Thompson improves, but U.S. has long way to go to gun with best in biathlon


LES SAISIES, France -- "It hurt."

Josh Thompson may have been in pain after negotiating 20 kilometers of Alpine hills yesterday afternoon, but his 16th-place finish gave the United States its best showing in the biathlon in 20 years.

"It was like a slugger derby out there with all those killer climbs," Thompson said of the spectacular Olympic course that has been mitered into the firs and granite here near Mont Blanc.

Evgeny Redkine, whose name in Russian means "big radish," won the gold medal for the Unified Team of former Soviet republics in 57 minutes, 34.4 seconds. Mark Kirchner of Germany took the silver medal as Mikael Lofgren of Sweden got the bronze.

Thompson, who turned 30 this week, might have cracked the top 10 if he hadn't missed two shots, costing him 2 minutes in penalty time. He had missed only one target in two previous races.

"On a day he hits them all, he's definitely in medal contention," U.S. biathlon team leader John Morton said yesterday. "Still, Josh's performance is very encouraging."

Discouraging words were heard, however, from U.S. biathlete Jon Engen, who finished 70th in the field of 92.

"If anybody in the United States cared, we'd be a lot better team," said Engen, 34, an engineer from Bozeman, Mont. "I'm basically alone, no support. I'm a weekend athlete; the top people here [from other countries] ski 200 days a year.

"Biathlon is just not a priority in the U.S. We go back into obscurity for three years and 11 months."

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