In the opening junior men’s race of biathlon’s World Youth and Junior Championships in Kontiolahti, Finland, Canada’s Kurtis Wenzel used near-perfect shooting to demolish the field and collect his second world championship title. His teammates, however, were less successful, shooting 80%, 60%, and 40%.
“After the individual race I was a little bit down,” said Maxc Davies, who had missed 12 shots and placed 72nd.
How things change. In Thursday’s junior 4 x 7.5 k relay, the team came together on the range and turned in the best performance in the field, using a total of four spare rounds in 80 shots and completely avoiding the penalty loop. Wenzel missed two of those four shots, while Davies and Jasper Mackenzie missed one apiece and Aaron Gilmor stayed perfect.
The Canadians’ sharpshooting, matched with solid performances on skis, netted them sixth place in the relay and put them three and a half minutes behind the winning Norwegian team. Surprisingly, the victory was something of a landmark for Norway; despite their several overall World Cup champions in the last several years, they hadn’t won a junior men’s relay since 1977.
The sixth-place finish was not quite as historic for Canada, although coach Richard Boruta still believed it was significant, saying “It seems that this was one of the best relay performances in a long time in this category for Canada.”
The finish was the best for a Canadian men’s squad since Wenzel, Gillmor and Scott Gow teamed up for second place in the youth division in Canmore in 2009. The last time a junior relay team did as well was when Marc-Andre Bedard, Yannick Letailleur, Maxime Leboeuf, and Brendan Green placed third in 2007.
“It was a very good race for the junior men,” Boruta wrote in an e-mail. “They all did their very best and there wasn’t much more that they could have done.”
The hero of the day was Davies, who told FasterSkier that his scramble leg was “one of the best races I have put together on the international stage.”
After cleaning his first stage effortlessly and then using a single spare round in standing, Davies was sitting in fourth place. A charge on the final 2.5 k loop moved him up to third, just 33 seconds behind the Russians, who were leading at the time (and ultimately finished third).
“I was very excited to be starting the relay,” Davies said. “I’ve always loved mass starts, working through the chaotic first few kilometers and getting to shoot with all the other athletes. I was a bit nervous for the standing shooting, but to only use one spare is still a good result and I could not stop smiling after tagging Jasper Mckenzie in third position.
“At that point I knew I had done the most that I could have, and now it was up to my teammates.”
They didn’t let him down. First-time World Juniors competitor Mackenzie dropped the team to eighth, but was skiing in a group of other racers.
“Jasper tried his best and it was probably one of his best races in his life,” Boruta said. He has never had before the opportunity to compete in such a strong field, and he was handling it well.”
Perfect shooting from Gillmor moved the Canadians up to sixth, a position that Wenzel was able to maintain as the anchor leg.
Gillmor said that Davies’ success as the leadoff skier gave him an added boost.
“I felt confident seeing how Macx had improved his position, and that also told me that the skis were running very well,” he wrote in an e-mail. “As for the podium (and even tagging off in the podium) I try to stay focused on what I can do, however it is nice knowing that if everything goes well we can fight for a podium.”
Davies and Gillmor both said that they had spent time working with coach Martin Tremblay to improve their shooting after the individual races; Gillmor worked not only on his accuracy but also on his shooting speed, which he said had held him back in the opening race.
For Davies, a good relay result was the perfect cure for a case of the blues after Tuesday’s frustrations.
“I managed to regain confidence in my shooting at training on Wednesday,” he explained. With a few wise words from my coaches and some time spent pondering myself, I got around the poor first performance to bring my best out for the team event. luckily all our team managed to put together good performances to land us in sixth.”
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The Canadian junior women didn’t have as much success on the range, using 11 spare rounds and skiing three penalty loops en route to 14th place in their 3 x 6 k relay. The finished 6:47 behind the winning Norwegian team.
“Today was a frustrating race for our team,” anchor leg Emma Lunder wrote in an e-mail.
But despite the poor shooting, she said that the team actually skied well, and that the performance gave made them optimistic for the upcoming sprint and pursuit races.
“During my leg of the race I was really able to relax and let my skis glide, and at the same time found myself able to push a lot harder than during the individual,” Lunder explained. “Our wax techs did an extremely great job with the skis, and all three of us were flying on course. The relay was definitely disappointing for our team, because we knew that if we had all had regular races we could have a good result, but it was beneficial for us to do another race on this course to work out the kinks, and I think it will allow us to make some small adjustments that will help us in the races to come.”
The U.S. men and women finished 14th and 18th.