 9,600-seat stadium, courses, a shooting range and a warm-up area. After the Games, the center will serve as a training center and venue for large international competitions.
- The U.S. biathlon team had a breakthrough season in 2012, when four athletes earned top-six finishes on the world cup circuit. The success sets the stage for what could be one of the biggest stories of the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games: Team USA’s first Olympic medal in biathlon.
- From the small town of Stockholm, Maine, Russell Currier is a great example of how sport and the Maine Winter Sports Center programs have helped change lives in socio-economically underserved communities.
- Dartmouth College graduate Susan Dunklee is the daughter of two-time Olympian Stan Dunklee. She grew up in Barton, Vt., which is situated in an area more commonly known as the “northeast kingdom.” She is an active member of the Craftsbury Racing Project, which combines elite-athlete training with sustainable living principles.
- Tim Burke and Lowell Bailey are outdoorsmen who grew up with the legacy venues of the 1980 Olympic Winter Games as their playground. The pair of New York pioneers will try to capture Team USA’s first Olympic biathlon medal in Sochi.
- Despite lacking a national presence, the U.S. biathlon team is still able to compete with the well-funded European teams. The success is a credit to highly motivated U.S. athletes, excellent coaching and strong leadership that yields small but effective teams.
ATHLETES TO WATCH
Bailey had a breakout season in 2012, highlighted by multiple top-10 world cup finishes. He ended the season ranked 14th in the world. A 2006 and 2010 Olympian from Lake Placid, N.Y., he is also an accomplished musician.
The top-ranked member of the U.S. team to close 2012, Burke ended the year ranked sixth in the world. He has four career podium finishes, and led the overall world cup in December 2009 and January 2010. After recovering from surgery for compartments syndrome in 2012, he still managed a top-20 world ranking. Burke grew up near Lake Placid, N.Y., and will be vying for his third straight Olympic berth.
Currier’s two sixth-place finishes highlighted a breakout campaign in 2012. A strong skier from Stockholm, Maine, Currier began biathlon at the Maine Winter Sports Center at age 12. He will aim to stabilize his shooting in his quest for an Olympic berth.
Dunklee is coming off her first year on the U.S. world cup and world championships teams. She finished fifth in the 15-kilometer individual competition at the 2012 World Championships, missing the podium by just seven seconds. A Dartmouth College alumna from Barton, Vt., her father, Stan Dunklee, competed at the1976 and 1980 Games in cross-country skiing.
The Nations Cup rankings from the two world championships prior to the 2014 Olympic Winter Games determine the registration and start quota for each nation. Team USA will likely earn four starts for both the men’s and women’s races and register five men and four women for the Sochi Games.
World cup competitions will be used to select the 2014 U.S. Olympic Team. Up to two men and two women can qualify during the 2012-13 season by either earning two top-15 finishes in the world cup or world championships, or by having a top-30 overall world cup ranking. The remaining selections will be made in January 2014.
|Feb. 6-17||IBU World Championships||Nove Mesto, Bratislava|
|Feb. 27-March 3||E. ON IBU World Cup||Oslo, Norway|
|March 3-10||U.S. National Championships||Fort Kent, Maine|
|March 4- 10||E. ON IBU World Cup||Sochi, Russia|
|March 11-17||E. ON IBU World Cup||Khanty-Mansiysk, Russia|
|March 17||Olympic Team nominations|
|October-December||World Cup Team qualifying races|
|Jan. 13||Final Olympic Team nominations|