Clarion Calls

Posted: Thursday, February 11, 2010

Jeff's call: Give biathlon a shot

Admittedly, cross-country skiing and shooting are a strange combination. The sport of biathon seems more appropriate to a celebrity athlete reality show (next week: ice skate pingpong!) than the Winter Olympics.

But as the Winter Olympics in Vancouver approach, I would recommend peninsula television viewers give biathlon a shot for several reasons.

First, there are compelling peninsula, Alaska and United States story lines.

Kasilof's Jay Hakkinen, 32, will be making his fourth appearance at the Games, still seeking the first American medal in biathlon. Nordic combined and biathlon are the only winter sports in which America has not won a medal.

Jeremy Teela, who grew up in Anchorage, also will be chasing that elusive medal. Last March, when Whistler Olympic Park hosted a World Cup race, Teela finished third in the 20-kilometer individual. He was the first U.S. biathlete in 17 years to finish in the top three at a World Cup event.

Tim Burke, who is from the state of New York, has taken U.S. biathlon to the next level this year with three different World Cup podium finishes. That performance has marked him as a solid bet to end the medal drought.

In addition to local, state and national cheering interests, Olympic viewers should note that biathlon can make for interesting television. Biathlon is the most popular winter television sport in Europe.

(On second thought, maybe that's not such a good argument. We all know America's affinity for two other things that are extremely popular in Europe -- soccer and national health care systems.)

What makes the sport compelling on television is the drama at the shooting range. Skiing, for most, is not all that interesting to watch on television. While racers can't win without skiing fast, the shooting range is where medals are lost and won.

In the individual competition, each miss costs the athlete one minute. In the sprint, pursuit and mass start competitions, each miss means a competitor has to ski a 150-meter penalty loop.

That means an athlete can absolutely be dusting the field, come to the last shooting stage dog-tired with a lifelong goal in sight, tense up, miss three shots, and fall into 12th place.

An athlete also can come to the last shooting stage in fifth place, mow down the targets while others falter, and suddenly be in first place with a number of competitors coming off the penalty loop and trying to chase down a medal.

In Friday's Clarion, an article will appear about Hakkinen in anticipation of his first Olympic event on Sunday. A complete list of Hakkinen's events, with times and television stations, will run with the article.

The biathlon events are worth checking out.

Mike's call: Iverson makes 1st trip to state

For the first time in his high school hockey coaching career, Pete Iverson is headed to the state tournament.

During his tenure with the now defunct Skyview program, the Panthers never earned a state berth. In just his second season at the helm in Kenai, the Kardinals, and Iverson, take the ice today against West Anchorage in the first round at state.

Kenai Central's last trip to the big dance came in 2007, where it took fourth. Current North American Hockey Leaguers Jed McGlasson and Brad Fusaro were among the players on Kenai's roster.

The Kards dropped the opening game 4-2 to Service, but rebounded with wins over Lathrop and Wasilla to claim fourth.

Several other future NAHL players competed against one another that year at state. McGlasson, Robb Haider, Kyle Pichler, Logan Rounds and Matthew Friese -- of all whom now play for the Alaska Avalanche of Wasilla -- skated in the 2007 state tournament. Matt Bennett and Braden Kinnebrew, too, were at state in '07. They, along with Fusaro, are now members of the Kenai River Brown Bears.

While Iverson knows state will be the toughest competition his team has faced all season, he, along with his players, are not putting an upset out of the realm of possibility.

"The neat thing about tournaments is, something strange always happens," Iverson said prior to Tuesday's practice. "It'd be fun to give them an upset."

"I feel like we're gonna surprise a lot of them," Kenai forward Zack Mese said of the Anchorage schools.

No matter the outcome, Iverson's accomplishment is impressive.

Mike Nesper and Jeff Helminiak work in the sports department at the Peninsula Clarion. They can be reached at sports@peninsulaclarion.com.



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