In the final shooting stage of Saturday’s mass start World Cup in Antholz, Italy, Martin Fourcade of France and Bjorn Ferry of Sweden went shot-for-shot for four bullets, each dropping all the targets.
But while Fourcade quickly hit the fifth target, Ferry hesitated, waiting for the perfect shot. He kept waiting and waiting… and missed.
While Ferry headed to the penalty loop, Daniel Mesotitsch of Austria and Anton Shipulin of Russia shot clean and embarked on the final three kilometers of skiing in second and third places. By the time Ferry finished his penalty loop, he was almost ten seconds behind Shipulin.
But a lot can happen in three kilometers. While Fourcade seemed to attack with renewed ferocity and skied to an easy win – grabbing a French flag from the stadium, skiing across the line backwards, and then smashing the flag like a musician might a guitar – Mesotitsch and Shipulin were tiring.
Shipulin caught Mesotitsch, but appeared exhausted, double-poling down the hills rather than skating. It wasn’t a good omen: Ferry was charging behind them, devouring the tracks with his 6-foot, 4-inch frame and inching his way back towards the podium. It was only in the final 1,000 meters that he put in the push that counted, gaining contact with Shipulin and Mesotitsch shortly before entering the stadium.
And at that point it was almost a foregone conclusion that the Olympic champion would win a sprint to the line. Ferry did, and seemed almost as excited to have regained second place as he might have been to win. Shipulin was third, and a clearly spent Mesotisch fourth.
Fourcade, who was 21st in Friday’s sprint, said in a press conference that the disappointment had motivated him.
“I was hungry today after my bad result in the sprint. I took my time in prone to be sure to shoot clean. Then I attacked on standing. My shooting was good. The skiing was good, but shooting made my victory… Of course my shape is very good now, but as I saw in the sprint, you can be in your best shape and still be in 20th or more. The aim of all of the athletes is to be in top form for the World Championships.”
Ferry attested to Fourcade’s fitness, saying that he had “felt it” on the fourth loop.
And heading out on the last loop, he said in the press conference, he looked around and thought, “I will be number four.
“But I make, I make my speed, I thought maybe I would catch someone, and then I thought, ‘I’ll try,’ to make a huge end sprint. There was a huge uphill, and ‘okay, I can catch him, I can catch him…’ They were both tired in the last kilometer. And I had some, I don’t know, superpower today.”
The lone North American in the 30-man field was Lowell Bailey of the United States. Bailey got off to a good start in the first World Cup mass start of his career, shooting clean in the first prone stage and heading out with a group of ten or so men in the lead pack. But in the last three shooting stages, he missed five shots, and dropped to 22nd place.
“My goal was to just go for it right from the start and be aggressive,” Bailey said in a U.S. Biathlon Association press release. “For the first prone shooting that worked out great and I was up there with some of the best athletes. But for the second shooting I am not sure where the misses were. It was really windy on the range and I suffered a bit from that.”