51.000 Spectators Watch U.S. Duo Fight in Soccer Stadium
Every year before New Years the best biathletes in the world travel to the famous Schalke-Arena in the western part of Germany to take part in an event which is by far the most interesting spectacle in biathlon. At December 27th for the seventh time in a row ten pairs competed in front of 51.000 spectators and for the first time two members of the American biathlon team were invited to race in the competition as well.
Since there are only ten pairs allowed to start it was a special honor to Lanny Barnes (Durango, CO) and Jay Hakkinen (Kasilof, AK) to compete in the soccer arena of Gelsenkirchen. “I was really excited to be able to race here. As a biathlete you always hear how amazing it is to start in such a crowded arena. And they were right - it was nothing less but exciting,” said Hakkinen after the race.
The competition included a shoot-out competition as well as a preliminary round and the final, both carried out as mixed-relays. During the qualification the two U.S. starters already showed their potential: Ranked tenth after the first lap Barnes and Hakkinen worked hard to get closer to the other athletes. At the end of the preliminary round the good shooters gained three places and finished seventh in front of Olympic Champions like Germany’s Andrea Henkel or Michael Greis. “We had to get used to the atmosphere here. It was so loud and such an amazing ambience – it took us a while to retrieve our usually good shooting,” explained Barnes.
Yet the track took its toll and after numerous hard rounds during the preliminary round the duo had some more problems at the shooting range during the final. Together they missed nine targets during eight shooting stages but nevertheless managed to enjoy the competition. “After all we left the Norwegian Emil Hegle Svendsen behind us. And he is leading the overall world cup right now,” said a smiling Hakkinen who fought really hard to not let the Norwegian star biathlete pass him. Rank nine in the end was better than other “greenhorns” did in the past so the U.S. duo had good reason to be proud of the result – even though it was because of different motives. Hakkinen thought that “the event will help a lot to cope with the pressure and all the spectators in the upcoming World Cup stages of Oberhof and Ruhpolding” while soccer fan Barnes had another reason to be more than happy: “It was just fantastic to start in a soccer stadium of that size. I always wanted to go to a German soccer game but to be able to compete in a biathlon race in one of those big stadiums that is just like a dream!”
“It would be so great to start here again. It was really as amazing as everyone promised us,” agreed both athletes who also brought family and friends along to support them during the event. Barnes and Hakkinen will now head directly towards Oberhof to prepare for the upcoming competitions.