KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia - It was a tough first day of Olympic competition Saturday for local biathlon athletes Tim Burke and Lowell Bailey.
Burke, a Paul Smiths native, "ran out of gas" at the end of the 10-kilometer sprint and finished 19th while Lake Placid's Bailey placed a frustrating 35th at the Laura Cross-Country Ski and Biathlon Center.
Norway's Ole Einar Bjoerndalen added to his legend by winning the race in 24:33.5. The 40-year-old claimed his 12th Olympic medal, making him the most successful Winter Olympian of all time.
Lowell Bailey of Lake Placid skis a penalty lap during the Olympic 10-kilometer biathlon sprint competion Feb. 8, 2014. (Enterprise photo - Chris Knight)
Dominik Landertinger of Austria took the silver and Jaroslav Soukup of the Czech Republic won the bronze. Russia came close to taking its first medal of this games as Anton Shipulin finished fourth, less than a second off the podium.
In the sprint, competitors leave the start at 30 second intervals and ski three laps of 3.3 kilometers, interspersed with two bouts of shooting (one prone, one standing). If an athlete misses a target, he must ski a 150-meter penalty loop immediately after shooting.
Burke started the race strong. He hit all his targets in the prone position and was in seventh place at that point. But he faded near the end of the race and missed one target while standing, forcing him to ski a penalty loop. Burke finished in 25:23.3, just under 50 seconds behind Bjoerndalen.
"I'm happy with the performance, actually. I feel like I executed my game plan pretty well today. Missed one shot. That's a pretty good performance for me."
Since December, Burke has had a stomach virus, a cold and a sinus infection that have affected his training regimen and competition schedule. He skipped the last two World Cup races and missed most of his team's pre-Olympic training in Italy.
"I feel like a normal day skiing for me, I'd be a lot further up. That was my big fear going in is that I was going to run out of gas towards the end missing those hard training efforts, and that's exactly what happened."
Still, the 19th place finish is the best sprint result Burke has posted in his three Olympic games. He was 47th in the sprint in Vancouver in 2010 and 35th in Torino in 2006.
Bailey missed two of his 10 shots, one prone and one standing, and finished in 26:04.1, more than 1:30 back.
After a strong start to the World Cup season that included multiple top 25 finishes, Bailey was clearly upset with his performance today.
"I felt not great, to be honest," he said. "It's a tough course. Eighty percent is well under my average this year for shooting. Definitely disappointed."
Bailey placed 35th in the sprint during the 2010 Vancouver Olympics and 46th in Torino in 2006. The 32-year-old said he plans to put today's result behind him and prepare for the next race, Monday's 12.5 kilometer pursuit.
Americans Leif Nordgren and Russell Currier, each of whom is in his first Olympics, took 45th and 61st, respectively in today's sprint.
"It was the first time I shot clean this season, but the skiing wasn't quite as good as I was hoping it would be," said Nordgren. "This is my first race in about a month, so I'm not surprised, although I'm a little bummed. I know I can do better in the races to come."
"It wasn't the race I was hoping for today," Currier said, "but at the end of the day it's still the Olympics and it's great just to be here."