Biathlon mixed relay makes Olympic debut

KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia – The first-ever Olympic mixed biathlon relay is set to take place tonight under the lights at the Laura Cross-Country Ski and Biathlon Center.

The event, which was voted into the Olympics in 2011, will feature four athletes – two men and two women – from each nation.

Representing the U.S. today will be Tim Burke of Paul Smiths, Lowell Bailey of Lake Placid, and Susan Dunklee and Hannah Dreissigacker, both Vermonters who live in Lake Placid while training. Saranac Lake’s Annelies Cook wasn’t picked to start the mixed relay but will likely compete in Friday’s women’s relay.

In the mixed relay, the two female team members each ski 6 kilometers, then the two male team members each ski 7.5 kilometers. Each athlete will also have two bouts of shooting, one prone and one standing. The event begins with the first members of each team starting simultaneously. The athletes who follow start in what’s called the handover zone, where the arriving skier has to touch their teammate by hand.

There are a total of 16 teams competing. The U.S. is team number 11.

The mixed relay has only been held once so far this season, at the first World Cup event in November in Oestersund, Sweden. The team from the Czech Republic took gold, Norway won silver, and the Ukraine claimed the bronze. The U.S. team of Cook, Dunklee, Burke and Bailey finished 12th out of 26.

Asked before the games what he thought of the U.S. team’s chances in this new event to the Olympics, Bailey said the competition actually favors smaller teams with less depth than the bigger teams.

“You only need two men and two women to put together a competitive team,” he said. “With the recent success of our U.S. women’s team, I’m excited to see what we can do in Sochi.”

“People are really into it,” Cook said before the games. “In some ways it’s more competitive than the relay, because teams have one or two strong people. The two women that are skiing the best and healthy will be picked. I think we could have a great mixed relay.”