American way off-target in quest for biathlon medal

Updated: February 14, 2006, 1:14 PM ET
Associated Press

CESANA, Italy -- Jay Hakkinen couldn't believe what he was seeing through his scope. The target didn't go down! Are you kidding?

Puzzled, he checked his rifle.


He lined up his sights and fired again.

Another miss!

Panicked now, another check of the rifle. Still no explanation for what was happening.

Was he firing at the wrong targets? No.

His equipment? Fine. Heart rate? Good. Eyesight? Perfect. Breathing? Excellent.

He peered again and fired again. Another miss.

And so it went ...

A fourth miss, a fifth miss, a check of the rifle after every perplexingly errant shot as the crowd at the Olympic biathlon course grew silent at the anguishing sight of a man's lifelong dreams dashed.

Never in his life had the 29-year-old from Kasilof, Alaska, missed all five shots in a round on the range.

Just like that, the Americans' best hope for a biathlon medal were gone.

Forget about putting it behind him for the remaining races, too.

"I think this will live with me for the rest of my life," Hakkinen said.

This was, after all, his best event.

Hakkinen was so confident after his narrow miss of a medal in the men's 20-kilometer event last weekend that he boldly predicted he was primed to put the United States on the podium for the first time ever.

He was skiing as fast as he ever had. His shooting was as accurate as it had ever been. His brain and body were in unison. His training impeccable. His diet fantastic.

He had a nice Italian meal in his Alpine village Monday night and got a good night's rest.

He raced through his first loop strong and fast.

It all seemed so perfect as he coasted down the slope to his first shoot.

And it all collapsed in a confounding few seconds.

Hakkinen was so shaken he accidentally skied an extra penalty loop, going around the 150-meter oval six times instead of the required five.

"I have no idea what happened," said Hakkinen, who came in 80th out of 90 competitors. "Everything on the first loop was the way it should be and everything was going according to plan. Even the shooting itself felt normal and I just was missing targets. And I really don't know why. I was probably jerking on the trigger."

But he has no idea why he would have done that. Maybe too much adrenaline? Who knows.

Sven Fischer of Germany took the gold in 26 minutes, 11.6 seconds. Halvard Hanevold and Frode Andresen of Norway won the silver and bronze, respectively.

As Hakkinen left the shooting range, he could think of only one thing: "My Olympics are over."

"I mean, there's the relay, but everything's over," he said. "So, I kind of forgot about the race and forgot to put the rifle on my back, and everything. I did an extra loop and whatever. I'm in good shape. My shooting had been going very well. I mean, this can happen every once in a while. You just don't want it to happen at the Olympics. In the sprint race."

His collapse in the 10km only makes his 10th-place finish in the 20km race more painful. There, a split bullet that hit the target but failed to drop it cost him the bronze.

"I guess now I have look at the 20k and be very thankful, but at the same time, it sort of makes the 20k even more tragic that I didn't get that medal," Hakkinen said. "Because now I don't have a chance at it anymore."

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press

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