Tarjei Boe (NOR) the overall Biathlon World Cup Champion last year finally made it to the top of the podium this season, besting Martin Fourcade (FRA) by a mere four seconds in the 10km biathlon sprint.
Boe missed one target in a race impacted by weather.
Heavy snow fell as the first starters took to the course, making for slow skiing conditions. As the day progressed, the snow abated, and the track sped up significantly, providing an advantage for the later starters in the individual start event.
The top-5 finishers, including Timofey Lapshuin (RUS) in third, all started at least 50 skiers in.
The top early starter was Simon Fourcade (FRA) who overcame the inclement weather with clean shooting and a 6th place finish.
Lowell Bailey (USA) and Brendan Green (CAN) led North America 21st and 24th respectively.
Boe entered the day with two-second place finishes, but he had yet to break through.
“I have been close and done some good races so it was good to win today. It was my time,” Boe told the International Biathlon Union (IBU) after the race.
The performance moved Boe to the top over the overall standings. He was helped by the fact that the leader entering the race, Carl Johan Berman (SWE), accumulated four penalties and struggled to an 84th place finish.
Berman, with two wins already this season, missed the top-60 cut, and will not get to race in Saturday’s pursuit.
Another big name, Emil Hegle Svendsen (NOR) managed to squeak into the pursuit, placing 54th, but he was outside the points for the first time this season.
The 23-year-old Boe was solid in all areas of the race, posting the third-fastest ski time while shooting accurately and efficiently. His one miss came with the fifth best range split.
As the biathlon sprint contains just two shooting stages, Martin Fourcade needed superior day on the skis to compensate for his two penalties. He did just that, posting the fastest time by nearly 25 seconds.
He made no attempt to hide the fact that starting 75th was helpful.
“The late start was good for me,” Fourcade told the IBU. “My skis were very good, but the bib number was more important than the skis today.”
His brother Simon had finished his race before Martin even began, battling the snow.
“He had a good day also,” Martin Fourcade said. “But I did get ahead of him because of better conditions. That is life.”
Lapshin, also 23, and a member of the World Junior silver medal winning relay team that handily bested Norwegian squad anchored by Boe in 2009, took advantage of the opportunity provided by Mother Nature, to earn his first World Cup podium.
He was 17.2 seconds down on Boe, and just 1.5 seconds ahead of Simon Schempp (GER) and Jean Guillaume Beatrix (FRA) who tied for fourth place.
Schempp and Beatrix both missed one shot, and edged out Simon Fourcade by .3 seconds.
As has been the case all season in the sprint events, times are very close.
While Boe and Fourcade have a bit of a lead, the next 12 skiers are all within 20 seconds.
Boe summed up the pursuit simply: “Whomever shoots bests win,” he said.
Bailey Leads US Again
Bailey continued his breakout campaign, finishing in the points in his sixth consecutive race—every start of the season.
His single penalty came in prone, and while his ski time was a non-descript 39th on the day, the combination of consistent skiing and accurate shooting made for a solid race.
Bailey told FasterSkier in an email that he was happy with his performance despite missing the top-20, and that he is looking forward to the pursuit.
“The top 60 guys were all within 1:50 which is perhaps the tightest field I can ever remember their being for a Pursuit,” Bailey wrote. “Given that fact, Saturday’s race is going to be pretty exciting with a lot of lead changes.”
After his first ski loop and subsequent miss, Bailey was in 53rd. He climbed up to 17th after cleaning standing, before slipping a few spots in the final ski loop.
Bailey is currently ranked sixth in the overall World Cup, the best an American has been since Tim Burke wore the yellow leaders bib in December two years ago.
“I’ve worked on a lot of things over the last couple of years and never felt like I’ve been able to consistently show the results until now,” Bailey told FasterSkier. “I had good results here and there in the past but I was never able to be as consistent in both the skiing and shooting.”
He described biathlon as “the most volatile of the Nordic sports,” and that he knows better then to take anything for granted.
“I will continue to work for consistency and see where the season takes me,” Bailey said. “After all, we’ve still got more than three months of racing left!”
Green in Position for Pursuit
Green was less than seven seconds in back of Bailey wile posting his second best result of 2012. On his 14th in the Ostersund sprint was better.
A relatively early starter at bib 30, Green had to contend with the snow. As a result his ski time suffered, just 52nd, but his perfect shooting made the difference.
“It was another solid day on the range and I actually felt good on the boards so overall it was a pretty good race,” said Green.
In regards to the snow, he said “That wasn’t in my control, and is what it is, but if the conditions were a little more consistent I think I could have been better.”
Green has shot clean in each of the three World Cup sprint events this season.
“I’ve been pretty comfortable on the range in the sprint for whatever reason and it’s awesome,” said Green. “I’m pumped at that and I’ll take as many clean days of shooting as possible.”
Like Bailey, Green is in good position to move up in Saturday’s pursuit. He is now 30th in the overall World Cup standings.
Mixed Day for Remaining North Americans
After Bailey and Green, the rest of the North American starters struggled results-wise.
Jay Hakkinen (USA) shot clean but was hampered by his starting spot. The eighth man out of the gate, Hakkinen was hit hard by the snow, and as a result, had the 85th ski time.
He did qualify for the pursuit, and will have the opportunity to make up some ground.
Canadian Jean Philippe LeGuellec starting with bib 10, fared much the same. He missed one target, placing 48th, tying another American, Leif Nordgren.
The 22-year old Nordgren started 69th, but was unable to capitalize, missing two shots.
Marc Andre Bedard (CAN) and Tim Burke (USA) placed 62nd and 63rd respectively, both missing the cut for the pursuit. Both men missed three shots, though Burke managed a solid ski, placing 42nd despite starting during the snow storm.
Scott Perras (CAN) rounded out the North American field in 80th with four penalties.
The women race a sprint on Friday, and both genders contest the pursuit on Saturday, and a mixed relay on Sunday.
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Topher Sabot is the editor of FasterSkier.