For the fourth straight race, a Norwegian biathlete stood atop the World Cup podium.
Was it 36-year-old veteran Ole Einar Bjorndalen? Or perhaps the overall World Cup leader, Emil Hegle Svendsen?
Those would be smart guesses, but they’d also be wrong. Instead, it was their teammate, 22-year-old Tarjei Boe, who was the second-fastest skier on Friday and shot clean. Boe has never graced a World Cup podium before, much less won a race. But in the sprint, held in Hochfilzen, Austria, he bested the field by a solid 27.5 seconds.
Sergui Sednev of Ukraine finished second after missing one shot. Alexis Boeuf of France was third, climbing the World Cup podium for just the second time in his career.
Most of the field had to contend with heavy snowfall, which slowed both skiing and shooting times as competitors struggled to make out the targets through the snow. The back of the field seemed to have it the worst, at least in terms of skiing. Conditions slowed considerably as more and more snow built up.
Boe told IBU News that he had actually felt better in Ostersund, Sweden, last week, but he thought that he handled the conditions better than the other men.
“I was pretty lucky in the first two laps, but in the third loop, it started to snow really hard,” he said. “I thought that I would lose the victory because of that. Then I increased my lead from 20 to 25 seconds and knew that I could handle the conditions.”
Boe was excited for his first victory, which was also the first time he had topped his two more famous teammates.
“It is pretty cool,” he told IBU News. “It is the first time that I beat both of them in a World Cup. If you beat them, you are at the podium because they are up there all of the time. Emil is in such good shape these days that I have to do better shooting than him to be up there.”
And that was indeed the case. Svendsen had the fastest ski time of the day, as has been his habit lately, but missed one shot in each shooting stage. Despite those misses, he was only 0.5 seconds behind Boeuf, narrowly missing the podium.
Meanwhile, Boeuf had to contend with disappointment himself – he fell on a downhill on the last loop. Since he was less than six seconds behind Sednev, this almost certainly cost him second place.
When he talked to IBU News, though, Boeuf was philosophical about the error.
“It might have been better, but I fell down, not on a turn, but a perfectly straight place,” he said. “My ski just turned the wrong way and I was down. I lost some seconds there, but that is biathlon… You know, in biathlon one day you can be on the podium and the next day be last.”
Tim Burke of the U.S. and Jean-Phillipe Leguellec of Canada finished 23rd and 27th, continuing a string of solid but unexceptional results from last weekend. With two misses each, the pair has been nothing if not consistent so far in the early season, collecting several top-30 finishes.
Burke was frustrated with the race, saying that he had made a huge mistake in choosing the third U.S. starting position. He had assumed that it would snow for the entire race and that by the time he started, at least the track would be skied-in. Instead, the going got slower as the day went on.
“Today felt like a flashback to the sprint race at the Olympics,” he told FasterSkier in an e-mail. “The good thing for tomorrow is that I am not too far back and everyone will ski through the same conditions. I will be looking to take out some of my frustrations from today during tomorrow’s race.”
Leguellec said in a Biathlon Canada press release that he felt good today.
“I felt a lot better skiing today than I did last weekend, but feel doesn’t mean you actually go faster,” he said. “I guess it just hurts less. My skis were bombing but my two misses cost me a lot. I’ll be in a good spot for tomorrow’s pursuit. Hopefully I can shoot well and climb up some spots.”
Brendan Green had the next Canadian finish, placing 35th with one missed shot.
“Starting in bib #1 meant I was breaking trail for the first loop,” he told FasterSkier in an e-mail. “I suffered more time loss on that loop than I would have liked, but the next two loops were better once the track had been skied in, and the shooting was solid today which I was very happy with. I’m sitting in a good position heading into tomorrow’s pursuit so I’m looking forward to that race and hopefully moving up in the standings.”
Green hadn’t had an impressive weekend in Ostersund, finishing 65th and 74th. Friday’s result was a relief, he said.
“Ostersund was a bit of a rough go for me with a disappointing showing on the range. My skiing was in pretty good form there, but without good shooting that doesn’t mean much. Hochfillzen has been a nice change from the cold temperatures and parasites in Ostersund, and I had a couple days earlier on in the week to regroup and bring more focus to my shooting. There’s still a long season ahead, and I’m confident that my best form is still yet to come.”
Nathan Smith also qualified for the pursuit, riding clean shooting to a 54th-place finish. Scott Perras rounded out the Canadian results by finishing 92nd.
For the Americans, Lowell Bailey shot clean and finished 55th, and will join Burke in the pursuit tomorrow. Leif Nordgren, Jeremy Teela, and Russell Currier finished 70th, 89th, and 94th. All struggled on the range, with Nordgren and Teela missing four shots each and Currier seven out of ten.