HEBER CITY, Utah Here's a new one. America's top two biathletes claimed they might have done better in Monday's 20-kilometer race at the 2002 Winter Olympics if they hadn't been so pumped up by a large, pro-American crowd.
"I absolutely never imagined what happened here today,'' Jay Hakkinen said of the support he heard from a largely American crowd estimated at 8,500 fans in Soldier Hollow.
"We see those kinds of crowds in Europe, and there might even be a couple of people chanting my name,'' the Alaska native noted. "But it was a completely
different feeling from anything I've ever had to hear people chanting, U-S-A or chanting my name.
"It was almost hard to keep the right pace because there was so much adrenaline flowing.''
Hakkinen didn't give the crowd what it hoped to see the first American medal in this combination cross-country skiing and shooting event that has wide appeal in Europe, but is lightly regarded here.
Europeans, not surprisingly, dominated the event. Norway's Ole Einar Bjoerndalen took the gold, German's Frank Luck the Silver and Russia's Victor Maigourov the bronze.
Hakkinen's 26th-place finish in a race he does not consider his specialty came about largely because he missed three targets in 20 shots on the firing range, thus absorbing three minutes in penalties. Had Hakkinen eliminated just two of those misses, he could have finished as high as 11th.
"I started thinking too much going into my second round of shooting and kind of choked up (missing twice from the standing position),'' Hakkinen said. "I knew I had to hit all my shots to be competitive. But with those kind of penalties, it's tough to get a good result.''
American teammate Jeremy Teela also heard the supportive crowd, but did a better job of concentrating.
Teela missed only two targets " as well as I've shot in years in a long race,'' he noted and recorded a surprising 14th-place finish, tying the highest Olympic finish by any American biathlete.
"I got the Olympic jitters out of the way,'' said Teela, an Anchorage native who, like Hakkinen, hopes to finish higher in Wednesday's 10K sprint event.
"It took me a couple of loops to adjust. I was pushing too hard because people were calling my name, and I wasn't used to that. I got out of my zone, and that made me a little tired at the end of the race. I didn't have any push at the end, and that's disappointing.''
Jeremy Teela of the USA skis during the men's 20Km biathlon event, Monday, Feb. 11, 2002, at Soldier Hollow in Midway, Utah.
AP Photo/Luca Bruno
Teela wasn't especially excited to only tie the highest American Olympic finish ever in biathlon. Two other Americans John Burnitt in 1960 and Peter Karns in 1972 have done as well.
Teela could have done better, he said, if he'd put aspects of his sport together at the same time.
"I finished 14th today with some pretty slow skiing but some pretty good shooting,'' he said. "I really only did half of what the sport is all about. I did a unithon. But that shows that if everything comes together at once, a medal is a possiblity.''
The American women did not fare nearly as well in Monday's 15-K race.
Rachel Steer of Anchorage recorded the highest U.S. finish at No. 31, finishing 4:21 behind gold medalist Andrea Henkel of Germany. Henkel completed the nine-mile cross-country race in 46:29.1 and incurred only one penalty to post a combined time of 47:29.1
Steer missed shots from both the prone and standing positions to incur two minutes in penalties.
"I'm not unhappy, but if I'd hit one more shot I'd have been happier,'' said Steer, who could have improved 10 places if she hadn't had what she called a momentary lapse on her first standing shot. "But that was still a good start for me, and I needed that.''
The biathletes return to action Wednesday with the 10K sprint for me and the 7.5K sprint for women.
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