If there’s one race in biathlon where shooting really, really matters, it’s probably the individual format. The distances are the longest on the circuit – 15 k for women and 20 k for men – but the penalties for missed shots are so harsh that even the added length makes it difficult to compensate for errors. Instead of hitting the penalty loop, which usually takes 20 to 25 seconds, racers see a minute added to their time if they fail to knock down a target.
On Thursday, Russia’s Andrei Makoveev took those facts to heart and focused on shooting above all else in the World Cup individual race in Nove Mesto, Czech Republic. It paid off, as he was the only one of 99 finishers to clean all four shooting stages, going a perfect 20 for 20 on the range.
“The 20k was the most important race of the week for me,” Makoveev said in a postrace press conference. “I have done well in sprints and pursuits before, but never had a good individual race.”
That changed when his clean shooting landed him atop the leaderboard and Makoveev picked up the first win of his career. Despite having the fastest ski time, the Russian won by almost a minute over Emil Hegle Svendsen of Norway, who had two penalties.
“I was fighting for the victory during the whole race and had good luck on the shooting range,” Makoveev said.
Svendsen always impresses on skis, and can often win even with a few shooting errors. Thursday, though, was not one of those days.
“This is a hard shooting range; you enter with a high pulse which makes shooting hard right away,” the Notwegian said. “Then there is the wind. In my first prone it was from the left and then the next time there was no wind, you have to stay focused on the wind to shoot well here. But Andrei shot clean so it is possible for everyone.”
Bjorn Ferry of Sweden finished third, 15 seconds behind Svendsen. It was the first podium of the season for the 2010 Olympic gold medalist, who says that he is unsatisfied with his skiing this year.
“I have hit most of my targets so far this season, but my skiing… has not been quite so fast,” he said to explain his lackluster results. “I still think I have a way to go.”
Just a day after Zina Kocher and Megan Imrie hit the top 20, Canadians Jean-Phillipe Le Guellec and Brendan Green did an encore. Le Guellec missed two shots and Green three to place 17th and 19th, respectively.
“I’m not sure the reason for the results of our teams over the last two days but maybe some extra time at home [over the holidays] helped,” Green told FasterSkier when asked why the Canadians are on a hot streak.
Green actually wasn’t expecting to have a great race, since he had only arrived in Europe several days before; he still felt jetlagged.
“I’m never sure what to expect with how my body will handle [switching time zones] – it always seems to vary but today things worked out well,” he said.
There were a few very bright spots for Green in his performance. The best aspect was his skiing: his course time was the ninth-fastest of the day.
“The skiing felt tough, but I actually had one of my best skis this season which was sweet, and I was able to match it with decent shooting,” he said. “I opened the race missing my first two prone shots which is never a good way to start an Individual, but it seemed like I was able to settle into the shooting after that, picking up one more miss in my last standing bout.
“All in all I’m pretty happy with today, and stoked to start off the new year with a top-20.”
Le Guellec, Green, and the rest of the team had skipped the first 2012 weekend of World Cup racing in Oberhof, Germany, in favor of training on home turf. The strategy seems to be working, and Green said that they’ll do something similar to prepare for World Championships in March.
“The team will head back to Canada after Oslo to get in a couple weeks of solid training as well as a few of the IBU Cup races in Canmore before heading over to Europe again,” he said. “Hopefully the extra planned training at home will make a difference and that we are able to have our top performances in Ruhpolding.”
It’s a plan that the Americans may want to consider. After a starting the season strong, with Tim Burke, Lowell Bailey, and Jay Hakkinen all collecting top-10 results, the U.S. men have been unable to find their stride in 2012. On Thursday, Bailey led the squad with a 44th-place performance. The rest of the team was outside the top 60. Burke finished 63rd and Hakkinen 87th; Russell Currier, in his first World Cup race of the season, missed five shots and placed 64th.
The remaining Canadians, Nathan Smith and Scott Perras, placed 56th and 66th.