Tim Burke has been ranked No. 1 in the world.
He’s captured a world silver medal.
And made three U.S. Olympic teams.
But Burke is still chasing that one ultimate achievement that has eluded him and every other U.S. athlete who has competed in the challenging sport of biathlon: a coveted Olympic medal.
The 34-year-old Burke is determined to make history with the next Winter Games in PyeongChang less than 15 months away. The last full season before the Games begins with the IBU World Cup opener this weekend in Ostersund, Sweden.
“Everything has gone really well with my training,” Burke said. “We just finished a three-week camp in Canada, in Alberta. Now I’m just resting and recovering before the world cup event. I’m really excited about the season.”
Burke has been a busy man since the last Winter Games in 2014 in Sochi. He has continued to train and compete, and he married German biathlete Andrea Henkel, a two-time Olympic gold medalist and eight-time world champion who retired in 2014.
The couple celebrated their two-year anniversary last month.
“Andrea’s been great — she’s so supportive,” Burke said. “She obviously understands the lifestyle we have as an Olympic athlete with all of the training and traveling that we do.”
The couple is also in the process of building a home in Lake Placid, New York.
Burke grew up near Lake Placid, in the small town of Paul Smiths, New York, and was born just two years after the 1980 Winter Games were hosted in Lake Placid. Several elite winter athletes still live and train in the Adirondack town at the U.S. Olympic Training Center there.
“Growing up in that area, you would see Olympic champions and medalists around all the time,” Burke said. “You couldn’t help but be motivated and inspired by what they accomplished. It was a great place to grow up, and it was fun to be around the kind of atmosphere we have here.”
Burke started as a Nordic skier before taking up biathlon as a teenager.
“When I was 12 years old, that’s when I first started thinking about being an Olympian,” he said. “I started competing in biathlon, and I knew right away that was a goal I wanted to achieve.”
Burke has excelled in biathlon, a grueling sport that requires a unique and challenging combination of cross-country skiing and shooting.
“It’s a very tough sport that combines a lot of different variables,” he said. “There are a number of different skills involved, and it’s obviously very demanding physically. It is something that definitely will test you.”
The 5-foot-11, 160-pound Burke has competed in the last three Olympic Winter Games for Team USA, but his breakthrough in the sport came when he won a silver medal in the 20-kilometer individual competition at the 2013 world championships in the Czech Republic. He became only the second American man to win a world championships medal.
Burke also became the first American to wear the yellow bib as the top-ranked biathlete in the world when he did so in 2009-10, following three podium finishes that December. In a decade on the world cup circuit, his best season finish was 10th in 2013.
Burke had planned to retire after the 2014 Winter Games, but events in Russia didn’t quite unfold as he had planned.
“I was sick in Sochi,” he said. “If you are not 100 percent physically in this sport, it makes it pretty difficult to compete at a high level.”
Burke decided to give his Olympic dream one final shot. He finished the 2015-16 season ranked 15th.
He also has worked closely with Olympic champion shooter Matt Emmons, and said he has made gains in that important area.
“Matt’s been tremendous — he’s taught me so much,” Burke said. “I’ve worked closely with him this year and was fortunate to do a training camp with him this summer. Just being able to pick his brain and being able to work on minute technical details has helped a lot. The level of knowledge he has is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. So it was really great to have one of the best shooters in the world sit there and watch me shoot.”
It would only be fitting that a guy from Lake Placid would become the first American biathlete to land a spot on the Olympic medal podium.
“It would be a dream come true to win an Olympic medal,” Burke said. “I’ve put so much time into pursuing this. I am planning to retire after the Olympics, so this will be it for me.
“The Olympics, it’s something I’ve been thinking about and working toward for most of my life. I’ve put a lot of years into it. It would be great to be the first American to do it.”