This is a continuation of reporting on the third day of biathlon World Youth and Junior Championships; for part one, on the women’s races, click here.
* The transition to men’s racing in the afternoon was exciting as Russians Maxim Tsvetkov and Alexandr Loginov, both very successful in last year’s Championships in different divisions, took control early and duked it out as Norway’s Johannes Thingnes Bø tried to play catch-up. But in the final stage, the Russians faltered, each collecting several penalties. That left Bø a fighting chance, and he came onto the range, cleaned his targets with impeccable efficiency, and left with the lead, which he never relinquished.
Behind them, Christian Gow was chasing hard. Starting 14th after the pursuit, he had a shot at moving into the top ten. But the field continued to stratify and with five penalties, he slipped to 16th.
“There are some big gaps in the category, mainly because the top four guys are almost out of the rest of the competition’s league,” Gow told FasterSkier. “The gaps have not made it harder to achieve better results, for me all it would have taken was a few more targets. I was in the top 10 for awhile today, but really fell back with some poor standing shooting.”
Gow believes that he has a good chance to improve in the individual race, where each missed shot accrues a one-minute time penalty.
“The top guys are fast, but with one minute penalties there is a lot more room for guys to break in to the top three,” he wrote in an e-mail.
Overall, he was pleased with his race, but knows that he needs to improve on the range for the rest of the week.
“My shooting was a bit of a disappointment,” Gow wrote. “I had a miss in each prone, but one of them I rushed a lot which I could have easily avoided. My first standing was terrible, but I brought it back for the last one which I’m happy about.”
Behind Gow, teammate Macx Davies also had a shot to move up after starting 31st. But despite making it into the top 25 in the middle of the race, three penalties in the final stage bumped him back down to 33rd. Despite the 21st-fastest ski time, seven penalties were too many for the Canadian.
“Coming into the last standing with my legs were aching and my heart rate was high, but not too different from the first standing bout,” Davies explained. “However I got a bit excited after my first hit and failed to maintain a good sight picture for the rest of the shooting. The shooting conditions are not difficult looking at the range, little to no wind and light isn’t affecting the shots, but the mats are a slippery, especially standing, and the course allows little recovery time with all the flat terrain and quick down hills.”
Davies said that his skiing was “at an amazing level,” so he hopes to improve in the upcoming competitions. Both he and Gow are from Canmore but on separate teams, although, as Gow said, “we have been racing together forever though and if our schedules mesh we will often ski together.” Despite the different training schedules each has seen a similar ramping-up of training this year.
“The biggest difference in my training was the volume of hours and the focus that I brought to each session,” Gow said of his improvement on skis.
Finally, American Casey Smith started behind the Canadians in 43rd.
“After the sprint race I was defiantly disappointed with my standing shooting,” he told FasterSkier. “My prone went alright with only one miss and that one was a split. Then in my standing I was not very settled and should have paused for a second to get things right, but I didn’t. I felt that my skiing went well though, that it was good enough that if I hit my targets I could be right in the mix.”
With an obvious goal for the pursuit, Smith set about achieving it. His single penalty was only matched by two other competitors and he moved all the way up to 23rd – the second-biggest move of the day. That result represented Smith’s best finish ever in a total of four World Championships appearances.
“With my shooting I was just thinking about taking good shots and making sure my mechanics were correct,” he said. “I don’t think that the conditions were tricky at all. There was no wind and everything was pretty consistent. There is an uphill range approach which I think could easily throw you off if you are not paying enough attention… I was very happy with my pursuit race it is my best Junior Worlds finish ever and I also moved up 20 places which is a good feeling.”
* Finally, it was Sean Doherty’s turn – and Stuart Harden’s. The Canadian, who like Doherty had competed at the Youth Olympic Games with great results, had placed 20th in the sprint and was looking to move up.
“I wasn’t totally satisfied with my sprint performance, my shooting wasn’t where it needed to be both accuracy and time wise,” Harden told FasteSkier. “My skiing was enough to get me into the top 20, but I’ve felt better in earlier races so far this season.”
Luckily, he had a plan for the pursuit.
“I knew I had to speed up my range times a bit, and I hoped my steady shooting would cope,” he explained. “I had a vague plan to stick with the guys around me off the first few loops, because I know from the Youth Olympics and WYJCH last year that we have close ski speeds. After that, I was banking on staying out of the penalty loop and seeing how much left I had for the last lap. Sometimes plans don’t work out unfortunately.”
