GOOD: Tim Burke, Biathlete, Team USA
Facts: 27 years old. Native of Saranac Lake, New York, just like me. Played basketball on my team in 7th grade.
True story. I knew Tim growing up. He was a year above me in school, and after 7th grade he was mostly gone due to training. But there was a brief period where our paths crossed. Here's what I remember: when we started playing basketball that year (I was in sixth grade, he was in seventh), he didn't have a ton of skill. In my memory, it was only his first or second year playing. However, he was a ridiculous athlete, and had crazy reflexes, so he was fantastic on defense almost immediately.
Within a few games he became a starter, and our coach would always put him on the other team's best player. It was fascinating and fun to watch him dog someone in the frontcourt. Very often, he'd get a steal, either by anticipating the dribble or leaping to intercept a pass, and he'd be all on his own on a fast break. At the start of the year, this was an adventure that usually ended in a missed layup. By the end of the year, he wasn't missing anymore.
He was quiet, and very nice. He didn't play basketball after seventh grade, because his winters were dedicated to training (first cross country skiing, the ski jumping, and finally biathlon). I wish I had more personal stories to relate, but we didn't interact much beyond that one year, and I can't remember even seeing him more than once or twice a year in high school.
More facts: Biathlon became an Olympic sport in 1960. Since then, an American has never won a medal. Of any color. Before 2009, an American had never even won a medal in a World Cup sprint event, or held the overall World Cup lead. That changed in December, when Burke took 3rd place in a 10km sprint and took the overall lead by finishing 6th in a 12.5km pursuit race.
At this point, he's 5th in the World Cup standings, and represents America's best hope ever for a biathlon medal. You can read more here and here. I'll be writing more about Tim in the next few weeks.
EVIL: OLE EINAR BJøRNDALEN, THE BIATHLON KING
Facts: 36 years old. Norwegian. 9 Olympic medals, including 5 golds. In 2002, he swept all 4 biathlon events, winning by an average of 38 seconds in each race. 15 World Championship gold medals. Got sick before the 2006 Olympics, stayed in bed for 8 days, and still won 2 silvers and a bronze. Pisses standing up. EVIL.
Bjørndalen is second on the all-time list of medals won by a winter olympian. He could overtake #1 (countryman Bjoern Daehlie) with 4 medals in Vancouver. He has a bronze statue of himself in his hometown, south of Oslo:
By all accounts, he's a national hero. But let's look closer:
This feature has some interesting tidbits, which I'll now steal, verbatim, to prove my point that the 'Biathlon King' is actually a cruel despot, a warmongering tyrant.
Evidence #1: "Bjørndalen came away from the 2009 World Championships with four gold medals, bringing his career total to 14. One of the medals, however, was temporarily revoked and replaced with a bronze medal. In the 12.5km pursuit, he took a wrong turn early in the race, taking about a dozen pursuers across a bridge instead of under it. After he finished 41 seconds ahead of Russia's Maxim Tchoudov, the Russians filed a protest and the race committee added one minute to each of the perpetrators, bumping the Norwegian to bronze. 45 minutes later, a counter-protest from seven countries (including the U.S.) was accepted and the original results were restored. It was later determined that the detour saved Bjørndalen and the others 10 meters, a drop in the bucket for a 12,500-meter race."
HE'S TAKING SHORTCUTS! HE'S CHEATING! Everyone knows you go under the bridge in biathlon. That's even the old Norwegian proverb: Orkken van dusseling et jan horkum, orrken van massering et jan pjetter ("under the bridge in biathlon, over the bridge in life")! Call me crazy, but I think Bjørndalen knew exactly what he was doing.
Evidence #2: This symbol, in his name: ø. Of all possible lexographical symbols, that is clearly the most sinister. An 'o,' the symbol of union, love, and hugs, crossed out.
Evidence #3: "Bjørndalen is extremely conscious of health and hygiene, even more than most elite athletes. He never drinks alcohol, except he does gargle with cognac each morning to kill invading bacteria. He carries a small bottle of hand sanitizer which he applies each time he shakes hands with co-competitors, officials or well-wishers. Fearful of catching a cold, he often spends the Christmas holidays training at high altitude rather than at family gatherings in his residence of Obertilliach, Austria. Even his love-life takes second place to biathlon. At the Salt Lake Games, he would only agree to meet then-girlfriend (now wife) Nathalie Santer on the street, and not in closed quarters, and public displays of affection were kept to a minimum."
HE WON'T EVEN KISS HIS GIRLFRIEND (now wife) IN PUBLIC! HE HATES HIS FAMILY AT CHRISTMAS! HE'D RATHER SHOOT A GUN THAN SMILE AT A CHILD!
Evidence #4: This is just one I heard. You won't find it any papers, but I have it from a very good source that one time, in a big race at Stuttegart, he was trailing by more than five minutes toward the end of a 12.5km pursuit, when he shot the leader. Totally serious. He made out like it was a big accident, but he shot him right in the ass from a distance of like 200 yards, and went on to win the gold medal. I guess the leader was from Senegal, and if you look at recent results, you see that Senegal has not participated in any recent biathlons. It's because they're still pissed that their guy got shot. But it's totally hush-hush in the Norwegian press.
Here's the biathlon schedule for Vancouver:
Sunday, February 14: Men's 10km sprint, 2:15pm
Tuesday, February 16: Men's 12.5km pursuit, 3:45pm
Thursday, February 18: Men's 20km individual, 4pm
Sunday, February 21: Men's 15km mass start, 1:45pm
There's also a relay on the 26th, but we basically have no chance to medal in that one. But I'm calling it right now: on Valentine's Day, Tim Burke gets a medal in the 10k sprint. 2:15. It's going to be awesome. Turn your televisions on and get ready for some guns and skis. Our man is going to bring it home.