Kontiolahti, Finland – It is a rare occurrence in the Nordic sports when men and women compete together, but the International Biathlon Union usually holds one such race each season.
The mixed relay combines two women and two men in the standard biathlon relay format. The women each ski 6 kilometers, while the men are confronted with a 7.5km course.
With races on both Saturday and Sunday, many teams chose not to race their best skiers, especially men. But the race was still a close fought battle, with Norway edging Germany by just 5.4 seconds.
The Norwegains started their two top women – Ann Kristian Flatland and Tora Berger before turning to 40-year-old Halvard Hanevold and young Tarjei Boe. Both Hanevold and Boe were members of the gold medal winning men’s relay team in Whistler, but are behind Emil Svendsen and Ole Einar Bjorndalen on the depth chart.
Germany also started their two best women – Kati Wilhelm and Magdalena Neuner, but did not have Michael Greiss in the lineup.
Berger shot extremely well for Norway, using just one extra shot while cleaning her targets. She moved the team up to third from 10th, and tagged Hanevold just 20 seconds down.
Hanevold took over the lead with an impressive leg, shooting solidly and posting the 3rd best ski time. Boe headed out with an eight second lead on Belarus and Germany.
Belarus was in the running after Darya Domracheva and Alexandr Syman both shot clean. But Olympic silver medalist Sergey Novikov was unable to maintain position, using four extra bullets.
Boe clinched the Norwegian victory with perfect shooting. Germany’s Simon Schempp overcame a single miss to stay within striking distance, but the Norwegian was too strong at the end.
Italy’s Christian De Lorenzi posted the fasted ski time on the anchor leg to overtake Novikov for the final podium spot, and an excellent result for the Italian team.
The usually strong French team only started one A team skier – Simon Fourcade – and finished 7th.
Canada Takes US
Both Canada and the US fielded teams, with the Canadians taking home North American bragging rights, finishing 10th.
“Our goal was to finish in the top-eight today so we were a little disappointed with 10th,” said Megan Imrie, who had one of her best races of the year. “We know that with good shooting and no penalty loops we can be in the top-six and even fighting for a podium on a perfect day.”
Poor shooting by Scott Perras and Zina Kocher resulted in two penalty laps and too big a deficit to make up.
Imrie shot clean and brought the team through in 7th place, just 31 seconds down after the first leg.
Kocher actually skied up to third after cleaning the prone shooting stage, but struggled in standing, and slipped to 8th. Perras made up a spot on the first loop but also had trouble in standing, and tagged to Brendan Green in 9th. Green lost one more spot for the final result.
The US team of Sarah Studebaker, Lanny Barnes, Lowell Bailey and Leif Nordgren ended 12th.
Studebaker, fresh off strong performances in her first Olympics, did not have a great day and tagged Barnes in 13th.
Barnes, known as an excellent shot, did not disappoint. She cleaned both standing and prone, posted the fastest overall range time, and 4th fastest shooting time.
Unfortunately her ski speed did not match her shooting speed, and she lost 2:22 over her six kilometers of skiing. She did maintain 13th position in the 15-team field.
Bailey took over and moved the team up to 11th. Nordgren skied well, 8th fastest for the 4th leg, but needed five extra shots to clean his ten targets.
Racing continues on Saturday with a 7.5/10km sprint and a 10/12.5km pursuit on Sunday.
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Topher Sabot is the editor of FasterSkier.