For the first time this season, someone who wasn’t Norwegian stood atop the men’s World Cup biathlon podium.
After six straight races of Norwegian dominance, the spell was broken in Pokljuka, Slovenia on Thursday. The top Norwegian finisher, Tarjei Boe, didn’t even make the top ten.
But Norway’s loss was Austria’s gain, as Daniel Mesotitsch picked up his third career World Cup victory, by almost a minute over Benjamin Weger of Switzerland. Sergui Sednev of Ukraine finished third.
After two shooting stages, it appeared that the Austrians were in control – Chrisoph Sumann and Simon Eder were sitting in first and second. But after that pair made errors in their later shooting stages, it was their less-famous teammate who was able to ski to the win.
Mesotitsch started off slowly, finishing the first lap in 57th place. But after a miss in the first prone stage, he shot clean, and his ski times improved as well.
While Mesotitsch is Austrian, not Slovenian, he said that he was still helped by a sort of home course advantage today.
“I live just 35 minutes from here, the first exit into Austria,” he told IBU News. “So when we have home training weeks, many times I come over here when the Slovenian team is here and train. So I am very familiar with this shooting range and the tracks.
“The crowds were very supportive of me today, especially when I was shooting,” he added. “I think the organizers have done a very good job with this venue; they continue to improve here every year.”
Weger was the big surprise on the podium – his previous best World Cup finish was 17th in Khanty Mansiysk, Russia.
It wasn’t a good day for the Americans. Lowell Bailey led the team with a 48th-place finish. His five misses represented the best shooting on the team; Russell Currier missed ten en route to 88th place. The wind definitely proved to be challenging, and not a single man in the field shot clean, but the Americans seemed to struggle more than most.
“For the men we had a rough day again,” said head coach Per Nilsson. “For the moment we don’t hit enough targets to be competitive on this level. It’s clear that we underperform compared to each athlete’s capacity. In the team we know what level we are capable of and it’s far away from this. Our biggest goal for the season is the World Championships in Russia, so we have three months to work on this.”
Tim Burke appeared to be off to a good start today, but missed an astonishing four shots in his second shooting stage. That mistake more or less removed him from contention for the rest of the race – and he didn’t do himself any favors by missing two shots in each of the last two stages. His 65th-place performance was by far the weakest for him all season.
Nevertheless, his ski time was the 7th-fastest all day, so if Burke can get his shooting together, he is definitely capable of matching his success from last year.
Unlike their southern neighbors, the Canadians did have a few bright spots on the results sheet, with Brendan Green finishing 21st and Scott Perras 31st. The results were the best of the season for the pair.
Perras started from bib 103, and was a surprise addition to the first page of results at the end of the race.
“I would never chose a later start position but it seems that I have excelled from that position before,” he told FasterSkier in an e-mail. “The best part of starting late is that when you cross the line there is no one or not many that can bump you down in the results.”
Perras knew that the wind could be a factor, so he adjusted his strategy accordingly.
“I was prepared to take my time in the range if necessary. I didn’t care about much other then hitting the targets, and you can see this in my shooting time, which was over 40 seconds slower then my fastest shooting teammate, Nathan Smith. I was happy that I put down all of the prone targets because those are probably going to be where the wind can get you the worst.
“In my final standing, I knew there were some good opportunities for a great result. That is basically what I aim for in a 20 k – get to the final stage with a good chance. It’s exciting and that is the challenge I want.”
The World Cup continues in Slovenia on Saturday with men’s and women’s sprints.