So far this season, three Norwegian men have dominated the World Cup biathlon circuit, taking wins when it suits them and not always playing nicely together. 22-year-old Tarjei Boe currently sits atop the overall World Cup rankings, followed closely by teammate Emil Hegle Svendsen. Veteran Ole Einar Bjorndalen, who has won 92 World Cups in his career but only one this year, is third, giving the Norwegians a clean sweep of the standings halfway through the season.
But it was none of those men who stood atop the podium in Rupholding, Germany on Friday. Instead, their teammate Lars Berger – who is almost always overshadowed by not only his male teammates but also his more successful sister, Tora – who won the 10 k sprint.
Berger’s skiing has never held him back. In fact, he is currently the only athlete who has won relay gold in both biathlon and nordic skiing World Championships, and won the 15 k at 2007 Nordic World Championships in Sapporo as well.
For Berger, shooting is what makes or breaks a day, and on Friday he shot clean for just the third time in his career. The last two instances were in Vancouver in 2009 and in Hochfilzen, Austria in 2008. And in both cases, he won.
“It is too bad that it does not happen so often,” he told IBU News. “You know I am not that good! It takes some luck. But when it happens it is quite a dream day for me.”
Berger skied to a 21-second victory over Martin Fourcade of France, who also shot clean, as did third-place finisher Ivan Tcherezov of Russia, just two more seconds behind. The soft snow made tough going for weaker skiers, but Berger was able to shine, owning the fastest course time of the day.
“We train a lot in tough conditions back home,” he told IBU News. “Today was difficult but not impossible [conditions]. The most important thing today was not to stress too much on the skis, but to flow over the snow and do good skiing so you can go fast.”
While Berger had a “dream day”, the North Americans did not. They were led by Marc-Andre Bedard of Canada, who finished 44th with clean shooting. A recent addition to the World Cup squad, Bedard was a surprise leader of the Canadian team, which had three men score World Cup points and two men qualify for the mass start last weekend.
Bedard didn’t have as easy of a time on the snow as Berger did, but was positive about his shooting.
“It feels awesome to finally get a good shooting race,” he told FasterSkier. “But starting in the last seed is is not so cool, especially in warm weather- the trails get softer and deeper every time someone passes! The skiing was really tough today but I managed to get my shooting on.
“I’m happy to race the third pursuit of my career,” he continued. “I want to break my bad luck in pursuits and get a big one! I’ll get the day off to prepare for Sunday and I want it!”
For a time on Friday it looked like he might be lonely in the pursuit. After two shooting stages, Bedard and Brendan Green were the only Canadians in the top 60, and Lowell Bailey was the only American.
But in the 3.3 k before the finish, U.S. biathletes Tim Burke and Jeremy Teela made up time and finished 56th and 58th – just inside the cutoff for Sunday’s pursuit race. Green finished 48th and Bailey 50th.
While packing the 40s and 50s isn’t the position the men were hoping to be in, they have the opportunity to move up quite a few places in the pursuit, since all are capable of much stronger results.