It’s not that Macx Davies races so far at World Junior Championships were bad. No, 30th and 33rd in Obertilliach, Austria, were fine results for the Canadian biathlete.
But he wanted more.
“The race today was great,” he told FasterSkier after placing eighth in the 15 k individual race on Wednesday. “I started in a really focused state and kept that presence throughout the race. After my first two shootings I skied out for my third loop and somewhere out on course I realized that if I wanted to stay in the competition I had to hit my next ten shots. This wasn’t a frightening thought, simply a realization that if I want to do well in this race I needed to next ten shots. After that I knew that each shot needed to hit and made it happen.”
Davies had missed a shot on each of the first two stages, adding up to two minutes of penalty time. Even though he had skied fast in the previous two races, the individual format doesn’t allow many mistakes; more than in any other race, quick skiing can’t make up for errors on the range.
So as he cleaned the final two stages, Davies climbed towards the top. Starting in the middle of the field, he felt deceptively close to the win – although he eventually landed 1:37.3 behind Alexandr Loginov of Russia, the sprint champion, at the time he was right in the thick of things.
“I didn’t know how close I was to the front until my last loop when I skied by my coach and he yells ‘five seconds to the leader’ - at that point I am promptly brought out of my trance-like state to realize that I had shot 18/20 and was in with the leaders,” explained Davies. “I then forced myself to push incredibly hard on the last loop, almost throwing up and collapsing after the finish line.”
His last loop was the sixth-fastest of the day, but not enough to catch Ruslan Tkalenko of Ukraine, the early leader. Compared to the whole field once the race was over, Davies climbed from 28th to 15th to eighth before the final lap, and ended up just three seconds out of seventh place and 12 from the top five.
But despite not knowing how well he was doing, Davies had crafted a plan to make sure he was able to go all out on the final loop. The individual is the longest race format, but that didn’t concern him; he was more worried about the difficulty of the loop in Obertilliach, which is where Norwegian star Ole Einar Bjørndalen lives and trains for much of the year.
“Althought it may not look too hard on paper or even skiing easy, there is very little rest on the course which forces you to either make some or pace your race perfectly,” Davies said. “After having raced similar courses on the weekend I decided to change my skiing strategy, because it was an individual, the shooters race, and take the flats much easier and push the pace on the uphills. With the new pacing I kept a lower heart rate throughout the first four loops and was really able to pick up the pace on the last loop.”
The eighth-place finish continues a strong run by the Canadians as of late, after Sarah Beaudry placed fifth in the youth women’s individual the day before.
“The team is definitely getting excited for our improving results as well as the upcoming relays,” Davies said. “There has been a little bit of sickness with some of the athletes but otherwise I feel that the team is in a very healthy place, both physically and mentally.”
Menno Arendz of Prince Edward Island, brother to Canadian IPC ski and biathlon star Mark Arendz, had the best race of his first World Championships, placing 30th with just two penalties. After leading the junior men in the opening races Christian Gow was undone by six penalties and finished 36th, with the 16th-fastest course time; Jasper Mackenzie placed 65th.
For Davies, who is in his last year of eligibility as a junior, it was a good way to cap off a career of junior racing.
“My results don’t change my outlook on biathlon, but they do peak my interest and my desire to continue with the sport,” said the Biathlon Alberta Training Centre athlete. “For the next few weeks I am headed to the IBU cups in Martell, Italy and in Slovakia, after those I am staying for the Open European championships and also filling the gap in between the IBU and EOCH with a race in Altenberg, Germany.”
Like most of his teammates, Davies will finish the season at home with national championships for both biathlon and skiing. But first, one more shot at glory as a junior, when the four men team up for the relay on Friday. Who knows what they might accomplish.
“I feel like my training is much more validated having out together a race on the world stage!” Davies concluded.
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Earlier Wednesday morning, Rose-Marie Côté seemed to be on track for her own top-ten, setting the tone in bib three in the women’s 12.5 k individual as she cleaned the first stage and missed one shot in the second. But as the rest of the field came through it was Laura Dahlmeier of Germany, the champion from the sprint, who rose to the top while Côté picked up two more penalties and landed 22nd overall.
It was still Côté’s best result of the Championships, and a strong race in a heavilty stratified field: with fifth place already over three minutes behind Dahlmeier, the Canadian’s result 5:27.7 behind was much more impressive than it looked on paper.
Julia Ransom placed 34th after struggling with seven penalties, and skied the 13th-fastest course time of the women. Erin Yungblut was 48th and Emma Lodge 50th for the Canadians as well.