RUHPOLDING, Germany – After Saturday’s World Championship sprint race, the silver medalist Emil Hegle Svendsen swore that he was going to chase down bib number one, Martin Fourcade of France.
But in Sunday’s 12.5 k pursuit the focus was all on Fourcade, who was often leading and never far from the front. And instead of the Norwegian, he battled his way to the finish with Saturday’s bronze medalist, Carl Johan Bergman of Sweden.
The stage was set after the first shooting, when Fourcade missed a shot, allowing his chasers the opportunity to catch him. While Bergman cleaned the stage and caught Fourcade on his way back onto the course, Svendsen wasn’t as lucky, missing a shot of his own. While he often hovered around medal position, he was never again at the front of the pack.
Bergman and Fourcade skied a loop together before coming into the second prone stage, where each missed a shot. Clean shooting allowed Daniel Mesotitsch of Austria to hit the course slightly before the pair, but Fourcade quickly made it clear that he had no intention of being a follower in this race. On the first short, steep hill out of the stadium he sprinted to the front, and led the other two around the next 2.5 kilometers.
Bergman wasn’t worried, and slipped in behind the Frenchman.
“In this track, with these hills, if you are really tight behind this can really save you energy,” Bergman explained later. “You have to be clever – [Fourcade] is a strong skier, so he doesn’t need to be behind, he can ski in the front. He is in good shape.”
Halfway through the race, it seemed like anything could happen, and that’s where the excitement began. In the third stage, Fourcade cleaned while the other two missed a shot apiece, and it began looking like the Frenchman was in the clear, en route to his second gold in two days.
One stage later, however, the tables were turned. Coming into the range with more a large advantage, Fourcade missed two shots.
“I don’t know why I did two mistakes on my last shooting,” Fourcade said in the postrace press conference. “I tried to — ”
“He was nervous,” Bergman interjected, laughing.
“Not too much, no,” Fourcade replied. “I tried to keep my advantage from Carl Johan, Emil, and Daniel Mesotitsch. But I know that I will miss one here and there, and I need to accept the wonderful logic of biathlon.”
It looked like Fourcade might lose his lead, and if Bergman and Mesotitsch had shot fast and clean, he would have. But Mesotitsch missed a shot and Bergman took his time, turning in a slow 30-second effort in that final standing stage. It was well worth it, however, as he cleaned and was able to leave the range a second before Fourcade finished his penalty loop.
From there, Fourcade bided his time, skiing right behind the Swede through most of the course. Then on the final large hill, he dropped the hammer, rocketing past Bergman and into the lead.
“I am very confident in my shape right now and I watched the race on the TV yesterday, and saw that I was much faster on the last laps,” Fourcade said later. “But I know that Carl Johan is a very good sprinter. We have done a lot of sprints together and he has beaten me a lot of times, so I wanted to finish alone at the end. That’s why I attacked on the uphill.”
The effort clearly took a lot out of the Frenchman, who was clearly dragging as he crested the last hill. But try as he might, Bergman could not catch him.
“I had a really hard fourth loop and my goal was to have high speed on the final loop,” Bergman said in the press conference. “I felt that Martin was skiing easily behind me, and when he made his attack I had absolutely no chance. I cannot ski that fast… I tried to fight. It’s hard when someone else is skiing so fast, and you are thinking you have no chance, so I really had to go deep in my mind and focus and try to come to the finish line.”
So when Fourcade rounded the corner into the stadium, he was all alone after all. After raising his arms in victory as he neared the finish line, Fourcade removed his skis while he was still gliding and ran around the finish pen, shouting with joy.
Five seconds behind him, Bergman was just as elated, pumping his fist in the air and letting out a primal scream of sorts.
The two had a large lead on the rest of the field, and the third competitor to enter the stadium was something of a surprise: Anton Shipulin, who had started the day with bib 13, over a minute behind Fourcade.
Shipulin had started the race with a miss in prone and dropped to 17th. But after that, he was perfect on the range and had plenty of energy on the trails, passing Mesotitsch on the final loop to snag the final medal, the first individual one of his career.
“I knew that my position starting off was not so good,” Shipulin said after the race. “But before the start I noticed that there was wind coming up, and I knew it was my day because I love to shoot when it is windy. I thought when I was standing at the start that the others would probably make a couple of penalties in the shootings, and I thought, ‘I am in good shape, I can do this.’”
Mesotitsch and Svendsen finished fourth and fifth, followed by Fourcade’s brother Simon in sixth. A trio of big movers, Tarjei Bø of Norway, Jakov Fak of Slovenia, and Simon Schempp of Germany were next, with Fredrik Lindstrom of Sweden rounding out the top ten.
Martin Fourcade said that he was surprised to win today, given his four penalties.
“I did not think it was possible to win with 80 % shot,” he admitted. “You can do it, but you have to have mistakes by the others.
“Two gold medals is really much more than I expected, so I don’t know what to expect next,” he continued. “To shoot clean and to shoot better than today and yesterday is my main goal [for the rest of the Championships]. To keep this wonderful jersey, to keep the yellow in Khanty Mansiysk, is my only aim for the end of the season.”
As for Bergman, he had a message for Fourcade.
“I tried to give my best but Martin was too strong today,” he said. “But wait til the relay.”
Bergman’s wife was due to deliver their baby yesterday, and is still waiting to go into labor. Bergman wasn’t sure whether he would stay in Ruhpolding for the rest of the races, go home to his wife, or possibly even return for the competitions at the end of the week.
“I would like to come back for the relay,” he said, half-joking. “I will go home and take my gold at home, and then I will come back and take another one [here], why not.”