PRESQUE ISLE – Map the route from Lake Placid, N.Y., to Presque Isle.

Add to that a blustery snowstorm and one determined man in a VW wagon.

Zach Hall, the U.S. biathlon team alternate, drove 12 straight hours to replace a sick teammate in the World Cup competition this weekend. He arrived in the County at 3 a.m. Thursday, slept for a few hours, got in some training and skied to a 70th-place finish in the first event of the weekend, Friday’s men’s 10-kilometer sprint.

How’s that for team spirit?

“I saw that storm from one side to the other,” said Hall, a 27-year-old native of Nikiski, Alaska. “The wagon handled pretty well. My legs are a little heavy, but no way would I have missed this.”

Hall replaced top American Tim Burke, who was a late scratch with a head cold. Hall was the last finisher among five American men, three spots from the back of the pack.

“I would’ve liked to have placed higher but it was a good effort,” said Hall, a former Dartmouth College cross-country skier who had competed in one previous World Cup event.

Arnd Peiffer of Germany won the men’s event in 25 minutes, 28.8 seconds while hitting every target. Martin Fourcade of France finished second in 25:44.7, missing one standing shot, and Russia’s Ivan Tcherezov finished third in 26:05.2, shooting clean.

Sara Studebaker was the best American finisher, with a personal-best 14th in the 7.5K women’s sprint. She also shot clean.

“To put together a clean race on home soil is thrilling,” said Studebaker, a 24-year-old from Boise, Idaho. “That’s a personal best for me. It’s going to be really exciting starting the pursuit so high up.”

Helena Ekholm of Sweden won the women’s race in 20:38.7, followed by Norway’s Tora Berger (20:47.5) and Ukraine’s Valj Semerenko (20:58.1).

Lowell Bailey was the top American in the men’s event, finishing 25th in 27:18.7.

“I felt a little lethargic … but all in all it was a solid start to the American World Cups,” he said.

Bailey and his teammates are enjoying the chance to race World Cup events back to back in their own country. They move onto Fort Kent next weekend.

“It’s pretty important for us,” said Leif Nordgren, who finished 46th. “Biathlon is a lot smaller in the U.S., so it’s really good to be able to do our thing.”

Hall’s presence was not just important to gain experience but for critical Nations Cup points, which ultimately determine how many racers each country is allocated.

Points awarded to every racer accumulate over the course of the season. The U.S. currently is ranked 12th and needs to move into the top 10 to continue racing with five men.

“If this had happened in Europe, we’d be a man down,” said Jeremy Teela, the fourth American finisher at 53rd.

Racing in the U.S. becomes a strong marketing tool for both sponsorship dollars and fan publicity.

“The races in the U.S. are huge to get more publicity domestically,” said U.S. Coach Per Nilsson. “And it’s exciting to watch for the kids.”

Organizers estimated some 3,000-plus fans filled the stadium and lined the course, cheering and swinging cowbells. Some 2,000 of them were local schoolchildren, who got the day off and were bussed in to be among the spectators.

The World Cup continues today with pursuit training in the morning for the men and women, followed by a mass-start mixed relay at 2:25 p.m.

NOTES: Nilsson said he does not expect Burke to compete this weekend, but that he should be ready to race in Fort Kent next week.

 

Staff Writer Jenn Menendez can be contacted at 791-6426 or at:

[email protected]