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Hakkinen places 26th in biathlon

Posted: Thursday, February 14, 2002

SOLDIER HOLLOW, Utah -- American biathlete Jay Hakkinen ran out of gas Wednesday shortly after he ran out of ammunition.

Hakkinen, a former junior world champion from Kasilof, was in 17th place when he skied to the firing range for the last time in the men's 10-kilometer sprint. A boisterous crowd in the ski stadium roared as he hit every target from the standing position.

At that point, Hakkinen had a reasonable shot at bettering Americas best finish ever (14th) in the biathlon at the Winter Olympics. But the opportunity soon ended.

"I didn't have too much left on that last loop," he said. "I was exhausted both mentally and physically. I tried to use the crowd for energy but I had nothing left.

"I'm tired," he said has he swigged a bottle of water after what is considered a sprint race.

Hakkinen finished 26th, 1:52.2 behind gold medalist Ole Elnar Bjoerndalen of Norway, who also won gold in the 20K earlier in the week.

Hakkinen's teammate, Jeremy Teela, flirted for awhile with a top-15 finish before settling at 20th.

He and Hakkinen had opposite problems.

"The ski speed was there, the shooting wasn't," said Teela, who missed two targets from the standing position. "You can't miss targets and expect to finish high here."

"My shooting was OK, but I was not satisfied with my skiing," said Hakkinen. "I just wasn't very fast today, particularly at the end.''

In the 10-kilometer event, competitors had to stop at intervals to fire at five targets, once from the prone position and once from the standing position. Every miss meant a penalty lap, which cost time and placement.

During his first session at the range, Hakkinen missed the middle of five targets from the prone position. He cleaned the bank of targets from the standing position.

"When I got to standing, I knew I had to have a clean round, then ski all out to the finish," Hakkinen said. "I knew had I nothing lose at that point by going all out. I was able to relax and be more focused on the standing round."

Calmly nailing all 10 of his targets, the Bjoerndalen coasted to the gold medal in the 10-kilometer sprint, becoming the first biathlete to win three gold medals in a career.

''There's not many like this race you have in your life,'' he said.

Bjoerndalen won the same event in Nagano four years ago and has an excellent chance of becoming the first person to win three biathlon golds in the same Olympics. The combined pursuit, which makes its debut Saturday, is a 12.5K that incorporates Wednesday's 10K results. So Bjoerndalen will have a 28.9-second head start on Fischer.

''For me, it's not important if I make one more gold or one less,'' Bjoerndalen said. ''For me, it's more important to make every time that I race a perfect race, and if I'm good enough to win, I win. But if some other guy is better than me that day, I will be satisfied.''

In the women's 7.5K sprint, Germany's Kati Wilhelm used a similarly flawless shooting performance to win her first gold. In a mild upset, she finished in 20:41.4, more than 36 seconds ahead of teammate Uschi Disl. Sweden's Magdalena Forsberg, the sport's dominant woman for the past five years, had to settle for her second bronze in three days.

''It was wonderful to shoot without any mistakes in such a great competition, and I'm very happy about that,'' said Wilhelm, who won the 2001 world title but had not been consistent with her .22-caliber rifle leading up to the games. During a World Cup sprint in Austria on Dec. 6, she missed four of 10 shots.

Disl, who won the silver for the second straight time in this event, could have made Wednesday's race a lot closer if she hadn't missed her last target, forcing her to circle the penalty loop before entering the final lap.

Disl remains the most decorated woman in biathlon history, with seven medals. She has five individual medals, but no gold.

Forsberg needed a furious finish to get on the medals podium. She missed a shot early on, from a prone position, and fell to 21st before she made her last five shots from the trickier standing position. After edging Norwegian Liv Grete Skjelbreid-Poiree by 2.7 seconds, Forsberg slumped into the snow and lay on her back.

''I thought the chance of a medal was gone when I missed a shot there,'' Forsberg said.

Germany has won both women's biathlon golds at Soldier Hollow. Andrea Henkel, who won Monday's 15K race, slumped to 25th on Wednesday, taking herself out of contention with a miss at the first station.

The Americans struggled, with Kara Salmela finishing 49th, Andrea Nahrgang 50th and Rachel Steer 60th.

Lawton Redman finished 54th in the men's race.

''Based on what happened Monday and today, these are our best results ever,'' said Jerry Kokesh, the U.S. Biathlon Association's development director.

Bjoerndalen was exceptional, but his rivals made it easier on him by faltering badly. Frenchman Raphael Poiree, Skjelbreid-Poiree's husband, was the fastest skier after the first shooting stage but missed two shots in the final round, falling to ninth.

Frode Andresen, who finished second behind his countryman Bjoerndalen in 1998, also missed twice on the final shoot and wound up eighth. And Russian Pavel Rostovtsev was perfect through nine shots but missed to the upper left on his final attempt.

He let out a holler before taking his required penalty lap that ate up about valuable time. He finished sixth.

AP Sports Writer Landon Hall contributed to this report.



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