Magdalena Neuner is among the fastest skiers on the biathlon circuit—but that’s never been her problem.
In the past, it has been her shooting that held her back. So when Neuner puts together a good performance on the range, she’s tough to beat.
She did just that in Sunday’s 12.5 k mass start in Fort Kent, hitting 19 of 20 targets to capture a dominating 24-second win over her teammate Andrea Henkel. Belarus’s Darya Domracheva was third, 29 seconds behind, and Sara Studebaker (USA), the lone North American starter, was 23rd.
After three races in as many days, and six races in the last 10, Studebaker said she was tired in the first mass start of her career. But her 18-for-20 shooting—including clean bouts in both standing stages—kept her competitive with the bottom half of the field.
“It was awesome, and to be able to hold it together for [those] last two standing stages when you’re really tired—and being in a very new situation, for myself, it was great,” she said.
Neuner was tight with Henkel after both cleaned their first two shooting stages—Neuner said that she purposefully took things easy out on course to keep things under control in the range.
“I went a little bit slower to shoot very well,” she said.
When Henkel missed a target on the third stage, and Neuner cleaned, the race was essentially over. Neuner had one penalty in the final shooting, but that still left her with a 30-second advantage over her teammate.
Gerald Hoenig, one of the German women’s coaches, told FasterSkier that Neuner’s shooting problems are mental—and that things are easier if she’s doing well.
“When Magdalena has good results, it will be better and better—this is a good situation for her,” Hoenig said. “I think it will be stable, for the moment, and I hope for the World Championships.”
Henkel, meanwhile, took over the yellow bib of overall World Cup leader from Finland’s Kaisa Makarainen. Makarainen had been battling back and forth with Sweden’s Helena Ekholm, but neither of those women were at their best in Fort Kent, allowing Henkel to seize the opportunity with two wins and a second place in her last three races.
“I like winning, but being second to Magdalena today is fine,” Henkel said in the press conference. “I am happy any time I am on the podium.”
Sunday’s women’s mass start was the last of a two-week jaunt by the World Cup to the U.S. According to U.S. Biathlon Association CEO Max Cobb, the International Biathlon Union’s calendar is full through 2014 – the next opportunity for America to host World Cup races will be in 2015.
Nathaniel Herz is a reporter for FasterSkier, who also covers city government for the Anchorage Daily News in Alaska. You can follow him on twitter @nat_herz.