Jakov Fak (SLO) earned his first regular-season victory last weekend in Hochfilzen, Austria, and on Thursday in Pokljuka, Slovenia, he built off that success in front of a home crowd. His slim 0.8-second win in the 10 k sprint over Norway’s Emil Hegle Svendsen was the first World Cup victory Slovenia has ever seen on home soil. Martin Fourcade (FRA), also shooting clean, was 6.1 seconds back in third for his fifth podium finish this season. Tim Burke (USA) produced his best result of the winter in fourth (+15.2), also shooting without penalties.
“This is very special. It is the first win ever for the Slovenian team here in Pokljuka,” Fak said in a press conference.
“Two in a row…this is something that I never imagined.”
A reported 3,500 spectators showed up to cheer on their countrymen, a turnout that Fak said helped him dig a little deeper when he was down to Svendsen coming up the final climb.
“The great thing is to compete on home turf,” he told Slovenian daily Delo. “Today’s [race] was very fun and [we] could not wait to show how strong we are and how well we train.
“Thanks to all viewers, who are here today and those who will come in the next few days. Without you I would not have gone [as well], “he said.
Fak had only the third-fastest course time — Svendsen beat him by 8.4 seconds but the Norwegian’s single penalty in the standing position cost him the win.
“I was good on the shooting range, but Emil was better on the tracks,” Fak said. “I had to work very hard in the final loop to get ahead of him.”
Svendsen appeared to be stronger in shooting and skiing than he was in Hochfilzen last week, where he 14th in the pursuit after placing 34th in the sprint the day prior.
“I felt great today and I’m happy about the race,” he said in the press conference.
Svenden told the NRK he was frustrated with the slim margin by which he lost, but concluded that “I need to focus on what is good and that I was on the podium.”
The stadium in Pokljuka was windy for the sprint, and concentration on the range was crucial.
“The conditions were quite windy, it was necessary to stay focused. For once I think I have a good command [of] shooting,” Fak said.
Fourcade’s third-place showing was his fifth podium out of six individual races so far this season. His result was propelled by both clean and quick shooting and fast skiing on the track. He was 10th after leaving the range for the first time, but skied the fastest second lap of anyone to move up the field.
On the whole Fourcade was satisfied with third, especially since he’s been competing for longer this season than most of the biathlon circuit.
“I have been away from home since November 2, raced two cross-country races and all of the biathlon competitions so far. I am tired,” he said. “Generally, I am not very good at the end of December, but will in better shape in early January. Still, I am pleased to be on the podium here. In other years, I have always been sick.
Burke’s fourth place is the American’s best result so far this season. Incredibly, he felt like he didn’t quite hit his top gear and is looking forward to what he can do once he feels more on form.
“It was all I could do — perfect shooting and I gave everything I had, I just didn’t quite have that extra gear today,” Burke said after final results came through.
He was the seventh starter on Thursday, and sat in second place coming out of the range after shooting clean in the prone position. As more starters came through his lap time was bumped to twelfth, but by posting the third-fastest second lap and shooting quickly he held onto fourth.
“I’m really excited to see what I can do when I feel good,” Burke said.
The men have a training day on Friday while the women race the 7.5 k sprint, and continue competition on Saturday with a 12.5 k pursuit.