Jay Hakkinen, who is from Kasilof and is a Skyview High School graduate, earned a berth to his third-straight Olympics with a 15th-place showing in a World Cup biathlon race Sunday in Ruhpolding, Germany.
According to U.S. biathlon team rules, Hakkinen needed two top-15 finishes this year on the World Cup circuit to get an automatic berth to the 2006 Torino Olympics.
Hakkinen, 27, got his first top-15 finish by nabbing seventh in Osterund, Sweden earlier in the season. Hakkinen, who is now ranked 21st in the World Cup biathlon rankings, had several close misses in recent World Cups. Then came the breakthrough Sunday, which assures he won't have to worry about peaking for the U.S. biathlon team trials, then get ready to peak at the Olympics again.
Only three other Alaskans have made more than two trips to the Winter Olympics. Cross-country skier Nina Kemppel has four trips under her belt, while Alpine skiers Tommy Moe and Hilary Lindh each have three.
"This is just another of my goals for the season," Hakkinen said in a press release. "They have been coming one by one, just as I planned. Now what is left is the podium top three, world champs and the Olympics."
Hakkinen finished in 30th place in the 10-kilometer sprint on Saturday. In the pursuit format, that meant he started in 30th place on Sunday. Hakkinen, who traditionally has been a strong skier, said his strategy Sunday was to concentrate on shooting and not worry as much about skiing.
The strategy paid off as Hakkinen hit nine of his first 10 shots and moved up to 25th place. Hakkinen took his next five shots standing. He missed once, but many others did too and Hakkinen entered the final shooting stage in 22nd place.
In the second standing stage, Hakkinen rapidly nailed all five of his shots. As Hakkinen left the shooting area, his longtime coach, Algis Shalna, looked at the scoreboard in the midst of the 20,000 fans and saw Hakkinen was in 15th place. He immediately made radio contact with his staff and told them to get Hakkinen going.
The finish showed Hakkinen's continued resurgence. He was the top-ranked U.S. biathlete from 1998 to 2002, then finished 13th in the 2002 Olympic pursuit competition for the highest finish ever by an American in Olympic biathlon competition.
However, two years before his breakthrough Sunday, Hakkinen was in bed during the Ruhpolding World Cup with severe tonsillitis. That illness threw off Hakkinen's season, but in 2004 he regained the top ranking amongst U.S. biathletes.
"It is pretty satisfying," Hakkinen said in a press release. "Nevertheless, it also shows that all of the hard work since then is paying off. Now, I just have to keep focused on the bigger goals ahead."
With those goals in mind, Hakkinen had been training at altitude before the Ruhpolding World Cup. Immediately after Sunday's race, he left Ruhpolding to resume altitude training.
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