Pursuits sometimes seem like an unfair race format: after all, good results on day one mean a better chance at doing well on day two. Without giving athletes a clean slate, is it really fair to assign two sets of World Cup points so heavily dependent on a single day of racing?
It’s a good argument, but that’s biathlon and there are two rebuttals. The first is that anything can happen in biathlon, and sometimes athletes can move up many places in a pursuit – fifteen or twenty if they have a bad sprint but shoot well the next day.
The other possibility is that the strongest athlete will sweep both races, and that was certainly true for Russia’s Dmitry Malyshko this weekend. He started Sunday’s 12.5 k pursuit in Oberhof with a 12.6-second lead over teammate Evgeniy Garanichev, but hardly needed any advantage to claim his second win a row, and the second of his career.
“This was probably the best race that I ever ran,” Malyshko said of a phenomenal weekend that saw him also anchor the winning relay team on Thursday.
No matter the format, it seemed that nothing could stop Malysko in Oberhof. In the first two races of the series, he won on speed, turning in the second-fastest anchor leg on Thursday and the fastest ski time on Saturday. But in the pursuit, he didn’t even have to push himself to that level. Shooting perfectly through all four stages, the competition never came within 15 seconds of the Russian after the start. Alone on the range in every stage, he knocked down all twenty targets and won by 42 seconds.
“Winning the relay gave me a lot of confidence and I held again today,” Malyshko said through a translator in a press conference. “But before I came here, I never expected this… I want to keep this high note next week in Ruhpolding, but it is too early to think about the World Championships.”
Clean shooting was the requirement of the day after the women’s pursuit was marred by high penalty counts. Behind Malyshko, Garanichev and Alexis Bouef of France were also clean through three stages and skiing together, while Ondrej Moravec of the Czech Republic, who had started in 11th, was also clean and moving through the ranks.
He was caught on the fourth lap by Emil Hegle Svendsen of Norway, who had been trying to climb into podium position after two penalties in the first stage but had been knocked back by another penalty in the third stage. The two had Garanichev and Boeuf in their sights and Svendsen in particular worked hard and made up 15 seconds in the final 500 meters before entering the shooting range the final time.
Garanichev set up the fastest and missed his final shot; three targets into the set, Boeuf missed as well, so as Svendsen began shooting it seemed like he had an opportunity. But he collected two penalties, as did Boeuf. Instead, it was Moravec, coming onto the range a bit behind them, who shot clean. The Czech hit the trails in second place, just as Garanichev was exiting the penalty loop.
“I now know that I am capable of staying focused at the shooting range,” Moravec said of his effort, clearly somewhat in awe of his perfect record in the pursuit.
Garanichev, however, flew past him on the trails and into second place, repeating his result from the sprint.
“It is great for the fans and my people at home,” he said of the Russians efforts this weekend, with a relay victory, three wins, and two second-place finishes. “That takes away a bit of pressure; beating guys like Fourcade and Svendsen gives me a lot of confidence.”
Despite flagging on the last loop – he had just the 35th-fastest time there – Moravec was pleased to be on the podium for a second time this season. His second-place finish in the sprint in Pokljuka, Slovenia, before Christmas was the first podium of his career.
“These results are a good motivation for the World Championships,” Moravec said in a press conference. 2013 World Championships will be on his home turf in Nove Mesto.
Svendsen turned in the fastest loop time on the last lap and moved into fourth, fifteen seconds off the podium. He now trails Martin Fourcade of France, who had four penalties and finished 14th, by less than 50 points in the World Cup total score.
Benjamin Weger of Switzerland placed fifth, Evgeniy Ustyugov of Russia sixth, and Boeuf seventh after tiring on his penalty loops. Alexei Volkov of Russia, Klemen Bauer of Slovenia, and Michal Slesingr of the Czech Republic rounded out the top ten.
The U.S. team had not been thrilled with their sprint results, but couldn’t manage huge improvements in the pursuit. Tim Burke dropped from 26th to 30th; after having shot clean in the prone stages and skied his way into the top 20, he collected two penalties in each standing stage. Lowell Bailey also had four penalties, but moved from 52nd up to 41st. Leif Nordgren dropped from 36th to 48th with six penalties.
While the Americans had hoped to build on their fifth-place relay result, the gargantuan effort put in to garner that finish may have emptied their tanks a little more than they realized.
“I was definitely a little tired in the sprint,” Burke told FasterSkier in an e-mail. “My legs felt OK but I just had really low energy throughout the entire [sprint] race. I think the relay probably took a little out of me. Normally this would not be a problem but I think the hard effort combined with trying to get over jet-lag was a bit too much for me.”
For Canada, Marc-André Bédard moved from 57th up to 37th with just two penalties and Jean-Philippe Le Guellec moved from 55th up to 49th with the same shooting score.
In an e-mail to media and supporters, Bédard wrote that it was “possibly the best pursuit of my life” and it was “too bad I started with such a handicap.”
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.