How poor was the shooting on the third day of biathlon World Junior Championships in Nove Mesto, Czech Republic?
In two races on Tuesday – the youth men’s and women’s individual – only a single athlete, Pavel Hancharou of Belarus, shot clean for the four stages of the race. He was rewarded with a 48-second victory in the 12.5 k race and his first World Juniors gold medal.
Second-place Steffen Bartscher of Germany was so impressed with Hancharou’s shooting that he told IBU News, “You never wish a miss on anybody and he deserves the win today, with this performance!”
Further down in the field, Stuart Harden of Canada had another exceptional race, finishing 18th with three penalties. Harden is actually 16 years old, one year younger than the technical definition of a youth, and is skiing up an age category, making his performances particularly impressive.
“I’m really pleased with my race and I’ve exceeded my hopes and goals,” he told FasterSkier. “I was disappointed in my prone shooting- I missed two total and I usually don’t have to worry about any errors in the prone position. [But] my standing was super with only one miss.
“I started out a little sluggish, but as my shooting improved at the end I increased the pace on the course. I received some good splits off of my teammate Macx Davies on my last loop so I knew my time was competitive. I was able to pick up some time on the more technical parts of the course and had an advantage on the downhills thanks to the team wax techs Tom, Pavel and Patrick.”
Harden began racing when he was 11 years old with Biathlon Canada’s Biathlon Bears program, which since the ’90s has been introducing 9- to 13-year-olds to the sport of biathlon.
“From there I joined the Rocky Mountain Racers and I’ve had John Jaques as a coach since then,” Harden said. “I owe a lot to my coach and parents who have helped me improve so much each year that I’ve been in the sport, the most recent season giving the most opportunities and results. I hope to grow as much as I have the last several years in the coming ones, and I hope to be competitive in my own age group at World Championships for the next few seasons.”
Davies was the next Canadian finisher, notching a 34th-place result. Davies, too, has had a successful race series so far: Tuesday’s race was his worst result to date, with the high point being a 19th-place finish in the opening sprint on Saturday. Unlike Harden, however, Davies is in his last year of eligibility as a youth and will have to move up to the more competitive junior division next season.
Christian Gow and Albert Bouchard rounded out the Canadian squad by finishing 53rd and 63rd.
For the U.S., Casey Smith finally hit his stride and led the team in 30th place. It was his best race in two years of World Juniors starts. Smith had four penalties and secured his spot by charging hard in the last lap of racing, finishing with the 12th-fastest fifth-loop time.
Sam Dougherty was the next U.S. finisher, like Smith notching the best result of his career. He finished 54th with five penalties. Normally, such shooting would be more disappointing; but in Tueday’s race, with only seven athletes having two or fewer penalties and twenty of them shooting 50% or worse, it was good enough.
“Unless you’re at the top of the podium, there’s always room for improvement, but I am really satisfied,” Dougherty said in an e-mail. “As long as I know I left it all out on the trail, I accept my results happily, regardless of contention… I really enjoy the individual discipline, although it’s becoming a rare event in American biathlon competition.
“I was disappointed in my Sprint result, and unfortunately didn’t qualify for the Pursuit competition the next day, which I felt was to be my strongest event. In saying that, I’m happy to prove to myself in the individual competition that if I shoot consistently and keep my skis pointed straight I can improve upon past results.”
Dougherty said that the talent of his competitors had impressed him so far, and that he thought the U.S. had a long way to go in order to be competitive on the world stage.
“It is becoming very obvious to me that ski ability plays a huge part in the contention of these races. After the race today I was hypothetically skeptical if a U.S. Junior National Champion could be anywhere close to some of these biathletes in a regular nordic competition. Biathletes are friendly people the world round though, and it’s hard to stay intimidated by people who are nice to you.”
Sean Doherty and Ray Wonders finished 65th and 69th.
In the youth women’s 10 k individual, Norwegian Thekla Brun-Lie won by 11 seconds over Russia’s Elena Badanina. The top four finishers all had two penalties, and no women shot clean.
Brun-Lie, whose sister Celine represented Norway in skiing at the Vancouver Olympics, was contesting her first race of the series.
“I was sick before the sprint and the pursuit and simply not fit,” she told IBU News. “I knew this was my only chance today to do well so I was very nervous. I thought I could win only on the last lap.”
Galina Vishnevskaya of Kazakhstan finished third.
Sarah Beaudry of Canada, Kelly Kjorline of the United States, and Beaudry’s teammate Julia Ransom made the best of a handful of penalties and finished 33rd, 34th, and 36th.
“I was really looking forward to the individual and I felt like it went pretty well,” Kjorlien said in an e-mail. “I was slightly disappointed that I didn’t shoot a little better, but I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m never completely satisfied. Having a rest day on Monday was very helpful. I felt fairly fresh this morning and was comfortable on the course.”
Ransom was less satisfied with her results.
“It has definitely been an interesting tour,” she told FasterSkier. “I went into it expecting top ten results, just based on my performances last year. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out as planned. Saturday’s sprint and Sunday’s Pursuit were really disappointing for me as I felt as though I was severely underperforming. Nothing more frustrating than knowing that you can do better.
“I went into the Individual excited and focused knowing that I was starting with a ‘clean slate’. Skiing felt better than it had all week and prone shooting was great. Standing however, was not so nice. I couldn’t settle into it and my rhythm just wasn’t there. As disappointed as I was with my results, I am so happy with my experience. I have learnt a tremendous amount of valuable lessons and feel as though I have grown as an athlete.”
Rose-Marie Cote and Danielle Vrielink finished 44th and 47th. For Cote, a World Juniors medalist from 2010, the result wasn’t what she was hoping for. But for Vrielink, who is at her fist World Junior Championships, it was the best finish of her career.
“I started the race with really cold hands so it was very hard for me to shoot,” Vrielink told FasterSkier. “I think I really pulled the shooting together on my second prone and then continued to be very pleased with my second standing. 17/20 is very good for an individual, although I wish that I could have skied just a little bit harder. But all and all I was very happy to have been able to race here.
Vrielink is at 15 years of age one of the youngest competitors in the field, and she said that the races made her realize that she needed to up her game.
“It has been quite the opportunity to race in Nove Mesto for team Canada at my age. The competitions has been quite eye-opening in regards to just how fast my competition can ski and how well they can shoot. I guess in Canada, you can get away with just being able to shoot well, but out here, it’s a whole new playing field and you’ve got to ski fast if you want to win. Despite my results, I have really enjoyed this opportunity to race and look forward to next years Youth and Junior World Championships.”
Carly Wynn was the second U.S. finisher, missing eight targets and skiing to 43rd place. She was followed by a pair with opposite problems: Silke Hynes had only five penalties, but the 62nd-fastest ski time of the day, which left her in 57th place. Tara Garaghty-Moates was the 20th-fastest skier, but missed an excruciating 16 targets and finished 66th.
Racing continues on Wednesday with the junior men’s and women’s individual races.