It was raining hard on Wednesday at the biathlon stadium in Brezno-Osrblie, Slovakia. Like, cats and dogs, “des grenouilles” (frogs, in French), or “junge Hunde” (puppies, in German).
But that didn’t stop Leo Grandbois, a German-born Canadian biathlete racing at his first International Biathlon Union (IBU) Youth World Championships, from having the race of his life.
Grandbois, 17, who was born in Munich and lived there for a year before moving to Lennoxville, Quebec, was one of four youth men named to Biathlon Canada’s Youth/Junior World Championships team. Wednesday marked his first 12.5-kilometer individual race in the youth division, and he explained after that his success derived from his focus — and his skis.
“The range had a bit of wind and the tracks were really wet, but I had really good skis,” Grandbois wrote in an email after.
The ninth starter out of more than 100 in the youth men’s race, Grandbois was the only one to knock down all 20 of his targets. He had never cleaned a race before, and he did it in a four-stage race. Without any one-minute penalties added to his total time (there are no penalty loops in individual races, just time penalties for each miss), he clocked the fastest time at the finish in 32:56.6 minutes. That time stood while nearly 90 others finished after him, with nobody coming within a minute of his time.
Russia’s Said Karimulla Khalili started in bib 2 and enjoyed a brief moment as race leader, before Grandbois bested his time by 1:14.9 minutes. Khalili took the silver medal despite three penalties (1+0+1+1), and Germany’s Danilo Riethmüller captured bronze (+1:21.5) with three penalties as well (2+1+0+0). Besides Grandbois, who shot 100 percent, only one racer shot 95 percent: Italy’s Cedric Christille in fourth place (+1:44.5; 1+0+0+0).
“I always go for the win when I race,” Grandbois wrote. “But I was aiming a top 10.”
With the victory, Grandbois became the third Canadian to win a gold medal at Biathlon Youth World Championships, according to a Biathlon Canada press release. Kurtis Wenzel, of Calgary, is a two-time world champion: first in the 2009 youth sprint and later in the 2012 junior individual. Jean-Philippe “JP” Le Guellec, who previously coached Grandbois, started the trend by winning the 2004 Youth Worlds sprint.
“Before I came here I looked at JP’s results on the internet, and read in the newspaper about his win in 2004,” Grandbois told Biathlon Canada. “It has always been my goal to be like him so to follow that path and do what he did is an amazing feeling.
“The nicest message I received today was from JP,” he continued. “He told me how proud he was of me and to keep working hard. I have been smiling since I received that message.”
And it wasn’t just the shooting that went exceptionally well for Grandbois on Wednesday; he posted the third-fastest ski time. In an email to FasterSkier, he explained that the hilly course in Osrblie suits him. “My kind of course,” he wrote.
“Everything was perfect for me today, I was focused on the range and tried to do like at training,” he explained. “I had some great legs, too!”
He told Biathlon Canada that he had worked on improving his shooting over the last three weeks.
“When I went to bed last night and woke up today, I just had a good feeling I could do something great today,” he said. “I had complete focus and concentration on the range. The hard work over the last few weeks in training really worked today.”
In a post-race interview with Junior IBU Cup media, he thanked his supporters: “I want to thank first my coaches at home, my parents who always supported me and all the team who did a great job for the race, the skis, thank you.”
When FasterSkier asked what this gold medal means to him, he explained it came down to all the passion and training he had put in.
“I am probably the most happy man on earth today!” he wrote.
Last year at Youth Olympic Games (YOG) in Lillehammer, Norway, Grandbois finished 22nd in the sprint, 25th in the pursuit and 16th in the mixed relay, a team event. At his first Youth World Championships, he said the field was bigger in comparison.
According to Biathlon Canada High Performance Director Eric de Nys, Grandbois has been on the national team’s radar for a few years. Biathlon Canada started a Shooting Stars program this season and Grandbois was one of 16 athletes invited to “train, test and develop” with the national team.
“Trajectory wise it identifies both a good skier and fantastic shooter under pressure,” de Nys observed of Grandbois’s performance on Wednesday. “This was Leo’s first time shooting clean and to do it a Worlds…..awesome. Extremely happy for Leo and his support in QC.”
Cervenka, Levins Land Top 20
Leading the U.S. men on Wednesday was Vasek Cervenka, who has spent the better part of the last two seasons training in Nove Mesto, Czech Republic. The Boulder, Colo., native (who lives in Grand Rapids, Minn.) raced to 16th (+4:19.5) with five penalties (0+2+2+1).
