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Finish makes Olympic history

Hakkinen owns top 3 American biathlon spot at games

Posted: Sunday, February 26, 2006

The rifle was willing but the legs were not.

Kasilof’s Jay Hakkinen, 28, finished his Winter Olympics with 13th place in the 15-kilometer men’s mass start Saturday in the snowy mountains of Cesana San Sicario, Italy.

Hakkinen had just one penalty in four shooting stages, but he said his skiing was not good due to soft conditions.

With his 13th place in the pursuit at Salt Lake City and his 10th place in the 20-kilometer individual in Italy, Hakkinen’s finish on Saturday gives him the top three American biathlon finishes in Olympic history.

“I just think overall, this Olympics has shown my level is raising,” Hakkinen said on a cell phone shortly after the race. “I missed out on medals by such small margins, and not even with perfect races.

“With good races, it shows the potential is there, especially looking toward the next Olympics and the next World Cups. This is great for my motivation. Even at this Olympics, I’ve had a lot of fun competing with the best in the world.”

Germany’s Michael Greis, with one miss, won the gold medal in 47 minutes, 20 seconds. It is Greis’ third gold of the games. Poland’s Tomasz Sikora, also with one miss, took the silver. Norway’s Ole Einar Bjoerndalen, with three misses, took bronze and failed to win a gold medal in Italy after sweeping all four biathlon golds at Salt Lake City.

Saturday marked the debut of mass start competition in the Olympics. The mass start is unique because all 30 competitors start at once, instead of starting at timed intervals.

In a men’s mass start, biathletes ski 3 kilometers before each of four shooting stages. The first two stages are prone, while the last two are standing. For each of five targets left standing after five shots, athletes must ski a 150-meter penalty loop.

Hakkinen’s race strategy was to stay with the pack and shoot accurately. In the sprint competition at this Olympics, Hakkinen had missed all five targets in the prone stage. Hakkinen continued to put that performance behind him by hitting 10 for 10 in the prone stages to move into eighth place.

“I can’t complain about my shooting,” he said. “It was relaxed and focused.”

Hakkinen then hit nine of 10 in the standing stages. That put him in sixth place as he left the final shooting stage, just 14 seconds out of third place with 3 kilometers left to ski.

“The last loop, I didn’t have the legs,” Hakkinen said. “A lot of other guys were close enough to be able to catch me.”

After a kilometer, racers started to pass Hakkinen. With 700 meters to ski, Hakkinen was in 10th place but could not hang on.

Hakkinen said skiing in soft conditions is not his strength. Eight inches of snow fell overnight at San Sicario. Snowfall continued during the race.

The conditions were different from the hard track of two weeks earlier, where Hakkinen was the second-fastest skier in the 20-kilometer individual.

“I’m better on hard track,” Hakkinen said. “In icy conditions, I get a stronger kick. I’m a little heavier. The light guys can dance over the snow.”

Hakkinen, at 6-foot-0, 163 pounds, is not heavier than every athlete to pass him in the last 3 kilometers. However, the last two to pass him were Frenchmen Vincent Defrasne, at 5-8, 134, and Raphael Poiree, at 5-8, 154.

Minus the disastrous 10-kilometer sprint, Hakkinen said this Olympics is encouraging, even though he didn’t reach his goal of a medal.

Hakkinen had World Cup and Olympic career bests in the relay, individual and mass start at this Olympics. If Hakkinen would have shot as accurately in the individual as he did in the mass start, he would have won a gold medal.

“Since I was so close to medals so many times, it definitely makes me realize I have unfinished business,” Hakkinen said.

Hakkinen has never been on the podium in a World Cup or Olympic event, although he is the first and only American to win a gold medal at the World Junior Biathlon championships.

Hakkinen said he wants to get on a World Cup podium before the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver roll around so the territory is not foreign to him.

There are just three World Cups left this season. The next is in Pokljuka, Slovakia, from March 8 to 12.

“Even during this Olympics, I was thinking how a lot of guys look tired, but I’m tired, too,” Hakkinen said. “I’m in good position. If I can keep my shooting together, maybe I can finish off the results I was trying to get here.”



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