In Antholz, Italy on Thursday, Lowell Bailey of the United States was one shot out of the top five and just two seconds away from his first World Cup top-10.
As it was, he had the tenth-fastest ski time of the day, the second-fastest shooting time, two penalties, and finished 12th overall. It was the top American result of the season so far.
“It was a great race for me,” Bailey told FasterSkier in an e-mail. “I think it was my best skiing of my career so I am really happy with that aspect of the race. Of course, you can always look back and say “what if”, but right now, I’m looking forward. I qualified for the mass start [Saturday] and that is a big step towards where I want to be in a month from now at World Championships.”
He is the first U.S. man to qualify for a mass start race this season. The top 25 athletes in the general rankings are given starts, as well as the five fastest unranked biathletes from the previous race.
Anton Shipulin of Russia won his first World Cup, ten seconds ahead of Michael Greis of Germany. Lars Berger of Norway was third, another ten seconds back.
After the top five, the men were incredibly competitive, with only four seconds separating eighth and 13th places. Many of the circuit’s top athletes, including the top three men in the overall World Cup rankings, struggled in Antholz. One possible reason was the altitude: the venue is high in the Italian Alps, situated over 5,000 feet above sea level.
Bailey was unaffected by the altitude, however.
“We spent a lot of training days in altitude this summer, and over Christmas I came here to prepare for the January World Cups,” he said in a U.S. Biathlon Association press release. “So I am used to the altitude and to the course – that might have been an advantage.”
Norwegians Tarjei Boe and Emil Hegle Svendsen, who are currently first and second in the overall World Cup standings, finished 51st and 14th. Berger, who was the top Norwegian for the third race in a row, said thought his teammates were tired.
“They have raced hard for the past several weeks,” he told IBU News. “It might be that three hard weeks of competition in a row are too much.”
Berger, who was shot clean for the third time in his career to win last weekend’s sprint in Ruhpolding, was almost as good today.
“It is a little bit annoying to miss the last shot; I kind of lost focus on that one,” he told IBU News. “But on the other hand, the other nine shots were perfect. It was still a good race for me. I was a little bit slow in the first loop, but had a lot of energy in the last loop, but not enough to catch up. Still, I am really happy to be up here again. I may be at the top of my form now, but I hope I can be better at the World Championships.”
It was Shipulin, instead, who combined clean shooting with the second-fastest ski time and wound up with the win.
“It is a great moment for me to celebrate my first World Cup victory today,” he said in a press conference. “I finished fourth here last year, so Antholz is a good place for me. I really like the ups and downs on the course. This victory is very important for me, as I will now be a part of the Russian relay team at the World Championships.”
The Canadians are not attending this week’s races, but four other Americans competed. Tim Burke had the sixth-fastest ski time but missed three shots and finished 34th. Leif Nordgren, Jeremy Teela, and Jay Hakkinen finished 72nd, 73rd, and 81st.