By By Tim HippsFebruary 11, 2010
SOLDIER HOLLOW, Utah (Feb. 11, 2010) -- Three-time Olympic biathlete Sgt. Jeremy Teela returns to the site of the best performance of his career with sights set on becoming the first U.S. biathlete ever to win an Olympic medal.
Teela, a Soldier in the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program, finished third in the men's 20-kilometer individual race at last season's World Cup stop in Whistler, British Columbia, Canada, the biathlon site for the XXI Olympic Winter Games.
"That was my day," Teela said of March 11, 2009. "I made as close to a perfect race as I could."
He remembers the race as if it was yesterday.
"I caught a good ride with an Austrian, who was skiing really well at the time, and a Russian," Teela recalled with a gleam in his eyes. "They were skiing as a pair. I started and they came through the gate as well, so I hooked up with those two fast guys. Normally, they're skiing a little faster than me, but on that day I had great skis and I felt great, so I just tagged along. Felt great. They were actually going a little slower than I wanted, but it's a 20K, so you make sure you keep a good pace.
"I stayed with them for three or four loops and I was putting in some good ski times and was top 10 or top 12. Then I started shooting well. The fourth loop, I came in and kind of knew I was 14 for 15."
Teela was enjoying one of his best shooting days on a biathlon range.
"I came in the last stage and didn't have any thought in my head," he said. "There was no activity. I just went in and did my normal thing... then looked up and said, 'Wow! Shot perfect last stage!' All these guys were there jumping up and down and waving their hands, saying 'Go! Go!' I was like, 'Sweet, alright, everyone's cheering, cool.'
"I got down the course and was maybe a half-kilometer out, and coach was there saying, 'You're in second place.' And I was like, 'No stuff, second place, huh'' I always thought if somebody told me I was podium bound, I would have this extra kick in me - but I had nothing. I was fighting... just going as hard as I could."
With his third-place finish, Teela became the first American biathlete to win a World Cup medal since Josh Thompson in 1992.
"I was coming in second but there was this one German kid who also was having a great race," Teela said. "I don't know if I could have done anything to counter his kick, but all in all, third place, I was psyched. He did get me, but that was the best performance of my career."
U.S. biathlon coach Per Nilsson was impressed with Teela's poise under pressure.
"I am really amazed how 'cool' he was on the shooting range," Nilsson said. "There were two shots that were pretty close to a miss, but nevertheless, he stayed focused and just put his race together."
Teela, 33, who trains in Heber City, Utah, and claims Anchorage as home, expects unprecedented success this year at Whistler. His 14th-place individual finish at the 2002 Olympic Winter Games in Soldier Hollow remains the second-best U.S. finish at the Olympics, where Team USA remains 0-for-forever in biathlon.
"I think a podium is within reach," Teela said. "I showed it last year at Vancouver, but you really have to have the mindset. Your mind has to be in the right spot. I think a podium is in the cards for the team. We have four guys that are strong. And even the relay, I think we have a great shot at podium in that competition as well."
He will be competing at the Vancouver Games with Tim Burke, who medaled twice on the 2009-2010 World Cup circuit since Teela's third-place finish at Whistler. Burke, 27, of Paul Smiths, N.Y., headlines this U.S. Olympic biathlon squad, joined by Teela, four-time Olympian Jay Hakkinen, 32, of Kasilof, Alaska, Lowell Bailey, 28, of Lake Placid, N.Y., and first-timer Wynn Roberts, 21, of Battle Creek, Minn.
"You try to be the best that day," Teela said. "You don't have to be the best in the world. All you have to do is be the best at the Olympics on that day.
"I've got two jackets. I want the hardware."
Teela says he's honored to represent Soldiers and their families worldwide.
"It's an amazing opportunity given to you to be able to race and compete at the Olympics and to represent the United States, but it's also special for me to race and compete for the Army," he said. "It's hard to explain - just to show up and have so many people rooting for you."
"You show up and you race alone, but there's been a lot of people along the road that's helped you get to where you are. I've got a big strong team behind me that says U.S. Army on it."
(Tim Hipps writes for FMWRC Public Affairs)