After a World Junior Championships where it has already proven dominant in the medal counts, Russia sealed the deal by winning both the youth men’s and women’s relays in Nove Mesto, Czech Republic on Friday. And it wasn’t even close: both teams won by more than a minute, the men over Italy and the women over Ukraine.
Elena Badanina, the leadoff skier for the Russian women’s team, doesn’t see herself as becoming a star, despite having medaled in all eight World Junior Championship races she has started in her career. For a country as large and full of talent as Russia, things can change a lot from year to year.
“I know that this here were mere ‘children’s competitions’ and that I still have a long way to go and a lot of hard work to do before arriving at the top,” she told IBU News.
While her competitors might resent being called children, she has a point. With the World Cup currently in North America, the very fastest juniors are for the most part not contesting this year’s World Junior Championships.
And as Russian Maxim Tsvetkov, who won his third gold medal of the week today, pointed out, even medals at World Juniors don’t guarantee success.
“There were so many athletes who won medals at the Youth and Junior World Championships and then could not make it on the World Cup level,” he told IBU News. “I don’t want to be one of these athletes.”
The Canadian youth men had the top performance of the day, finishing seventh in the 3 x 7.5 k relay. Leadoff skier Stuart Harden, who has raced to 18th and 23rd place finishes so far in Nove Mesto, used only a single spare round to clean two shooting stages, and tagged off in fifth place.
“I’m happy with my leg of the relay,” he told FasterSkier. “As a team we chose me to start because of my consistent shooting. I definitely achieved that today by using one spare round, and I managed to leave team Canada within 30 seconds of a place on the podium. My legs didn’t feel great on the skis, but being the last race of World Championships the whole team pushed as hard as we could for our respective legs.”
The Canadians missed just seven targets in six shooting stages, which represented the second-best shooting in the field, and skied only one penalty loop. But for Harden, Christian Gow, and Macx Davies, it wasn’t enough to meet their high expectations.
“Unfortunately we didn’t perform as well as we had hoped on the shooting range and that was reflected in the result,” Harden said. “We had hopes for a better result, but Christian and I will be youths at next year’s championships, and are looking forward to the relay as another great chance for a Canadian medal.”
The U.S. team also shot well; they missed nine shots over the course of the relay and avoided the penalty loop entirely, one of only six teams to do so. But they still ended up in 12th place, over four minutes off the podium.
“I thought that our shooting was very good,” leadoff skier Casey Smith said in an e-mail. “Shooting is something that can slip easily, but we held it together. If we had been skiing a little faster then I think that we could have done really well. This year’s relay was an improvement from last year, which I think we were all happy about. All in all I thought that it was a good race for us.”
In the women’s race, the Canadians again bested their southern neighbors. The team of Rose-Marie Cote, Julia Ransom, and Sarah Beaudry finished eighth. Cote matched Harden’s performance, using a single spare round to tag off in fifth place.
“My race was really good,” Cote told FasterSkier. “I am proud of my performance. I had a fast skis and I only used one spare bullet, so I gave the second leg the tag in fifth place. Also, I was really happy to be the first leg of my team because I love mass starts. I am aggressive and have the speed to do well in mass starts, so I was really confident at the start line. In the double poling zone, I fell because I poled on my ski – but I stood up fast so I wasn’t really behind the leaders!”
Like the Canadian men, the women had high expectations, which weren’t quite matched in this Championships series. But the relay, while it didn’t produce a medal, seemed to satisfy the team.
“My team is happy with our eighth place because of the level of the competition,” Cote said. “My expectations were higher than what I achieved, but I really appreciate and learn from this experience. The best athletes know how to get back up, to learn and come back stronger.”
The American women struggled mightily, hitting the penalty loop more than any other team. As has been the case for most of the Championships so far, Carly Wynn and Tara Garaghty-Moates skied fast while shooting poorly – Wynn skied three penalty loops and Garaghty-Moates four. And also as usual, Silke Hynes shot well, using one spare round to clean each stage, but was unable to make up any ground on the trails.
Competition continues on Saturday with the junior men’s and women’s relays.