KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia - It was an emotional and exhausting start to the Winter Olympics for Saranac Lake's Annelies Cook.
"I feel like I want to cry, kind of," the 29-year-old said after finishing 53rd in her first Olympic race, the women's 7.5-kilometer pursuit Sunday at the Laura Cross-Country Ski and Biathlon Center. "It's pretty cool. All I wanted to do was finish so I could say I did an Olympic race, and I'm really glad that I did."
Slovakia's Anastasiya Kuzima, who won the same event at the Vancouver games four years ago, took the gold with a time of 21:06.8 and clean shooting. The silver went to Olga Vilukhina of Russia while Ukraine's Vita Semerenko won the bronze.
Annelies Cook of Saranac Lake skis from the start area during the women’s 7.5-kilometer biathlon sprint on Sunday at the Sochi Winter Olympics.
(Photo — Competitive Image, Paul Phillips)
The top American in the race was Susan Dunklee of Barton, Vt., who finished in 21:48.3 with one penalty, good enough for 14th place, the best ever Olympic sprint finish by a U.S. woman. Dunklees performance also tied Joan Smith (who was 14th in the 15-kilometer race at the 1994 games in Lillehammer) for the best individual Olympic finish by a U.S. woman.
"I had really strong skiing today, said Dunklee. "I feel like I'm peaking at the right time. Prone felt spot on. In standing, it felt like I had it after I took that fifth shot, so that was a little heartbreaking, but I was able to laugh at myself and keep going."
Cook posted a time of 23:23.4. She hit all her targets while prone but missed two shots while standing and had to ski a pair of penalty loops.
After crossing the finish line, Cook said she was spent.
"It's a really hard course," she said. "The steep parts of the uphill are the hardest, but it's all hard. You have to go out and climb, climb, climb. Then there's a short break, and more climbing. You've got to give it everything because it's such a quick course that every little second counts. There's no relaxing at all."
Cook finished in the top 60, which means she's qualified to compete in Tuesday's 10-kilometer pursuit.
"I think right now things look good for Annelies," said Jonne Kahkonen, head coach of the U.S. women's biathlon team, before Sunday's race. "Her last block of training was really good. In the last World Cup relay in Antholz, she was halfway through it when it got canceled but was right up there with the best ones. Like it is in all sports, a lot of times you get little ups and downs. Fortunately, she's a tough cookie. She's been confident we'll get there and she's optimistic, and I totally back that up."
"I think she's capable of really top level results and I'm sure she's frustrated it hasn't come yet," said Corey Salmela, a biathlon researcher for NBC Sports who's also a former biathlon coach. "I expected it as a junior from her and I've seen her career. I think Americans have a challenge because there's that glass ceiling we have to get through that's kind of the monkey on the back, not having medaled (in an Olympics). I think there's added pressure, and hopefully it doesn't manifest itself in the performances."
Sara Studebaker of Boise, Id., placed 44th in Sunday's sprint and Hannah Dreissigacker of Morrisville, Vt., was 65th.