The story of the day at the men’s World Cup biathlon opener in Ostersund, Sweden, was how Norway’s Ole Einar Bjoerndalen, already a legend despite the fact that he hasn’t retired, blew an early lead in the 20 k individual race by missing two targets in the last shooting stage.
Coming into that stage, Bjoerndalen had an edge of just over a minute on his teammate Emil Hegle Svendsen. But with a pair of missed shots to Svendsen’s one, he ended up 19 seconds out of the win when he crossed the finish line. The Norwegians had the two fastest ski times of the day.
France’s Martin Fourcade was third, another twenty seconds back, with only one missed shot over four stages.
Tarjei Boe of Norway finished fourth with two misses, giving his country three of the top four spots on the results sheet. It was clearly an excellent day for Boe, who had the third-fastest ski time, meaning that the Norwegians can stake a claim as the fastest skiers on the circuit. The 22-year-old Boe was a Junior World Champion in Presque Isle in 2006, and last year, he had one top-10 and one top-20 finish at a pair of World Cups in Slovenia. Despite those credentials, Boe, who started at the back of the field, clearly surprised some people with his result.
For the Americans, the big news was Leif Nordgren’s race. While veteran Tim Burke, who wore the yellow leader bib on the World Cup circuit last year, finished 31st, Nordgren, just 21 years old, shot cleanly though all four stages and finished 35th.
Nordgren had never finished in the top 60 of a World Cup before Thursday, so the result was a big step for him. In addition, he was one of only two men in the entire field to hit all twenty targets. He also had the fastest range time on the day.
“I’ve been really happy with how my shooting progressed over the summer,” he told FasterSkier in an e-mail. “I’ve never shot 20 for 20 in a race, though, so that was really sweet. Maybe I’ll try to do it more often!”
Nordgren was among the many athletes hit by a cryptosporidium infection earlier this week from Ostersund’s drinking water.
“The race was pretty tough for me. I had been a little sick from the water on Tuesday and Wednesday, so I didn’t even decide I was for sure going to race until about noon. Basically I had been sitting on the couch for the last two days, so coming out and doing a 20 k – not perfect preparation. But I’m not complaining!” he said.
“As far as the rest of the races go,” Nordgren continued, “I’m just going to try to recover my best from this one, and hopefully the skiing will be back up to par for the next race on Saturday.”
Burke skied well, and had the tenth-fastest course time. It was his shooting that moved him back on the results sheet. He missed four shots, which, in this race format, automatically incurred him a four-minute time penalty. Hitting just one more shot would have gained Burke ten places.
“Considering everything that has happened in the last week, I felt like today was a good effort,” he said, referring to his own cryptosporidium infection. “I was very happy to have the 12th-fastest ski time, considering that I felt pretty flat in the last two loops. I can’t wait to race when I am feeling 100 percent again.”
Regarding his shooting, he told FasterSkier, “I am not sure why, but all of my shots in the first prone stage were on the left side. The coaches gave me that info on the second loop and I made the correction. After that, I had three solid stages.”
Lowell Bailey was the next American, finishing 51st with two misses. Russell Currier finished 94th with 12 misses, the most out of the entire field. Jeremy Teela didn’t start.
For the Canadians, Jean-Phillipe Leguellec led the way in 57th. Leguellec has been one of Canada’s most successful biathletes recently, and racked up three top-twenty finishes at the Vancouver Olympics. However, Thursday was not Leguellec’s day, as he missed four shots and had only the 46th-fastest ski time.
It wasn’t a good day on the range for the whole Canadian team: Leguellec’s compatriots Brendan Green and Nathan Smith finished 65th and 88th with five and seven missed shots, respectively.
World Cup action continues Friday, with the women’s 7.5 k sprint.