Ruhpolding, Germany, January 27. Leif Nordgren (Marine-on-St. Croix MN), in fourth place just 100 meters from the finish, burst past Lukas Hofer of Italy in the final 10 meters to win the Bronze Medal in the Youth 10K Pursuit competition today at the Youth/Junior Biathlon World Championships.
The Bronze Medal is the first medal won by the US at these Championships since 2002, when the US won two medals in the Junior Women’s category, the second medal ever by a US man (Jay Hakkinen Gold in 1997), and the first ever medal for the US in the Youth category.
Nordgren, after collapsing with exhaustion at the finish, got up and asked, â€œWas I third or fourth?â€ When the answer was, â€œthird,â€ there was a huge look of relief followed by a broad smile. He questioned the place as he had battled Hofer for the final 2K, before taking the advantage, just before the finish line. Nordgren, with four penalties, finished 1:01.4 behind the winner Ludwig Ehrhart of France, while Hofer with six penalties, was 1:01.8 back.
He explained what happened on that final loop, â€œI left the shooting range just ahead of him (Hofer), and then he pulled ahead by a couple of meters. When we got to the first hill, I tested him a bit and pulled away easily. I knew he did not have much left. I decided to rest (and Hofer passed again). Coming to the finish, I started to go wide to pass and he was forcing me to the left even more. We were so close that our skis touched. Then I just went for the finish line. I could hardly feel my legs as we came off the last bridge. As we approached the finish line, I was doing two things; trying to stay on my feet and keep from losing my breakfast, that’s all!â€
The 18-ear old Minnesotan started in sixth position, 24 seconds behind the leader today. He maintained his position to the shooting range. Cleaning the firs prone stage, Nordgren moved up to fifth position. In the second prone stage, he recorded one penalty, â€œA high split,â€ according to Coach Vladimir Cervenka.
He held that position coming into the first standing stage, which was surely to be challenging as the wind was blowing so hard this morning that it blew the shooting mats off the positions. Nordgren missed two targets, but only lost one position. â€œI came in too hardâ€”that is all,â€ he said, explaining the missed shots. Continuing, he added, â€œI felt a little sluggish today especially early in the race. I really did not start to push harder until that third loop.â€
Approaching the final standing stage, Nordgren was almost 30 seconds from the Bronze Medal position. With his fate in his own hands, Nordgren had a single penalty, while those in front of him had five, four, and for Hofer three penalties. Nordgren went to the penalty loop just ahead of Hofer who was on his final loop. They left seconds apart setting up the battle over the final 2K which was won by Nordgren.
As Nordgren changed clothes and waited for the flower ceremony, there was jubilation in the US Team as well as high fives, and even a kiss on the cheek for Nordgren promised by the massage therapist if he won a medal. Coach Cervenka, who felt Nordgren could have won the Sprint yesterday, if he had escaped the rifle problems, could only say, â€œI feel so relieved!â€ Nordgren accepted congratulations from his rivals and a big hug from his mother (who got the flower bouquet).
Reflecting on his big day, Nordgren said, â€œI more than exceeded my expectations today for â€œWorld Juniors.â€
Ludwig Ehrhart of France, the Youth Pursuit winner, had three penalties and a winning time of 33:10.1, Manuel Muller of Germany, also with three penalties finished 37.7 seconds back, with Nordgren in third and Hofer, another four seconds back.
The Junior Men’s 12.5K Pursuit followed immediately after Nordgren’s big day here in Ruhpolding. With Russell Currier (Stockholm, ME) starting 15th and Wynn Roberts (Battle Lake, MN) 22nd, the US prospects seemed good once again. Nevertheless, the wind continued to play havoc with many of the competitors in the shooting range. In the first stage, Currier picked up three penalties, while Roberts had one. Currier steadied himself in the second stage with one penalty as Roberts picked up two. They had both slipped to the high twenties at this stage. The two then slipped further with three more by Roberts and two by Currier. The chances for moving up were gone by this stage. Despite this, Currier recovered nicely in the final stage, with only one penalty, which combined with aggressive skiing moved him back up to 20th place, with six penalties. Roberts had a disastrous final standing stage, missing all five targets, pushing him back to 38th place with 11 penalties.
Yesterday’s Sprint winner Anton Shipulin of Russia ran away with the Pursuit, winning in 39:50.9. Shipulin was the only competitor in the field of 60 to shoot clean! Florian Graf of Germany maintained his second place as in the Sprint, with four penalties, 1:37.2 back, while Victor Vasilyev, also with four penalties, took third, 1:54.4 back.
The weather continued to deteriorate for the afternoon Women’s competitions, as the strong wind brought in driving rain. In the Youth Women 7.5K Pursuit, Hilary McNamee (Fort Fairfield, ME) finished 25th, with 10 penalties, 5:28.2 behind Janien Hammerschmidt of Germany. Hammerschmidt had six penalties, finishing in 34:41.1. Second went to Sophie Boilley of France, with four penalties, 20 seconds back. Incredibly, Elise Ringen of Norway finished third with 10 penalties, a mere 27.9 seconds back! Addie Byrne (Bovey, MN), 11:17.6 back, and Grace Boutot (Fort Kent, ME) 11:31.2 back, finished 55th and 57th, with 12 and 11 penalties, respectively.
â€œIt was like doing biathlon in the summer, getting soaked by the rain and beaten up by the wind,â€ was how 25th place Laura Spector (Lenox, MA) described the Junior Women’s 10K Pursuit.
The driving rain persisted through the whole competition, won not surprisingly by Magdalena Neuner of Germany, with seven penalties in 37:22. Veronika Vitkova of the Czech Republic finished a distant second, 2:27.4 back with three penalties, while Marie Laure Brunet of France took third, 2:45.7 back with six penalties. Spector, despite seven penalties, was the top US woman, finishing 7:55.3 back. Meagan Toussaint (Madawaska, ME) had just four penalties in 34th place, 9:08.1 back, with Brynden Manbeck (Grand Rapids, MN), in 39th, with seven penalties, 10:49 back.
Monday is a rest/training day for the athletes who will need it after the trying conditions today. Competition resumes with the Individual competitions for the Youth and Junior Men.
Live streaming video coverage of all of the competitions at the Youth and Junior World Championships competitions as well as archived highlights of the World Cup season, is available by clicking the athlete photo at the top of the news column at www.usbiathlon.org
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