Kasilof’s Jay Hakkinen, 28, maintained the momentum he picked up in the Olympics by placing 11th in the 10-kilometer sprint in World Cup biathlon action in Pokljuka, Slovenia. It is Hakkinen’s fourth top-15 finish this season, bettering his three top 10s last year.
Hakkinen finished 56.9 seconds behind winner and Norwegian Ole Einar Bjorndalen, who did not win any medals in the Turin Olympics after sweeping all four golds in Salt Lake City.
The sprint features a prone shooting stage and a standing shooting stage. At each stage, athletes must ski a 150-meter penalty loop for each of five targets left standing.
Bjorndalen used fast skiing to win despite two penalties. Hakkinen, who had career Olympics and World Cup bests in the individual, relay and mass start in Turin, did not have any penalties.
“I did not know exactly what my shape was after the Olympics,” Hakkinen said in a released statement. “I took some time to recover and felt OK training here, but you never know until the race starts. I went out a little conservative on the first loop. I had fast skis and it picked up after that.”
Hakkinen was the third skier on the course, so he did not have split times of the faster skiers to judge his performance.
“Jay was really slow up the first hill,” said Bernd Eisenbichler, the head wax technician for the U.S. team. “But he gained a lot of time after that. His last loop was very fast, so the shape is still there. It was a very good race for Jay. The podium will come.”
Ever since missing all five targets in a disastrous prone stage in the Turin sprint, Hakkinen has been shooting well.
“I was very relaxed and it happened automatically like it is supposed to today,” Hakkinen said of his shooting. “That is the way good races go. It just all falls together. It seemed easy, like I was not working very hard.”
In the team meeting before the race, Eisenbichler challenged the U.S. athletes to go for results and put 50 Euros ($59.66) on the table for a clean shooting performance. That had Hakkinen looking for Eisenbichler after the race.
Hakkinen will compete in the 12.5-kilometer pursuit on Saturday with fellow Americans Jeremy Teela of Anchorage (53rd) and Lowell Bailey (54th).
The Next Level highlights Kenai Peninsula athletes who have gone on to participate in sports beyond the high school level. If you know of such an athlete, contact the Clarion at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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