Sgt. Jeremy Teela was once again the highest-placing American in his second biathlon event at the Vancouver Olympics, but his 24th place finish brought him little satisfaction thanks to an inexplicable gaffe by a volunteer starter that marred the event.
Teela, slated to start the 12.5-kilometer pursuit in the No. 9 position, left the gate ahead of the No. 8 competitor, thanks to an official who incorrectly told him to go. According to Teela, who was not immediately aware of the mistake, the mix-up caused him confusion on the course and undermined his strategy for the race. It also cost him a 22-second penalty, which apparently Team USA cannot challenge.
Afterward Teela, competing in his third Olympics, voiced his annoyance with the starting error, something the veteran racer had never seen before.
“This never happens,” he said. “Maybe some guy will get out a couple of seconds early, but when they let you out a complete person ahead … that never happens.”
Teela said that the mistake did not cost him a medal, according to the New York Times article, and added that he felt worse for Canadian Jean-Philippe Leguellec, who also started early and finish in 11th place finish due to the penalty.
International Biathlon Union technical delegate Norbert Baier expressed shock at the incident, saying he couldn’t understand how such mistake could happen at the Olympics.
According to Baier, volunteers “didn’t check the right start numbers.” Leguellec and Teela were made aware of the mistake during the race, but they said that the confusion was a distraction.
Baier apologized for the errors and laid part of the blame on the biathlon union.
“This day for me is for me the blackest day I had ever,” said Baier, a former German biathlon coach who has worked with the I.B.U. since 1998.
Hours after the event, Teela congratulated the medalists on their performances on Twitter, but again expressed his understandable frustration with the mistakes made by officials.
“I’m not very happy with the IBU official that started me today in the wrong position,” Teela said.
Teela, a Vermont National Guardsman and member of the Army’s World Class Athlete Program, has three more biathlon events left in the Olympics. Next up is the 20-kilometer individual on Feb. 18.