Four years ago, Tim Burke entered the Vancouver Winter Olympics at the top of his game.
The Paul Smiths native was riding the best season ever for an American on the World Cup biathlon circuit. Leading up to the Olympics he had reached the podium three times -- two silvers and a bronze -- and for a while was the overall World Cup points leader. The Associated Press picked him to medal in the games.
But that didn't happen. Burke had a disappointing and frustrating Olympics. He took 47th in the 10-kilometer sprint, 46th in the 12.5k pursuit, 45th in the individual 20k (each among 80-some competitors) and 18th out of 30 in the 15k mass start. When the U.S. team closed out the Vancouver games by finishing 13th out of 19 in the 4x7.5k relay, Burke wasn't shy about how he felt.
Tim Burke of Paul Smiths skis during the mass start of the biathlon World Cup in Oberhof, Germany on Jan. 5.
(AP Photo -- Jens Meyer)
"It was just a continuation of how these entire Olympics have gone for us -- pretty awful," he said.
His sights were already set on the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
"I'll be thinking about that every day for the next four years," he said. "I'll be looking for revenge there for sure."
As those games approach, the man who may once again represent the U.S.'s best chance to win its first Olympic medal in biathlon says he's in a comfortable position, with less pressure than he faced four years ago.
"Going into Vancouver, I definitely had a lot of outside pressure because I held the number one World Cup ranking for a portion of that season," Burke wrote in an email. "This was a great learning experience for me and I feel more prepared for these expectations this time. If anything, I feel like I have flown a bit under the radar this season, and that's just fine for me."
This season, Burke's World Cup results have been all over the board. He grabbed his sixth career podium, a bronze, in a November sprint race in Oestersund, Sweden, two days after he finished 60th in the individual race. In January in Oberhof, Germany, he followed a 61st-place result in the sprint with a ninth-place finish in the mass start.
"I have definitely had some big swings in results this year, but that is just the way biathlon is now," Burke said. "Biathlon is one of the most competitive Winter Olympic sports with over 100 athletes starting each race. Nearly half of the field has a chance at a podium finish, so it is not unusual to finish 10th one day and then 60th the next.
"I'm very happy that I already have one podium finish this year," Burke added. "This is a good confirmation for me that I can be at the top on the right day."
One of Burke's top performances last season was at a World Cup in Sochi, when he took fifth place in the individual 20k. He described that as a "good confidence boost that I can be among the best on that course."
Burke described the course in Sochi as very challenging with many long, sustained climbs. The altitude in Krasnaya Polyana, where the Laura Cross-Country Ski and Biathlon Center is located, will also test the endurance of Burke and his teammates and competitors. He said he spent the two weeks prior to the games training at altitude in Italy.
Given what he went through in Vancouver, is Burke's goal in Sochi to finally crack the Olympic podium?
"My only real goal is to perform to the best of my ability," he said. "If I can do this, then I will be happy with the result."