Kasilof biathlete Jay Hakkinen completed a disappointing Olympics by finishing 13th in the men's relay on Friday in Whistler, British Columbia.
"It is clear the relay race did not go well, and I cannot sugercoat it to make it sound better than it was," Hakkinen wrote on Friday from the Olympics.
The U.S. squad of Hakkinen, Jeremy Teela, Lowell Bailey and Tim Burke finished 6 minutes, 20.2 seconds, behind gold medalist Norway. Austria was second while Russia was third.
The Americans wanted a top-six result in the race, but were done in by poor shooting.
In the relay, there are two shooting stages for each of four competitors. At each shooting stage, the biathlete has eight bullets to hit five targets.
The first five bullets come in the same magazine. If the biathlete does not knock down all five targets with those bullets, the next three bullets must be hand-loaded, taking about 8 to 10 seconds each.
If there are still targets standing after eight bullets have been fired, then the biathlete must ski a 150-meter penalty loop for each target standing.
A team can get away with hand-loading bullets. Norway had to hand-load seven. The killer is penalty loops, and the U.S. had to ski four penalty loops while hand-loading 12 bullets. Only one team in the field of 19 had to ski more penalty loops.
Bailey skied first for the U.S. and had to hand-load just one bullet. When he tagged Hakkinen, the U.S. was in 13th place, 44.3 seconds behind the leaders.
Hakkinen went clean on his first shooting stage and 4.9 kilometers into his leg he had moved up to 12th place and was 37.1 seconds behind the leader.
Then he came to the standing shooting stage. Hakkinen had to hand-load three bullets and ski a penalty loop, ending the U.S. medal hopes.
"For my leg, I fought hard to get within striking distance of the podium again, and I was making progress, but when I came in to shoot standing I got too aggressive with the shooting," Hakkinen wrote.
Hakkinen tagged Burke 1:56.4 behind the leaders and in 12th place. Burke went clean in the prone stage, but he had to hand-load three bullets and ski two penalty loops in the standing stage.
He tagged Teela in 12th place and 3:26.8 behind the leaders. Teela hand-loaded two bullets in prone, then hand-loaded three bullets and skied a penalty loop at the standing stage.
"Overall it just felt like we had no wind in our sails after having so many problems in the individual races," Hakkinen wrote.
Hakkinen, Burke and Bailey were taken out of medal contention in the sprint and pursuit by a snowstorm that broke out in the middle of the pursuit.
Only early starting bibs had a chance to contend, helping Teela, originally of Anchorage, set a U.S. Olympic-best finish in the sprint at ninth.
In the individual, Hakkinen, Burke and Bailey were again punished for having late starting bibs. This time a hot sun baked and slowed the course for later competitors.
The Vancouver Olympics breaks a trend of Olympics ascent for Hakkinen and the U.S. biathlon team.
In Nagano in 1998, Hakkinen's best finish was 42nd. In Salt Lake in 2002 he had a 13th, and in Torino in 2006 he had a 13th and a 10th. He also skied the lead leg of the relay and touched off in first place.
Hakkinen's best finish in Vancouver was a 54th in the sprint.
The U.S. Olympic relay finished 17th in 1998, 15th in 2002 and ninth in 2006 before falling to 13th Friday.
Burke spent part of this year as the first American to ever wear the yellow bib as the World Cup leader, so expectations were high the Americans would finally win a medal in biathlon.
Instead, the U.S. won a medal in Nordic combined, making biathlon the lone Winter Olympic sport where the U.S. has not medaled.
"The most important thing for me, and the (United States Biathlon Association), is to get back up and get our momentum back," Hakkinen wrote. "The Olympics are over, of course, but it would be counterproductive to drag our feet and sulk about what happened.
"It will be very important for us to closely analyze each race and find out what went wrong so we can immediately fix it and fight to get to the top where we belong."
Hakkinen is now 32 with a young daughter and a fiancee. He will finish the World Cup season, but is making no firmer commitments on his future.
Biathletes can excel past the age of 32. One member of the winning Norwegian team, Halvard Hanevold, is 40, while another, Ole Einar Bjoerndalen, is 36.
"As for my future, it was focused specifically on these Olympics, and now I will go through the analysis and planning process and see what comes out of that," Hakkinen wrote.
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