Despite Champions in Field, Unknown Biathletes Shine at IBU Cup Openers

Chelsea LittleNovember 26, 2011

At last year’s IBU Cup openers in Beitostolen, Norway, only a few top biathletes showed up. The rest were preparing for the World Cup openers in Ostersund, Sweden the next weekend.

But this year, the second-tier races – originally scheduled for Idre, Sweden – were moved to Ostersund due to a lack of snow. And even in Ostersund, fans were treated to a rare sight: grass. While manmade snow covered four kilometers of ski trails at the venue, there was barely any natural snow on the ground, so the range itself was covered in green and brown.

The World Cup athletes who were already training in Ostersund took advantage of the new location to start racing a week earlier. The start list was filled with champions – for instance, in the men’s race Olympic gold medalist Bjorn Ferry of Sweden was the first starter, followed by World Champion Martin Fourcade of France.

But surprisingly, it wasn’t either of these men who ended the day atop the podium. Instead, Russia’s Dmitry Malyshko, who has never even started a World Cup, won the 10 kilometer, two-stage sprint. Alexsandr Trifonov of Kazakhstan, whose best World Cup finish is 69th, finished second. Germany’s Benedikt Doll, who has never started a World Cup but at least has a few World Junior Championships medals to his name, rounded things out.

And the guys who usually stand on the podium at biathlon’s biggest events? Fourcade led them in eighth after missing four shots in just ten attempts.

The culprit was the wind, which threw both veterans and newbies for a loop. Malyshko was able to escape with a single penalty, and Trifonov was the only athlete in the entire field to shoot clean.

Malyshko won by almost thirty seconds, so it wasn’t only his mastery of the wind that put him on top. He also had the seventh-fastest ski time.

“This win puts everything in perspective and shows that what we did over the summer worked,” he told IBU News.

Nevertheless, he’s unsure whether he will represent Russia in the World Cup openers next week, since the team was already named before these races.

In the women’s 7.5 k sprint, there were more familiar faces atop the leaderboard. Marie Laure Brunet of France, always an overall World Cup contender, raced to a 43-second victory, while Marie Dorin Habert, her teammate on the silver-medal Olympic relay team, finished third.

Sandwiched in between them was Krystyna Palka of Poland, who while not a household name in the biathlon world does have a fifth-place Olympic finish from 2006 to her name. Palka broke her arm last year, and had to race in Ostersund today to requalify for the World Cup. Doing so with a podium finish was especially gratifying, she said.

“I am really happy today, and this also means I am now qualified for the World Cup,” she told IBU News.

On Brunet’s part, she said that the key to shooting with such strong wind gusts was patience and self-assurance.

“It’s important in these conditions to be focused and confident. You have to believe in yourself in order for the bullet to hit the target.”

Results: men / women

Chelsea Little

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