Burke claims lead in standings

Updated: December 20, 2009, 2:47 PM ET
Associated Press

Tim Burke made U.S. biathlon history on Sunday, adding to the American squad's expectations for the Vancouver Olympics.

In a first for a U.S. biathlete, Burke took over the lead in the World Cup standings by placing sixth in a men's 12.5-kilometer pursuit Sunday in Pokljuka, Slovenia.

"I'm incredibly excited, it has not quite hit me yet," Burke, of Lake Placid, N.Y., said in a conference call. "I'm going to need a few days."

Evgeny Ustyugov of Russia won the race, missing two targets but finishing in 34 minutes, 50.9 seconds to beat Roland Lessing of Austria by 9.3 seconds.

Burke missed three targets and was 37.4 seconds behind Ustyugov, but moved up one spot in the overall standings. He has 253 points to lead Simon Fourcade of France by seven.

"This really is a historic moment for all of us," said Max Cobb, U.S. Biathlon's executive director.

The U.S. has never won an Olympic medal in biathlon, a sport long dominated by Europeans.

The 27-year-old Burke began the World Cup season with two podium finishes, a second and a third. The silver medal matched the highest World Cup showing by an American.

Burke credits his experience -- he first tried the sport when he was 12 -- and a team effort for his breakthrough season.

"I really don't feel like I'm at a disadvantage to the Europeans now," he said, citing coach Per Nilsson of Sweden, as well as the team's European managers and wax technicians, for lifting the performance of U.S. biathletes. "Before I started working with Per I hadn't scored a World Cup point."

Nilsson was hired to coach the U.S. team after the 2006 Turin Games, with the goal of helping the Americans win their first Olympic medal. Burke's success has made that target seem much closer heading into the Vancouver Games.

"I'm really excited about the Vancouver course," said Burke, a 2006 Olympian. "It suits my style really well. It's very similar to the course we raced here this week."

In the women's 10K pursuit, Svetlana Sleptsova missed two targets but finished in 34:03.2 to record her second victory in two days. She also won Saturday's sprint.

Magdalena Neuner of Germany was second and Anna Bogaliy-Titovets of Russia was third.

Helena Jonsson of Sweden leads the overall standings with 342 points after finishing seventh Sunday. Anna Carin Olofsson-Zidek of Sweden is next and Sleptsova rose to third.


Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press