Burke wins historic silver at world championships

Paul Smiths native Tim Burke made U.S. biathlon history Thursday by claiming silver in the 20-kilometer individual race at the International Biathlon Union World Championships in Nove Mesto, Czech Republic.

Burke became only the second American to medal in the world championships, following in the footsteps of Josh Thompson, who won silver in a 20k race held in Lake Placid in 1987.

“I’m honored to be part of that group and to be part of history,” Burke told the Enterprise in a phone interview after the race. “I think it says a lot for our team. Biathlon is more competitive now than it ever has been, and we’ve done a great job at putting together a group that can have results like this.”

Burke indicated he was motivated in part by results that didn’t meet his expectations earlier in these world championships. He took 28th in the 10k sprint Saturday and 32nd in the 12.5k pursuit Sunday.

“I was really disappointed and a little bit angry after the first two races,” Burke said. “I feel like I’ve had such a good year of training. I had really perfect preparation for these championships, and I didn’t want to let them slip away without a good result. So I went out there, and today I was on more of a mission.”

Burke definitely seized the moment in this race. He posted a time 50 minutes and 6.5 seconds, with one missed target to beat everyone but World Cup leader Martin Fourcade of France. Fourcade took the gold with a time of 49:43.0 and one penalty. Fredrik Lindstrom of Sweden was third with a time of 50:16.7 and one penalty.

Fellow American Leif Nordgren of Marine, Minn. finished 22nd with a time of 52:49.8 and two penalties. Lowell Bailey of Lake Placid was 29th, posting a time of 53:09.3 with three penalties.

Emil Hegle Svendsen of Norway, who had already won the pursuit and sprint races in these world championships, didn’t enter the competition because of an illness.

A total of 136 biathletes entered the race, and Burke started in spot No. 65.

“I was actually by myself quite a bit during the race and just really focused on doing my own thing and not getting caught up with what anybody else was doing, just to call my own game plan, and that’s exactly what I did,” Burke said.

In a video interview conducted by biathlonworld.com, Burke described the snow conditions as soft and slow, and the shooting conditions as “really easy” with no wind.

“The key to the good shooting day was just not overreaching,” Burke told the Enterprise. “I didn’t try and do anything special. I just tried to do the same exact thing that I do every day in practice. I feel like in the first two races maybe I was trying a little too hard. I know that sounds funny, but it doesn’t work in shooting all the time.”

The strong shooting performance left Burke in good position heading into the final loop. He said he was about 10 seconds ahead of Lindstrom at that point.

“He’s a great skier, so I really knew I was going to have to give everything in that last loop to stay in front and hold second place,” Burke told the Enterprise.

The second-place finish came just one day after Burke’s longtime girlfriend, Andrea Henkel of Germany, took silver in the women’s 15k. She is a two-time Olympic gold-medal winner.

“She set a great example for me, showed me how to do it, and I just tried to follow,” Burke said in the Biathlonworld.com video.

This is not Burke’s first time making U.S. biathlon history. In the months leading up to the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, he became the first American to rise to the top of the overall World Cup standings, a spot he held for a brief period.

“I’m obviously really proud of wearing the yellow bib a few years ago, but I think this is it. This tops that,” Burke said. “To do this at world championships is different from having a podium at the World Cup. Here, you know, you have a medal in your hands, and you see your flag raised, and this is different.”

Burke said he wanted to thank everyone at home for the support he’s received in recent days after he didn’t live up to his own expectations in his first two races of the world championships. Burke’s parents live in Paul Smiths, as does his brother Sean and his family.

“Big thanks to everyone,” he said. “I’ve got so many messages from people saying, ‘Keep my head up and keep at it and good things will happen, and they were right.'”

Burke’s next competition is on Saturday when he joins Bailey, Nordgren and Russell Currier of Stockholm, Maine in the 4×7.5k team relay. His final race, a 15k mass start, is on Sunday.

The quick turnaround gives Burke little time to dwell on the win, something he may not be able to do until after the world championships.

“Everything happened so fast,” Burke said. “You finish – I realized I was in second place. Next thing you know, you’re on the podium. It was definitely great, great emotions, but at the same time I think I need a few days before I really realize what it means to me.”