ARLINGTON, Va., Feb. 14, 2010 -- A Utah National Guard Soldier today posted the best American finish ever in the biathlon at the Winter Olympics.

Sgt. Jeremy Teela, a three-time Olympian, finished ninth in the men's 10-kilometer sprint on the first day of competition in the biathlon in Whistler, British Columbia, Canada.

The previous best finish was recorded by Teela's teammate, Jay Hakkinen, who was 10th in the Torino Olympics in 2006.

Despite missing two targets, Teela's strong skiing pushed him five seconds ahead of one of Russia's top skiers.

"That's good for the ski form of Jeremy Teela," said Chad Salmela, a commentator for NBC Sports.

With this finish, Teela will start ninth in the men's 12.5-kilometer pursuit Feb. 16. He also will compete in the 20-kilometer event Feb. 18, the 15-kilometer mass start Feb. 21, and the 4x7 five-kilometer relay Feb. 26.

Earlier this season, Teela finished third in the men's 20-kilometer event in the World Cup, also held in Whistler. He was the first American biathlete to win a World Cup medal since 1992.

His U.S. teammates include Tim Burke, who finished 47th today, but medaled twice on the 2009-2010 World Cup circuit; four-time Olympian Hakkinen, 32, of Kasilof, Alaska, who finished 54th today; Lowell Bailey, 28, of Lake Placid, N.Y., who was 36th today; and first-timer Wynn Roberts, 21, of Battle Creek, Mich.

The biathlon is a combination of cross-country skiing and rifle shooting.

(Air Force Lt. Col. Ellen Krenke serves at the National Guard Bureau.)