Five straight misses eliminate Hakkinen’s chance at medal

A disaster on the range

Posted: Wednesday, February 15, 2006

The Olympic dream of Kasilof’s Jay Hakkinen quickly turned into a nightmare Tuesday in the men’s biathlon 10-kilometer sprint at the Turin Olympics due to five straight misses from the prone shooting position.

Hakkinen, 28, finished 80th in the sunny and calm mountains of Cesana San Sicario, Italy, to end any chance of an individual medal at this Olympics. The finish means Hakkinen will not qualify for Saturday’s 12.5-kilometer pursuit or the mass start on Feb. 25. Hakkinen’s only remaining medal chance comes in the relay race on Feb. 21.

Sven Fischer of Germany won the gold medal, cleaning all 10 targets and finishing in 26 minutes, 11.6 seconds. Norway’s Halvard Hanevold also shot clean and finished 8.2 seconds behind Fischer to add a silver medal to a bronze he won Saturday. Norway’s Frode Andresen took the bronze.

Combining the two different disciplines of riflery and Nordic skiing, biathlon is a notoriously up-and-down sport.

Hakkinen’s performance Tuesday, which he said in a U.S. biathlon press release was probably the worst day of his career, came just three days after Hakkinen had finished 10th in the 20-kilometer individual race to give the U.S. its best Olympic biathlon finish in history.

Saturday, it was one miss from the prone shooting position that kept Hakkinen from a bronze medal and two prone misses that kept him from gold. Tuesday, Hakkinen’s prone shooting problems returned with fury.

In this sprint race, biathletes skied 3.3 kilometers before taking aim at five targets from the prone position. Each miss results in a 150-meter penalty loop. After 3.3 more kilometers, athletes do a round of five standing. Then it’s another 3.3 kilometers to the finish.

Hakkinen’s best race always has been the sprint because it emphasizes skiing over shooting. He won the World Junior Championship in the event in 1997, and four of his five best World Cup finishes have been in the event. With Hakkinen posting the second-fastest ski time in Saturday’s individual, climbing the Olympic podium was possible Tuesday.

Hakkinen said shortly after the race on a cell phone that the first 3.3 kilometers went according to plan. Then came the shooting range.

It is extremely rare for a biathlete at Hakkinen’s level to miss all five targets. Hakkinen said after the race that he could never remember it happening to him in a race before.

Since starting his World Cup career during the 1996-97 season, Hakkinen’s lowest season percentage from the prone position is 70 percent. This season, he has been knocking down targets from the prone position at a 76 percent clip.

That explains the increasing look of disbelief television viewers saw on Hakkinen’s face as he popped off shots and targets failed to change from black to white.

With two and certainly three misses, Hakkinen knew his chance at the podium was gone. As the misses mounted to four and five, Hakkinen knew he stood little chance of even finishing in the top 60 to qualify for the pursuit race.

“Right away after five misses, it’s pretty clear that I’m out of it,” Hakkinen said. “It’s kind of severe for everything to fall apart so quickly.

“For the Olympics to end on a bad note, so quickly, is devastating.”

His Olympic dream vanished, Hakkinen made a clumsy exit from the range that included banging his rifle on the ground in disgust and dropping his glasses. He then skied six penalty loops instead of the required five.

“I was almost dazed for a minute after that and stopped thinking straight for a minute,” Hakkinen said in a U.S. biathlon press release.

Hakkinen recovered to nail 4 of 5 targets from the standing position, but the damage was done.

Sterling’s Joan Miller, whose 14th-place finish in the women’s individual in the 1994 Lillehammer Olympics is the best U.S. women’s Olympic finish in history, said Hakkinen’s five straight misses shows how tough of a sport biathlon can be.

“It happens,” Miller said. “It’s probably really not common, but we’ve all done it as biathletes somewhere in our careers.”

Miller said there are a ton of variables that go into shooting in biathlon, including wind, sunlight, body position and physical and mental shape entering the range.

The experience it takes to control all of those variables is evidenced by the fact that no men’s biathlete under 30 has won a medal yet at these Games.

Hakkinen said after the race that his misses all went to 9 o’clock. Miller said that if all the misses went to the same area, it is easier to discover the variable that went awry and fix it.

“Hopefully, he can pick himself up and dust himself off and carry on and be stronger from it,” Miller said.

At 28, though, Hakkinen said he has the experience to get most of the targets down consistently. He was asked after the race whether he could just chalk this one up as a bad experience from which to learn.

“Chalk this up to a nightmare,” he said. “I don’t know. I’ve got to get beyond this. It’ll be living with me for a long time.”

Olympic rookies Tim Burke and Lowell Bailey paced the United States, with Burke finishing 37th with three penalties and Lowell Bailey finishing 48th with three penalties. Anchorage’s Jeremy Teela was 62nd.

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