Östersund, Sweden, December 3.The Norwegian Team is full of medalists and stars, but on a minus 14 Celsius evening in Östersund, Emil Hegle Svendsen’s star shined the brightest as he won the Men’s 20K individual in convincing style.
Like Helena Jonsson in yesterday’s Women’s 15K Individual, Svendsen was near perfect, recording just a single penalty in the first standing stage, on the way to a 52:43.7 victory. Second went to Tim Burke of the USA, with a career best finish, 35.5 seconds back, but matching Svendsen on the shooting range. Veteran Christoph Sumann of Austria also with one penalty was third, 49.5 seconds back.
Close to Top Three
The next two men were close behind Sumann, with Russia’s Maxim Tchoudov and another Austrian, Fritz Pinter both 50.3 seconds back. Sixth went to the come-backing Bjorn Ferry of Sweden, 1:01.6 back
For Svendsen, who struggled with illness during a large part of last season, tonight’s win was a great start to the Olympic season. Norwegian men’s Coach Mikael Lofgren said earlier in the month that Svendsen had benefitted from training camp work with teammate Ole Einar Björndalen. “They have been training really well together this year and they have used each other. . . It has been good for both of them.” Based on today’s competition, Svendsen got the better part of the deal today, anyway. Björndalen finished 4:39.6 behind Svendsen after a five penalty day.
Svendsen handled the first competition nerves, the cold evening, and a shifting wind with ease. Yet at the finish, he admitted not knowing just how good his day was. “I did not know how good my race was until Tim Burke and Bjorn Ferry finished. I was nervous for a long time after I finished.”
The young Norwegian star, who finished third in the opener here, last year said his season, like everyone else is geared to the Olympic Winter Games. However, he had good feelings as this competition approached. “Since our national opening was not so good for me, I have been working really hard. I have had such a good feeling the past week in training and coming here I felt very confident. I knew if I could keep it together, I could be on the top.”
Cake in the Face
He could not explain why Björndalen and Halvard Hanevold, both good shots had tough days on the range today. However, Svendsen did take credit for the ‘cake in the face’ scene at the finish line with Hanevold, whose 40th birthday was today. “The team had the idea, but no one wanted to do it, so I volunteered. We posed with the cake just as Halvard finished and then I “gave” it to him.”
Historic for USA
For second place Burke, the podium place was historic. Jeremy Teela broke the US podium drought last March with third at Whistler Olympic Park in ironically the same event, the 20K. However, Burke equaled the all-time US best which dates back to 1987, when Josh Thompson placed second in the Calgary (CAN) World Cup. As the best US biathlete for the past three seasons, Burke has been close to the podium several times, usually missing by seconds or a single missed shot. Finally getting there was a huge step. He commented, “I have really worked hard since the 2006 Olympic winter Games (where his best was 37th in the Sprint). Coach Per Nilsson’s training program has made a huge difference. At the same time, the staff and everyone at the US Biathlon Association have given me all of the necessary support that made this possible.”
About his one-penalty effort, Burke added, “I felt really relaxed. Last year, I was pretty sick at the beginning of the season and did not score a World Cup point before Christmas. I thought that I could not start worse than last year. The really relaxed feeling helped a lot. . . I was in the zone; it felt like training.”
The United States Biathlon Association is the National Governing Body for the sport of biathlon in the United States as recognized by the United States Olympic Committee and the International Biathlon Union. The US Biathlon Association supports the US Biathlon Team and development of the sport on all levels within the United States.