With one penalty in the first prone stage and then a clean second stage, Harden did move into the top ten. But then the wheels came off, and he picked up three more penalties in the next two standing stages. That left him in 18th – still an improvement, but not what he was hoping for.
“It was a hilly loop, but a quick one as well so I made sure to keep the pressure on each loop – it’s pretty obvious from my lap times that my shape wasn’t good enough to make that happen today,” Harden wrote. “I was in more of a ‘limit your losses’’ mindset, which can’t happen if I want to do well.”
Like Davies, he noted that the mats in Obertilliach were especially slippery, which was a challenge in standing and provided “less stability that I’m used to,” Harden said. In the television broadcast of the junior races, the men could be seen coming into standing much more slowly and deliberately than usual, and taking their time setting their position on the mats.
But all excuses aside – even the reasonable ones – Harden says that he’s just not where he was hoping to be this year. At the Youth Olympic Games, Harden had moved from fourth in the sprint to first in the pursuit, but had missed a penalty loop and was penalized by two minutes, dropping him to seventh; excruciatingly, his 38-second lead at the finish would have still left him with the win even if he had done the extra loop.
Knowing what he was capable of left him with high hopes for 2013.
“I set higher goals for myself this year without a doubt, which I could justify with my results from last season,” Harden wrote. “A place on the podium in Obertilliach isn’t unreasonable I think, but I’m re-evaluating the rest of my week based on how I’ve been feeling on and off the skis for the past few weeks.”
Canadians also had their hopes pinned on Carsen Campbell, who had placed 30th in the sprint. But eight penalties were too many and the Prince Edward Island native fell to 42nd in the pursuit.
“In the sprint my focus was good and the shooting went pretty well as planned,” Campbell wrote in an e-mail. “This was not the case today, I just couldn’t get my head in the right place. I am a bit disappointing with my race today, my skiing felt really good and I had great skis but with eight misses you don’t get very far here.”
After three misses in the first prone stage, Campbell turned his skiing up a notch to try to compensate, turning in the tenth-fastest second-loop time and jumping back into the 30’s. But another penalty in the second stage, then two in each standing, tired him out. At 150 meters apiece, Campbell skied a full 1.2 k more than the course length itself.
Still, he’s not discouraged for the rest of the Championships.
“I am feeling a lot stronger than last year, my form is better am I am mentally much better prepared and the adjustment to Europe was pretty easy this year,” he said. “I feel confident that it will be back in order for the individual… [but] the competition is really stiff, in the sprint the top 30 were all within 1:30 so there is no room for error.”
The third Canadian in the youth pursuit, Arthur Roots, finished 60th.
Overall, the youth category is a tough place to race, as athletes are generally talented, but not used to the world stage.
“For the [less experienced] of the crew, this is a big eye-opener, but very important for their next development,” Canadian team leader Richard Boruta said. “Back home, you finish in top four and it is very easy to start thinking that you are one of the best, but than you come here and you realize that within the minute or two between you and the next Canadian guy ahead could be easily 20 or 30 other athletes.”
As we’ve discussed on FasterSkier before, U.S. and Canadian teams have the added challenge of developing strong juniors despite the fact that many don’t take up biathlon, or even skiing, at a particularly young age.
“Especially for the youth athletes as well, the performance is somewhat dependent on their biological age and number of years in a regular training program,” Boruta said. “Most of the North American are late-starters, so they are catching up in later age.”
Even for experienced athletes like Harden, there are challenges that can be chalked up to simply growing up.
“I think a more experienced athlete may have done that sooner, but I’m just confronting it now,” he said of the realization that he’s not where he wants to be. “Regardless of my ranking in each race, I’m still really happy to be here, I’m really happy for Sean [Doherty] and all the other athletes I’ve raced and gotten to know, and I’m looking forward to the rest of the week.”
Chelsea Little is FasterSkier's Editor-At-Large. A former racer at Ford Sayre, Dartmouth College and the Craftsbury Green Racing Project, she is a PhD candidate in aquatic ecology in the @Altermatt_lab at Eawag, the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology in Zurich, Switzerland. You can follow her on twitter @ChelskiLittle.