ANTHOLZ, Italy - The Antholz World Cup concluded Sunday with the men's relay and the women's mass start competitions.
The U.S. men's team posted a ninth-place finish in the relay, while Laura Spector finished 29th in the mass start.
(Enterprise file photo — Peter Crowley)
While 21 relay teams fought for the last relay victory before the 2011 IBU World Championships in Russia, the German team won with a time of 1:10:17.2, with Team USA 2:14.9 behind for a ninth-place finish.
Lowell Bailey of Lake Placid started the race for the U.S. relay squad. He opened with a fast and perfect prone shooting, ranking second before the standing position that he managed with just one extra shot.
Bailey then handed over to Leif Nordgren just 10.6 seconds behind the Russian leaders.
"It was the best race of my life," Baliey said. "I've had better shootings before, but my skiing was really good. I'm actually so happy, I can't even talk."
Nordgren continued the momentum with 0+2/0+1 at the shooting range, staying just seconds behind the Norwegian leader Ole Einar Bjoerndalen for the second exchange.
"It was really fun to race here. I missed my first extra in prone, that wasn't good, but beside that it was a great race," Nordgren said. "I was happy that I still had some energy left on the last loop and stayed up front there."
With the squad sitting sixth, Jeremy Teela took over. Teela held the team's sixth rank before a penalty loop kicked him back two places.
"I should have waited a bit, I was in too much of a rush," Teela said.
Paul Smiths native Tim Burke raced the anchor leg of the relay. With one penalty in standing, Burke was a bit frustrated in the end with the U.S. team finishing ninth. Nevertheless, the result helped to earn some important points in the Nations Cup. For Bailey and Nordgren the race was among their career best, bringing some extra confidence before the next two World Cups in Maine.
It was a big weekend for Bailey after turning in the second-best finish of his career on Thursday with a 12th-place finish in the 10-kilometer biathlon sprint.
The two-time Olympian's finish on Thursday qualified him for Saturday's men's 15K mass start competition, where he recorded a 22nd place result and a time of 37:32.8. This was the first time that any U.S. skier had qualified for a mass start race this season.
Burke finished 34th on Thursday in 24:59.8.
On the women's side, Olympian Haley Johnson of Lake Placid came away from Antholz with a 37th place finish in the 7.5K sprint competition. The result earned Johnson, who just returned to the World Cup tour, her first series points. She also helped the U.S. women place 13th in the 4 x6 relay event, in a time of 1:15:43.0.
"Antholz is one of the few places where you actually have an uphill before the shooting range," Johnson said. "It's the same in Presque Isle (Maine), so I think it's good practice to race here. When it comes to my shooting, I could have avoided the misses because there are some tricks to work around the mistakes, but I am not too upset about that."
On Sunday, the U.S. women raced in their first relay of the 2010-11 World Cup season, posting a 13th-place, which was 4:28.3 behind the formidable Russian relay squad.
"It was really exciting and so much fun to start in the relay," said 2010 Olympian Sara Studebaker, who was the starting athlete for the U.S. women's relay team. "The standing shooting stage was tough because I was a bit tired, but besides that it was awesome to race here."
After two shootings with 0+1 and 0+2, Studebaker went on the last loop in 12th. Posting a great last loop she handed over to second U.S. starter Annelies Cook of Saranac Lake in 10th place. Cook lost some seconds on the course with some of the world's strongest athletes leading the field, but managed two solid shootings with 0+0 and 0+2.
"I took my time in standing because it was so hard to breathe," Cook said. "I guess I hit the wall because of the altitude on the second loop. I really enjoyed racing here, it was a great experience."
Laura Spector was the third U.S. athlete on the course, keeping the squad on track with two solid shooting results (0+0/0+3).
"It was so windy when I was out there," Spector said. "We waited all season for a relay, so it was fun finally starting in one. It adds a whole other element to racing because you compete as a team."
Anchoring the relay squad, Johnson continued with solid shooting, using just one extra bullet in the standing position. In the last loop, she had two of the strongest athletes racing with her - World Cup leader Kaisa Makarainen of Finland and Olympic medalist Marie Laure Brunet of France.
In the end, Brunet finished 0.5 seconds ahead of Johnson who led the U.S. team to a 13th finish.
"I really hoped I would still get her but some meters were missing," Johnson said. "Nevertheless, it was a great experience and a great relay."
"It was an amazing result and I am especially happy with the shooting performance because not many managed to stay out of the penalty loop," said U.S. Biathlon Shooting Coach Armin Auchentaller. "It was really an incredible team effort and we're all proud of the four of them."