Friday’s sprints on the remote Eastern peninsula of Kamchatka, Russia, were held in tough weather conditions, with snow falling over the course of the day in an uncharacteristic storm for mid-April.
In Saturday’s pursuits, athletes faced a different challenge: the wind. Blowing strongly through the range, the gusts wreaked havoc on the field, and didn’t spare even the top competitors.
Synnøve Solemdal of Norway, the winner of the sprint and a member of Norway’s gold-medal mixed relay team from World Championships, missed ten of twenty shots – and still placed fourth. Mixed relay silver medalist Klemen Bauer of Slovenia and mass start bronze medalist Frederik Lindström of Sweden both missed eleven and finished farther from the podium.
But good shooting, and skiing, was rewarded handsomely. As is always the case in these lucrative late-season races, the winners of the 10 and 12.5 k pursuits took home shiny new Mercedes cars as their prizes, providing a little more motivation to shoot straight, wind or no.
In the women’s race, Kaisa Makarainen of Finland was more or less able to do that. She collected four penalties – one in each stage – which would usually be far too many for a racer who started in tenth, 50 seconds out, and wanted to win. But today it tied her for the best shooting of the day.
The other biathlete to shoot as well was Vita Semerenko of Ukraine, who finished second in the sprint. By the time they made it to the last lap, Makarainen had a slight lead over the Ukrainian. Even though she is a stronger skier than Semerenko, she said it wasn’t easy to win.
“The most difficult moment in the race was the last lap,” Makarainen told the Russian Biathlon Union. “I am very glad that I could win – by the end of the season we are all very tired. Everyone just uses up everything they have left.”
Far behind her, over two minutes back, Jana Gerekova of Slovakia outsprinted Solemdal by less than a second for third place. Zina Kocher of Canada moved from 16th up to fifth with just six penalties, narrowly edging out Semerenko’s twin sister Valj.
The season is finally over for the women, and Makarainen, for one, can go home with a positive feeling for next season.
“It was difficult to gather my strength after tenth place in the sprint,” she said. “But you should believe in yourself in every race. If you’re going to think that starting in tenth means you cannot win, nothing good will come of it.”
The Mercedes in her driveway will now be a reminder to the Finn, who won the overall World Cup in 2011: don’t give up.
* * *
The wind calmed slightly for the men’s race, allowing several top finishers to escape with only two or three penalties.
Sweden’s Björn Ferry started in the lead after his sprint victory the day before, and held it for much of the race. With three penalties, he seemed to be in good position.
But as in the women’s race, another biathlete slowly climbed his way through the field: Lukas Hofer of Italy, who like Makarainen had finished tenth in the sprint, this time a minute behind Ferry.
And like Makarainen, he wasn’t really expecting to make it all the way to the front.
“Everyone wants to win this race,” Hofer told the Russian Biathlon Union. “It is very difficult to do it in Kamchatka, because the level of competition is similar to the World Cup.”
But thanks to just two penalties, the 22-year-old closed the gap on Ferry and soon found himself skiing with the previous day’s winner along with Swedish teammate Carl Johan Bergman. After the final shooting bout, Ferry, who had missed a total of three shots, and Hofer left together with a gap on Bergman.
“I thought that he would be faster on the last lap,” Hofer said of Ferry. “I wanted him to go ahead, but he declined and said that I had to go first.”
The Italian reluctantly led the way around the final two and a half kilometers, and was able to just barely pull away in the final 500 meters, crossing the line 0.2 seconds before the Swede to win the race and the Mercedes.
“I finished second today and missed the expensive car by a foot or two,” Ferry tweeted after the race. “I got a knife instead.”
Bergman was third, 21 seconds back with four penalties, and a clearly exhausted Simon Fourcade of France fourth with two missed shots.
The two North Americans, Marc-Andre Bedard of Canada and Jay Hakkinen of the U.S., placed 23rd and 34th after missing ten and nine shots respectively.
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