10K Biathlon : Thompson: It Was Miss, Out Early

Times Assistant Sports Editor

If anyone was sort of expecting Josh Thompson to make up for a disappointing biathlon performance Saturday with a surprisingly good one here Tuesday, he removed the suspense with one squeeze of the trigger.

Thompson, of Gunnison, Colo., America's leading practitioner of shooting from skinny skis, and touted as a possible medal winner here, missed his first shot in the 10-kilometer race, then missed three more, neatly removing himself from contention.

In the 10K--6.2 miles--biathletes off target with the rifle are required to ski penalty loops of 150 meters for each miss. So, while Thompson was getting real familiar with the penalty loop, and finishing 27th because of it, Eastern-bloc athletes were skiing away with the race.

Frank-Peter Roetsch of East Germany, who had won the 20K Saturday, collected his second gold medal, finishing in 25 minutes 8.1 seconds, his time including one penalty loop.

Valeri Medvedtsev of the Soviet Union was second in 25:23.7, also repeating his Saturday finish, and his teammate, Sergei Tchepikov, took the bronze in 25:29.4. Medvedtsev and Tchepikov each shot clean, hitting all five targets from the prone position, then doing the same standing. There were two skiing loops of 3.75 kilometers, then a final one of 2.5.

Thompson, 1987 silver medalist at 20 kilometers in the World Championships, had no ready answer for his poor shooting.

"Maybe I skied too hard," he said. "I felt fantastic and I really skied well. I just couldn't keep the rifle still on the range. It was waving all over. I just might have skied too hard.

"I certainly expected a much better performance here. I keep charts and graphs of my performances and I know what to expect of myself. I'm not happy. I thought I would be shooting at least 18 (hits) in the 20-kilometer and 9 or 10 in the 10. The last couple of times, I've shot clean in the 10K."

Thompson also repeated his observation of Saturday that the pressure exerted by high expectations, his and others', might have been his undoing.

"It certainly caught me on my left foot," he said. "It got me Saturday and it did it again today. The high expectations may have hurt me."

Lyle Nelson of Putney, Vt., at 39 the senior member of the U.S. biathlon team, agreed, but also predicted that the biathlon world had not heard the last of Thompson.

"I think the pressure just got to him," he said. "But it was tremendous pressure.

"I thought this morning that I've now been in four Olympics and I've raced well in all of them and my athletic career is just about over, and I was still so nervous that I could hardly hold a cup of coffee. Then I looked at Josh, who's only 25, and thought about what he's done and the pressures he's had to deal with and I just marveled at how he's held it together.

"He's accomplished so much, things way beyond the accomplishments of any other 25-year-old I know.

"He's a tremendous athlete and a fantastic person. I see only big things coming from him. We'll see him in 1992 (in the Winter Games at Albertville, France), and we'll see him in '94 (when the Winter Games begin their own four-year cycle, independent of the Summer Olympics). And we'll see him with medals.

"In his own mind, Josh knows he's in the top 10 here. He just didn't show it. He had a lousy week."

Tuesday's race might well have been Nelson's last, since, as he said, he is headed for retirement, and he was ecstatic about his own performance, which earned him a tie for 30th.

He missed only one target on the 50-meter range, and that just barely from the standing position. "It was by a 64th of an inch," he said. "I actually teetered the target. It could just as well have fallen.

"My goal was to go out shooting clean, and I came within a millimeter of it. I'm very pleased.

"This whole experience has been fantastic. Between carrying the flag (in the parade of athletes during opening ceremony) and coupling that with the way I've competed here--it's an experience that I know I'll never duplicate."

In fact, Nelson said, since he did so well at meeting his own expectations in Tuesday's race, he would like it to be his last.

"I hope (Thompson) is so mad that he wants to start the relay (Friday). Then I won't have to."

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