KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia - Two races into the Sochi Winter Olympic Games, and the U.S. men's biathlon team seems just as far away from the podium as it did for years ago in Vancouver.
Tim Burke of Paul Smiths finished 22nd while Lowell Bailey of Lake Placid posted a 38th-place result Monday in the men's 12.5-kilometer pursuit race at the Laura Cross-Country Ski and Biathlon Center.
Burke missed two shots, one prone and one standing, and completed the course in a time of 35:37.0, roughly a minute and 48 seconds behind gold medal winner Martin Fourcade of France. Ondrej Moravec of the Czech Republic took the silver, and Jean Guillaume Beatrix of France won bronze.
Tim Burke of Paul Smiths climbs out of the Laura Cross-Country Ski and Biathlon Center stadium during Monday’s 12.5 kilometer biathlon pursuit at the Sochi Winter Olympics.
(Enterprise photo — Chris Knight)
Norway's Ole Einar Bjoerndalen, who won Saturday's sprint race, almost pulled off an amazing comeback. He missed three shots but still came just a second-and-a-half behind the bronze-medal spot.
Burke said his result Monday was "incredibly disappointing."
"I was incredibly flat today, one of the worst feelings skiing I've had since I can't remember when," he said.
The 32-year-old has struggled to get back in condition after missing pre-Olympic training due to illness. After Saturday's sprint, he said he "ran out of gas" near the end of it.
"I felt that way about halfway through the first loop today," Burke said Monday. "I was just completely empty right from the start."
Warm weather over the last few days has made for soft, spring-like skiing conditions at the venue. Burke said that made the course slow and challenging.
"The downhill at the big corner there I thought was OK," he said. "It was tricky for sure, especially if you're going through three people wide, but it was doable. One of the other downhills was so deep that it was tough to keep your skis going straight. I felt like they could have done a better job with getting some of that snow off the track."
Bailey missed three shots, one prone and two standing, and finished in 36:34.8, just over 2:46 behind Fourcade.
Bailey was clearly upset with his performance. Approached by several reporters in the mix zone after the race, he stopped to listen to one reporter's question, then held up his hands, said "I can't," and walked away.
The only other American in the race, Leif Nordgren of Marine on St. Croix, Minn., missed seven shots and finished 53rd with a time of 39:31.4.
Start times for the pursuit were based on how far back each competitor finished in Saturday's sprint race, when Burke took 19th, Bailey 35th and Nordgren 45th. All three Americans lost ground in the pursuit, finishing several places lower than in the sprint.
The U.S. has yet to win an Olympic medal in biathlon. Hopes were high in Vancouver four years ago that that threshold could finally broken, as Burke entered the games among the top-ranked biathletes in the world. But he had a disappointing games, finishing no higher than 18th. Bailey's best results in Vancouver were a pair of 36th-place finishes.
Does the U.S. have a chance of making the podium in Sochi? Cory Salmela, a biathlon researcher for NBC Sports who coached Bailey at the junior level, said every time Burke and Bailey step to the line, they have a chance of winning a medal.
"At this games, it's a matter of what's their form like and can they hit all their targets?" Salmela said. "They're probably, on a good day, between the fifth and 15th fastest skiers, so that doesn't really give you a chance to miss a target to get on the podium. They've had plenty of top 10s in the World Cup, and I really think you'll see them go for it to try to win a medal."
The men's team has three more races and a team relay. Their next event is Thursday's 20-kilometer individual race.