In his second Youth Worlds, his goals coming into the opening individual race had been to hit all of his targets and ski technically well. Placement-wise, he wanted a top 10.
“The conditions were good in the morning, but a light rain started one and a half hours before the race and has continued the rest of the day,” Cervenka explained. “This made the course tricker over time as it was slowing down the skiing quite a bit. The rain also interfered with the shooting on the range.
“I am a little disappointed today in my shooting knowing I can do better, also knowing a clean shooting would have brought me up to 2nd place,” he continued. “I felt good skiing but bonked on my last two loops.”
After he cleaned the first prone stage, Cervenka’s time ranked third. One loop later, with two misses in the first standing stage, his split ranked 10th, which dropped to 23rd after the third stage. He recovered to 18th by the start of his last loop, and ultimately finished 16th for his best non-relay result at his second Youth Worlds. Last year at YOG, Cervenka had a previous best result of 20th in the pursuit.
“As happy as I am with my improvements from last year to post this top 20, it still stings for me to miss a few shots too many, knowing where I could have placed if they went down,” he wrote.
Also for the U.S., Jacob Pearson finished 49th (+7:45.3) with four misses (0+2+0+2), Alex Kilby was 75th (+9:51.1) with five penalties (1+0+1+3), and Camren Nielsen 91st (+14:36.9) with 11 misses (3+4+2+2).
Canada’s Adam Runnalls finished 41st (+7:04.8) with eight penalties (1+2+4+1) and Thomas Hulsman was 57th (+8:19.0) with five misses (2+0+2+1). Robert Kreitz did not finish.
Also on Wednesday, the youth women opened the championships with the 10 k individual, where American Chloe Levins raced 14th with three penalties (1+1+1+0). France’s Lou Jeanmonnot-Laurent shot 19-for-20 (0+1+0+0) to win the race in 34:00.9, and Levins finished 3:05.6 minutes off her winning time. None of the 90 women who finished the race shot clean.
For Levins, a Middlebury student-athlete who plays collegiate golf in the fall and the spring, 14th was her best non-relay result at her third Youth Worlds.
“Everything is possible, especially in an individual race,” she wrote in an email after. “The range is windy here in Osrblie, so good shooting is rewarded. … There’s no funny business on the track in Osrblie. It’s straight up, straight down, and flat into the range. The course demands power and strength, which I think is an advantage for me.
“Today, it was important not to let the weather get in your way,” she added. “Sometimes it’s difficult to feel excited and fresh when it’s pouring rain, as it was today; those who shut it out of their mind are usually better off. Despite the conditions, our wax technicians prepared very good skis that moved really quickly through the saturated snow.”
Last year at YOG, Levins broke through with a fourth place in the pursuit.
“It is difficult to judge from one race, but the level of competition at this year’s Youth World Championships compared to last year’s Youth Olympic Games seems very similar,” she observed. “There are many familiar faces, and today there were even some repeating champions. I’m comfortable with the level of competition.”
Moving forward to three more races in Osrblie (the sprint, pursuit and relay), Levins explained she took a lot of positives from Wednesday.
“It’s not my best biathlon competition ever, but it’s certainly not my worst,” she wrote. “It’s a short way from the bottom to the top in this game, so I’m happy to have stayed above ground today. The result is fine, but I’m more happy to be able to say I did good work today.”
Asked what she’s studying at Middlebury, Levins explained that she’s started pursuing neuroscience and economics “with a little bit of German for fun. My German professor loves that I have the opportunity to converse with native German speakers on a daily basis,” she wrote.
(When Grandbois was asked if he speaks German, he replied, “Yes … but not perfect.”)
Sharing the podium with Jeanmonnot-Laurent was Russia’s Kristina Egorova in second (+52.4) with one standing miss as well (0+1+0+0). Sweden’s Elvira Karin Öberg notched bronze (+1:16.1) with two penalties (0+0+1+1).
Also for the U.S., Grace Gilliland finished 46th (+6:28.9) with four penalties (1+1+1+1), Amanda Kautzer was 53rd (+7:14.3) with eight misses (2+1+4+1), and Helen Wilson was 62nd (+9:00.5) with six penalties (1+2+2+1).
Canada’s Shilo Luca Rousseau finished 54th (+7:29.9) with five misses (2+0+1+2), Frédérique Pérusse was 77th (+11:54.6) with nine penalties (1+4+1+3), and Elise Sauve 78th (+12:07.1) with seven misses (2+2+2+1).
IBU Youth/Junior World Championships continue Thursday with the opening junior competitions: the women’s 12.5 k and men’s 15 k individual.