Sunday was the last day of competition at biathlon’s World Youth and Junior Championships in Kontiolahti, Finland – and it was also the busiest. For the first time all week, four races were held on a single day, with participants in both the youth and junior divisions competing in pursuit races.
In the youth men’s race, Norway’s Johannes Thingnes Bø put on a clinic, extending his already 50-second lead from the 7.5 k sprint into an exactly two-minute victory in the 10 k pursuit.
Bø certainly wasn’t perfect, accruing three penalties over the course of his race including two in the final stage. If it weren’t for those late errors, he likely would have finished with close to a three-minute lead.
But the lesson of the day was that with fast skiing, a few mistakes can be overcome. After watching teammate Hilde Fenne blow a lead with shooting mistakes earlier that day, Bø had taken his time on the range.
“I shot controlled and held back on the tracks a bit because I knew that shooting was important,” he told the IBU News service. “On the last lap I then wanted to thank all those that cheered for me, especially the athletes from team America who were in the uphill.”
If Bø was holding back on the trails today, then it’s scary to think how fast he might be when he’s going full-bore. He had the fastest course time of the day, 39 seconds ahead of Maxim Braun of Kazakhstan, who missed 12 shots to finish 39th, and 49 seconds ahead of Aliaksandr Marchanka of Belarus, who missed four shots to place 27th.
Bø’s older brother, Tarjei, used similar ski speed to capture biathlon’s overall World Cup title last season.
Behind Bø, Maksim Ramanouski of Belarus, the silver medalist from the sprint, slipped one spot to third after missing two shots and lagging on the trails. He was passed by Matthias Dorfer of Germany, who turned in one of only two clean sheets on the day.
“I can’t remember ever shooting this well in a competition,” Dofer said after the race. It was his first medal in international competition.
The other competitor to stay perfect on the range was Stuart Harden of Canada, who moved from 26th up to sixth place for the best finish of his career. Harden was not available for comment after the race.
Junior Men: Repeat Performance
The excitement of the junior men’s 12.5 k pursuit, like the youth men’s race, didn’t come at the front. Just as Bø had done, Russia’s Maxim Tsvetkov doubled down and added about a minute of time to his win from Saturday’s sprint. His dominating performance, however, came in a different fashion than the Norwegian’s. Tsvetkov cleaned every target and recorded the fifth-fastest ski time, eventually finishing 1:42 ahead of second-place Vetle Sjastad Christiansen.
Tsvetkov, who also won the sprint and pursuit at last year’s Championships, said that the huge lead gave him confidence on the range.
“I saw on the track that my opponents were far behind, so shooting was a lot easier today,” he told the IBU.
While Tsvetkov was skating through the Finnish woods alone, his competitors engaged in a fierce battle for the final medals. Christiansen emerged at the top of the heap, beating Russia’s Alexandr Loginov to the line by four seconds.
It was a familiar battle, as both are former medalists from other years. In fact, in both the youth sprint and pursuit in Nove Mesto, Czech Republic, last year, Tsvetkov, Christiansen, and Loginov stood on the podium in the same order.
While Loginov had picked up bronze in the individual race in Kontiolahti, the series had been frustrating so far for Christiansen, who had placed 16th in the individual and 13th in the sprint. But on the trails today, he jetted past his familiar foe. Both men, separated at the time by about fifteen seconds, missed one shot in the final shooting stage; it was all Christiansen could do to hang onto his lead.
“These Championships were not the best for me,” Christiansen explained to the IBU. “So today I started really hard on the tracks and made the medal at my last chance… I know that Loginov is about 15 seconds faster than me on the last lap. When I went out I saw that he was 16 seconds behind, so I thought I would win silver by one second.”
He turned out to have a few more seconds of cushion than he thought.
“When the season is so far along, the last lap is always hard, even if my opponents expect me to pass them,” Loginov said.
Canada’s Kurtis Wenzel raced from 23rd up to seventh place.