–SEEFELD IN TIROL, Austria
It was a busy day for the double hitters today in Seefeld during the second day of competition at the Youth Olympic Games. Bluebird skies, calm winds, and perfect tracks delivered the type of conditions that race directors dream of.
Nordic Combined Men’s Individual Competition
Action kicked off Sunday morning with the Nordic Combined Men’s Individual competition. Competitors took part in one competitive round of jumping held on the HS 75 meter hill, which was followed by a 10km Gunderson format skate race. 16 athletes made up the international field.
German Tom Lubitz led the field after the jumping, but failed to maintain his 20 second cushion, ultimately placing 4th. Instead it was Czech athlete Tomas Portyk who won the sprint for Gold by 2.8 seconds over Finland’s Ilkka Herola, who claimed Siver.
Portyk started the race in 5th place after the jumping— 31 seconds behind Lubitz, and 2 seconds behind Herola. Japan’s Go Yamamoto, who started the race in second place, held on for Bronze.
This victory is arguably the most significant of the young Czech’s career. His previous best finish was a victory in a Alpen Cup event in Baiersbronn, Germany last February.
Nathaniel Mah of Calgary led the North Americans with an 11th place finish. Colton Kissell of Park City slotted in for a solid 13th place, finishing 4:49 back of Portyk. Kissell was optimistic about his finish.
“I just tried to stay positive and relaxed during the jumping. I managed to improve two meters on my trial jump, so I’m happy with that,” Kissell told FasterSkier.
“During the race, I just tried to keep it simple. I went out in a group, so I just gave it 80% on the first lap, 90% on the second lap, and went all out on the last one,” explained Kissell.
The Nordic Combined athletes will compete next on January 20th in an exciting mixed-gender, jumping-only team event with the special jumpers.
Women’s 6km Biathlon Sprint
Conditions remained ideal for the duration of the Women’s 6km Biathlon Sprint event. 46 athletes completed the event, which consisted of three loops of a fast 2km loop, interrupted by one prone and one standing shooting stage.
German biathlete Franziska Preuss of Haag skied her way to a commanding victory with a sole penalty in the standing shooting stage. Preuss finished 27.5 seconds ahead of Kazakhstan’s Galina Vishnevskaya, who had two penalties. Bronze went to Russia’s Uliana Kaysheva who also notched two penalties—one in each shooting stage.
Jessica Jislova, of the Czech Republic, was the only female athlete to shoot clean. Jislova finished in 5th, 51.8 seconds back of Preuss.
Canadian Danielle Vrielink of Calgary led the North American effort with a strong 9th place finish, notching just one penalty on the prone shooting stage.
Vrielink left nothing to chance today, and made sure to take care of the small details leading into today’s event. “My goals for today were: good zero, good ski testing, and a good warmup. I accomplished all those goals before my race, so when I got to my race I was like, I’m ready for this!” Vrielink told FasterSkier.
“After my four-for-five I felt pretty strong, and I decided to go a little harder,” explained Vrielink. “After my five-for-five I looked and saw my name on the billboard and my name in 3rd, and I thought: I’ve gotta take this opportunity!”
US athlete Anna Kubek also had a strong day on the course, finishing in 13th, 10.8 seconds behind Vrielink. She also had just one penalty, but in the standing shooting stage.
Canadian Sarah Beaudry finished 22nd after struggling in the shooting, with two misses in each shooting stage. American Aleksandra Zakrzewska of South Burlington VT rounded out the North American contingent, placing 39th with four penalties.
Despite her difficulty in the shooting today, Zakrzewska is having a great time here at the Youth Olympic Games, and she’s very excited to be racing in Europe. “They’re [the Games] competitive, but they’re really laid back at the same time. They’ve also got the culture and education things, and you’re supposed to meet people and have fun. It’s sort of the best of both worlds,” Zakrzewska explained in an interview with FasterSkier.
The female biathletes will compete in a pursuit event tomorrow morning in Seefeld.
Men’s 7.5km Biathlon Sprint
The final race of the day was the 7.5km Men’s Biathlon Sprint. Weather and course conditions held up incredibly well, making for exciting racing. Chinese athlete Fangming Cheng skied to a commanding victory in the race, notching just one penalty in the standing shooting stage. 50 athletes competed in the Men’s field.
Cheng finished 21.3 seconds ahead of Silver medalist Rene Zahkna of Estonia. France’s Aristide Begue took Bronze. All three members of the podium notched one penalty.
Finishing in 4th position, a scant 2.8 seconds out of the medals, was Stuart Harden of Calgary, Canada. Harden skied smoothly, but his superb shooting highlighted his performance. The young Canadian shot clean in both shooting stages— the only male competitor to do so.
Harden, who trains in Canmore, Alberta with the Rocky Mountain Racers team, explained that accurate shooting was a priority.
“I usually rely on my shooting,” Harden explained to FasterSkier. “Today I took it a little slower standing. My range time was pretty slow, I think. I took two or three breaths in between each shot, just to make ‘em all go down. It kinda came back to haunt me, I think I’m only 2 seconds or so out of 3rd,” said Harden.
Describing his emotions after the race, Harden was overjoyed upon seeing that he was sitting in the bronze medal position.
“It stings a little when you’re bumped down a spot, but I’m sure tonight I’ll be really, really excited for it. I’m really looking forward to tomorrow’s pursuit,” said Harden.
Coach Chris Lindsay of Biathlon Canada was thrilled with Harden’s finish, and confirmed that a simple race strategy contributed to the strong result.
“Stuart’s strategy was: race it like you train it. Let’s not go overly aggressive on the skiing, let’s have a good, solid first result, and then let’s bring it for tomorrow’s pursuit,” Lindsay told FasterSkier.
Just out of the top ten was US athlete Sean Doherty. A strong skier and podium threat, Doherty was hindered by three penalties—two in the prone and one in the standing shooting.
Nick Proell of the US finished 32nd, 3 minutes behind Cheng. Aidan Millar of Canada rounded out the North American contingent with a 43rd place finish.
Biathlon action continues tomorrow with the Pursuit event, and all North Americans are eager to improve on today’s solid results.