Both the U.S. and Canada had high hopes and lots of opportunities in Khanty-Mansiysk, Russia, but for the men competing in the 12.5 k pursuit Saturday, most of those possibilities didn’t materialize.
For the U.S., Tim Burke started with bib number four after a season-best finish in the sprint on Friday. He missed a shot in the first stage, and then one in each of the next two, and hovered around tenth position. But after missing two in the final bout, Burke slipped to 21st, more than two and a half minutes behind winner Martin Fourcade of France.
Lowell Bailey and Jay Hakkinen started with bibs 19 and 20, and didn’t have much better luck. Bailey missed three shots in the first stage and dropped to 45th. He managed to regroup, however, and cleaned the rest of the race, finishing 26th.
Hakkinen had two penalties in each prone stage, and never recovered, ultimately falling to 40th.
“I ended the race with a symbolic World Cup point, so I think of it as a lucky penny for the next training season,” Hakkinen told FasterSkier.
The final U.S. starter, Russell Currier, left the gate in 37th. He started off strong, cleaning prone and moving into the top 30, and seemed to be on a good trajectory – but then missed five shots in the next three stages, and he, too, lost his spot, winding up 48th.
“Today was not a great race,” Currier wrote in an e-mail. “My legs were tired, skis were questionable, and the excess snow changed up the style a lot.”
There was one other issue too, an error that doesn’t show up on the result sheet.
“The results have me with five misses,” Currier explained. “Unfortunately I didn’t see my last target in standing go down and thought I had two penalties in the final stage and ended up doing an extra penalty loop. It was frustrating, but it wouldn’t have made much of a difference.”
Overall, it was a bit of a deflating day for the U.S. But both Hakkinen and Currier said they were keeping their heads high.
“Today was simply not our day, which biathlon is notorious for,” Hakkinen said. “Overall, I see great potential and as long as we keep the work-hard mentality we will get the results we want.”
For Currier, the week has been an exercise in reasonable expectations, starting with the sprint.
“I sure would have liked to have hit my last target standing, but the last loop was fast enough to get me into the points,” he said of that effort. “So in the end I decided I was pleased with it.”
Overall, he wasn’t letting the somewhat frustrating results in Khanty dampen his spirits too much.
“I didn’t make my goal of competing in the mass start and today wasn’t the best ending note, but I didn’t even need this weekend’s racing to justify this as my most successful season yet,” Currier wrote. “So, I’m still glad just to be here and to gain the extra racing experience at the World Cup level.”
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For top Canadian Jean Philippe Le Guellec, things couldn’t have gone much more poorly: he started in eighth after an excellent sprint race yesterday, but fell all the way to 47th with seven penalties. Nothing, he said, seemed to go right.
“If everything was on point yesterday, I guess the only thing that was on point today were my skis,” he lamented. “My ski shape was absent… it seems to be the trend for me this season every time there is a set of back to back races. Conditions today didn’t help much either. It snowed all day, a fine powedery snow that mixes in the present snow and makes for slow conditions compared to yesterday. My shooting was obviously not on par either.”
While conditions were tricky enough that only two competitors cleaned, they weren’t too complicated either, and Le Guellec was still unsure where he had gone wrong.
“I don’t know why [I missed], the shooting conditions were fine, and I wasn’t coming in the range like a mad dog either – I couldn’t have if I wanted too!” he told FasterSkier. “So it beats me as to what happened there. Concentration wasn’t excellent, and that’s pretty much all I can explain.”
Luckily, despite the disappointment, Le Guellec was able to look at the big picture.
“Bah, for sure it’s not as much fun when you have such a drastic drop,” he said. “But it’s no reason to be bitter, after all, we practice sport for a living, how much do we actually have to whine about?”
Luckily for Canada, the day was redeemed by Scott Perras, who moved from 41st up to 33rd, and Nathan Smith, who improved from 46th to 38th.
As Le Guellec had noted yesterday, the team seemed to have lackluster skiing at World Championships, but improved this week.
“I think I missed the optimal prep for Ruhpolding, and World Championships sadly just ended up being good prep for here,” Perras told FasterSkier.
Today, he shot superbly, missing only two targets out of 20, which allowed him to rise through the field.
“This week I really just focused on the shooting, and followed a similar shooting plan to World Championships, which paid off today,” he said.
Smith matched that shooting, allowing for his own surge upwards.
“Skiing was fairly good but not my best,” Smith wrote in an e-mail. “I’m very happy with my shooting despite losing some valuable time because of a frozen sight and double eject in the last standing bout. Missing the very last shot always hurts a bit too.”
After a sprint in which he “started way too hard and died a painful death,” Smith used more even pacing in the pursuit and ended up happy with the result. It was especially encouraging since he came down with a cold the day of the individual race in Ruhpolding, and had been disappointed with his last race there.
Like Currier, both Perras and Smith looked at the big picture and saw the Khanty-Mansiysk races as building blocks, rather than imperfect ends to their seasons.
“Unfortunately none of my races have really been at the same level as Canmore,” said Smith, who won three IBU Cup competitions on home turf earlier this season. “It would’ve been nice to pop off a few more races like that, but overall I’m still satisfied with the end of my season. I’ve made my biggest performance gains ever this year.”
“I am not upset about the sprint, but I missed a really good opportunity and next year I hope to bring a maturity that will allow me to capitalize on these opportunities,” he said.