Tim Burke of US eyes biathlon breakthrough

WHISTLER, British Columbia (AP) — Tim Burke's chances of cracking America's biathlon barrier are down to a precious few.

There's the 20-kilometer individual race Thursday and the 15-kilometer mass start Sunday. The Americans aren't considered a legitimate threat in the relay, the fifth and final race.

"I've been on the podium in both of the events coming up this year on the World Cup," Burke said. "Right now I'd have to say I have a better chance in the individual. My skiing's not so great right now, and to take a medal in the mass start I'd really have to be on top form."

He is the only U.S. biathlete to lead the overall World Cup standings. He is America's best hope to win its first medal in a sport that combines cross-country skiing and shooting.

Burke was done in by a mid-race snowstorm in the 10-kilometer sprint Sunday, which served as a double whammy because the start times for the 12.5-kilometer pursuit Tuesday were based on results from the first race.

That rendered his pursuit performance little more than a trial run.

"I knew I had no chance for a medal or a top finish starting so far back," Burke said. "I took it easy, and I'm looking forward to the next races."

Burke's best shot at a medal might have slipped away Sunday. A heavy snowstorm struck right when Burke pushed off from the gate in the interval start race, ruining any hope of catching those in front of him who had sped around the course in rainy weather.

"It was the most unfair competition I've ever raced in. To start there with all that snow was really frustrating," he said. "When I came to the second shooting, I had snow stuck in my sight. Basically there was snow everywhere. I tried to focus on the same things like in every normal race but it was so hard to keep that up under those conditions."

He finished 47th in the first race and 46th in the second, which he saw strictly as a tuneup for the 20K.

"Starting that far behind I knew that I had no chance to be anywhere in the front so I had my mind set at the individual already," Burke said after the race. "I just have to figure out what's going on with my skiing right now. I feel flat and tired and I have no idea why. So that's something I'll have to be able to handle before the next race."

Burke may have peaked too early. He reached the first three podiums of his career on the World Cup circuit this season and would have been better off had these games begun a month ago.

With Johnny Spillane winning America's first Olympic medal in Nordic combined, the biathletes are feeling pressure to end their drought, too.

Burke turned 28 this month and doesn't want to wait another four years for the chance to put the U.S. on the Olympic podium. But Norway's Ole Einar Bjorndalen, the most decorated biathlete in Olympic history, said Sochi, Russia, could very well be Burke's time.

"I'm very happy for him to be so strong this year," Bjorndalen said before the games. "He has trained really hard for many years, and he is a huge talent. I think for sure he will get at least one medal in Vancouver because he's shown he is really strong. I'm 100 percent sure he'll get a medal.

"But he'll have other chances as well because he's young. This won't be his last Olympics."