After winning Friday’s 10 k sprint, Anton Shipulin of Russia didn’t start today’s 12.5 k pursuit in Antholz, Italy, with the widest of margins.
Sure, he was first out of the gate, but a group of formidable competitors was close behind: Emil Hegle Svendsen of Norway just 13 seconds back, Jakov Fak of Slovenia another seven behind.
And yet, Shipulin simply focused, planned on winning, and never rescinded his lead for even a second.
“I prepared myself for victory today even though it was a strong field,” he said in a press conference. “I am happy that I managed to win.”
It wasn’t a sure thing. Twice, with the likes of Fak, Martin Fourcade of France, Svendsen, and other nipping at his heels, he collected penalties on the range. In the second prone stage, he missed a shot just as the chasers were entering the range. But clean shooting by several men still left them with a 20 second disadvantage.
Shipulin skied onto the range for his third stage, and first in standing, with a smaller lead. Fak and Friedrich Pinter of Austria hit the mats next to him as he was still shooting. And again, Shipulin missed a shot – creating an opportunity for not only those two, but also men a bit further back.
But both Fak and Pinter took two penalties, and the first racers to clean, Fourcade and Daniel Mesotitsch of Austria, were well over ten seconds back.
It was not a gap that Fourcade could close, and so with a clean fourth stage Shipulin skated to an easy victory.
“I saved power for a tough fight on the last lap, but it did not come,” Shipulin told the Russian Biathlon Union press service. “The errors that I had were psychological. Now it is time to think about what to work on for the World Championships; I’ll try to fix some of the bugs.”
Behind him, though, the fight really was taking place. Mesotitsch left the range 24.6 seconds behind, followed by Jakov Fak 31.8 seconds back and Martin Fourcade 36.1 seconds back. Up until that point Fak had been the slowest skier of the three – a drop in split times partially attributed to a fall on the second lap – and based on Fourcade’s dominating three-win performance in Ruhpolding the weekend before, anything could happen.
But instead of Mesotitsch skiing away or Fourcade putting on a spectacular run to take second place, it was Fak who put on the afterburners. He caught Mesotitsch after about a kilometer and skied right past, determined not to slow down for a second or to allow Fourcade a taste of the podium. Mesotitsch held on for dear life as the Slovenian blasted through the open fields towards the stadium.
“When you see the chance of a podium something happens in your head,” Fak said of his late burst in a press conference. “I did not want to give up and I tried to catch Daniel as fast as I could.”
Fourcade, meanwhile, faded with only the 28th-fastest last-loop time. That kept Mesotitsch on the podium by a comfortable margin. Svendsen made it into fifth place after four penalties; Fak and Mesotitsch had one each and Fourcade two, allowing them a bit of comfort that was denied to the Norwegian.
The success was notable for both Fak and Mesotitsch. For Fak – who we interviewed earlier this month – it is the sixth podium in a season that has included his first two World Cup wins.
“After so much success so far, I might have to change my goals for the season,” he said in a press conference.
For Mesotitsch, the podium boosts his resume as the Austrian team, which had such a disappointing 2012, rebounds with strong performances for virtually every member.
“I hoped for two top ten results here and made it,” he said of Antholz. “Now it is up to the coaches if I will go to the World Championships.”
While Austria seems likely to be in the mix for Sunday’s relay, the host nation should be as well. In the pursuit, the host nation accomplished the feat of placing four men in the top 20, even though only one started there. Dominik Windisch dropped from bib 12 down to 20th, but his teammates provided plenty of excitement for their fans. Lukas Hofer skied from 23rd to 13th; Christian De Lorenzi from 26th to 15th; and Christian Martinelli from from 41st to 17th.
Stay tuned for a report on the North American men, who were led by Tim Burke in 14th place.