Soule wins first U.S. medal
Whistler Olympic Park - U.S. biathlete Andy Soule (Pearland, Texas) made history Saturday, winning the first U.S. medal of the 2010 Paralympic Games and the first-ever medal for the U.S. Paralympic Biathlon team on the opening day of competition. After placing fifth in the morning qualification race, Soule, a retired U.S. Army veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom, came from behind in the final race of the men's sitting 2.4 km pursuit to win the bronze medal.
"After I passed [Sergey] Shilov, I just hammered it and didn't look back," said Soule. "It felt just incredible. I've had World Cup wins and World Cup podiums before, but there's nothing quite like this - in this atmosphere, in front of the crowd here with everyone watching."
Top-ranked Irek Zaripov of Russia won gold with a time of 9:51.00, while Ukraine's Iurii Kostiuk crossed the finish line +47.9 for silver. Soule, who entered competition ranked fourth overall in International Paralympic Committee World Cup points, posted a final time of 10:53.01.
"It was a great race," said US Biathlon Paralympic Head Coach Greg Rawlings. "He went into it with a great attitude and just started reeling people in. He missed one and went around the penalty loop, but didn't stress it. He just kept going and cleaned it on the final. I think his brain switched right there and he figured out that he was in the game. He was able to pick people off one at a time until he was at the line."
"Andy did an amazing job today, coming from behind in the last loop with one penalty. It was a spectacular performance and I couldn't be more proud of him," said US Biathlon Executive Director Max Cobb. "US Biathlon just got involved in the Paralympics about two and a half years ago. For us, this is validation of the athletes' hard work, of the coaches' work with them and the fact that the American team can win medals at the Paralympic level in biathlon."
In the women's standing 3 km pursuit, USA's Kelly Underkofler (St. Paul, Minn.) finished +14:39.0 for ninth place overall. Russia's Anna Burmistrova won gold with a time of 11:24.01.
"I'm definitely disappointed, but I skied my best and I shot pretty well," said Underkofler. "I knew I had to ski fast and try not to get caught. Oleksandra [Kononova (UKR)] started 20 seconds behind me and passed me on the first loop, which is amazing. So I was bumped back a spot and that's where I finished, which is not exactly where you want to be."
Biathlon competition continues at Whistler Olympic Park on Wednesday with the men's sitting 12.5 km, women's sitting 10 km, men's and women's standing 12.5 km, and men's and women's visually impaired 12.5 km events. For complete schedule and results, visit www.vancouver2010.com.