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Morton opens Aussie campaign

11 February 2006

Australian Cameron Morton has finished 83rd in the 20km individual biathlon at Cesana San Sicario, a performance bettered only by Andrew Paul at the 1984 and 1988 Winter Olympics.

The 31-year-old, who is based at Mt Hotham in Victoria, missed seven of 20 targets in the event which combines cross country skiing with target shooting.

The 20km, the longest of the biathlon events, involves five laps of a 4km course, with two rounds of shooting from the prone position and another two from a standing position, with five shots in each round. Each missed target results in a one-minute penalty.

Morton said he was happy with his skiing, but nerves and fatigue played a part in his disappointing shooting.

"It's a challenging course but it would have been a good day to shoot really well. But it seemed the more I tried to shoot them I just squeezed them out so I missed seven, which put me off the pace," he explained.

"It would have been a good day to shoot well because a lot outside the top 10 seemed to have the same problem as me."

Ranked 61st and just over two minutes off the pace after missing one target in the first round (prone), Morton then missed two targets in the second round (standing) to drop to 75th. He missed one target in round three (prone), putting him 79th, and then three missed targets in the final round of shooting cost him several places.

"It's just a big climb, a one-and-a-half kilometre climb into the stadium. (There are) a lot of technical ups and downs, (it's) very steep and there's no rest on it," he said.

"I was just trying really hard to centre them and I just took the shots slightly too late and squeezed them a bit low and missed a couple too many.

"I expected to be three penalties or less and today I was seven, so I was just off it. I started each one brilliantly and just seemed to hesitate, thinking 'I'm in the groove', but just let them slip, partly through fatigue.

"It's so frustrating when you're slipping out by half a centimetre, but that's biathlon, and I noticed here today that there were so many outside the top 10 (who) missed like me."

Despite being disappointed with his shooting, Morton saw positives in his performance. "I was good on the skis today. This was my first Olympic event, so I reckon I might be in there for a top show, maybe a top 50, in the sprint.

"The skiing was as I expected. I gave myself a good chance to be in the range to be able to hit them, but I reckon I'm right there for the sprint. The nerves are out of the system now the first one's under the belt."

Morton is competing in his first Olympic Games after 10 years on the national team, although he did enjoy the Olympic experience as fellow biathlete Kerryn Rim's coach at Nagano 1998.

Germany's Michael Greis, who also won the World Cup event at San Sicario last year, took the gold medal after missing just one target.

Norway's 2002 gold medallist Ole Einar Bjoerndalen - who won four gold medals at Salt Lake City and one at Nagano - recovered from a poor start and two missed targets to claim silver, only 16 seconds behind Greis, with fellow Norwegian Halvard Hanevold 53 seconds further back.

Morton will compete again on 14 February (Day 4) in the 10km sprint.

Murray Brust / AOC

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