Tim Burke of Paul Smiths was up to the challenge Thursday on the 2014 Olympic course in Sochi, Russia, placing fifth in the 20-kilometer individual biathlon World Cup race. It was the fifth time this season Burke was in the top five.
"This is clearly the toughest course that I have ever raced," Burke said. "I was very happy to see that I can be among the best on this course when I am in good shape. Not only are the uphills brutal here but the downhills feel like they belong on a GS course."
Burke posted a time of 50 minutes, 31.6 seconds with one penalty. World Cup leader Martin Fourcade of France won the event in 49:40.6 with one penalty, followed by Germany's Andreas Birnbacher (49:47.5) and Ukraine's Serhiy Semenov (50:12.5).
Tim Burke of Paul Smiths opened the World Cup event in Sochi, Russia with a fifth-place finish in Thursday’s 20-kilometer race.
(Photo — US Biathlon/NordicFocus)
"It was great to have a chance to feel out the course today, now I know what I need to focus on for training this year," Burke said. "I feel like I am in my best shape of the year now, so I am really looking forward to the remaining races."
Lowell Bailey of Lake Placid tied for 47th place with Milanko Petrovic of Serbia, posting a time of 54:42.5 with four misses. Leif Nordgren of Minnesota was 62nd (56:20.8/+4) and Russell Currier of Maine finished 80th (58:47.9/+5).
In the women's 15k individual, Annelies Cook of Saranac Lake turned in her best result of the season with a 14th-place finish in 49:23.3 with three misses on the final range.
"I'm really excited about the result and the skiing today," Cook said. "I was uncertain about how this day would go, but I was very pleased to shoot clean for three stages and that meant a lot to me.
"The course here is really hard with big steep uphills, twisty downhills and altitude. I tried to stay really relaxed the first loop and even then, I wasn't totally sure I could keep going that way. My skis were super awesome and they have been for the past 10 races and that helped me a lot, especially mentally."
Susan Dunklee of Vermont held the lead early in the race after shooting clean for the first three stages at the range. A missed shot at the fourth stage gave World Cup leader Tora Berger of Norway an opening and she took lead at that point on the way to a third-place finish.
Dunklee finished eighth in 47:47.2, while Dayra Domracheva of Belarus came back for the win with a time of 45:45.2. Olga Zaitseva of Russia took second with clean shooting and a time of 46:19.8. Berger posted one penalty and finished third in 46:32.
"The Olympic course is a tough one with lots of climbing," Dunklee said. "Luckily, it plays to our team's strengths, and Annelies and myself had our best results of the year. We are psyched.
"My strategy going into today was to hold back a little bit on the first loops to give myself a chance to shoot well in the early stages and to save my legs for the second half of the race."
Racing in Sochi continues Saturday with the men's 10k sprint beginning at 7 a.m. (EST) and the women's 7.5k sprint set to begin at 10 a.m. (EST). Both events will be webcast live at www.biathlonworld.com.