For the second day in a row, the Russians knocked Emil Hegle Svendsen down from the top of the podium.
In Friday’s relay, the Norwegian had a slight lead going at the start of the fourth leg, but missed several shots in the standing stage and could never quite catch Dmitry Malyshko, who had passed him on the range. He was crestfallen at the finish.
Today, Svendsen was the fourth starter in the 10 k sprint and got off to a good beginning, cleaning the prone stage. After collecting one penalty in standing, Svendsen turned on the afterburners; he knew that others would potentially clean the race, and he had to ski faster than they could complete a penalty loop. In fact, he had the fastest last-loop time of the day.
But Svendsen was only in the lead for about a minute, because Evgeniy Garanichev, the second-leg racer in Russia’s relay yesterday, had started two bibs back and chased hard the whole time. Also collecting one penalty, Garanichev skied a bit slower but was faster on the range and crossed the line with a time just half a second faster than Svendsen’s.
“I had good control in the first shooting,” Svendsen told Norwegian broadcaster NRK. “But in standing, it was a rough penalty. It was just bad luck that I missed there.”
Less than ten minutes later, Malyshko himself crossed the line and bumped both athletes down a notch. He also had one penalty, but skied the fastest time of the day. It’s been a good weekend for the 25-year-old Russian, who had never before won a World Cup, not even in a relay. Now he has won two.
“Yesterday was a special day because I was fighting with Emil—I gave a lot more than I thought I had because it was for the team,” Malyshko said in the press conference. “It is better to win on your own, but it is even better to win with the team.”
And that happened today, even though it was an individual race. Evgeniy Ustyugov, who hadn’t been part of the relay, placed fifth, and scramble leg racer Alexei Volkov was sixth despite starting all the way back in bib 98.
“Our team atmosphere is very good,” Garanichev said in the press conference. “We support each other and have a lot of fun together… and The wax techs have been a big part of our success in these conditions. There is a lot of feedback and communication between us; they have prepared some excellent skis this week.”
While Svendsen didn’t get the win, he did move up in his quest to unseat Martin Fourcade of France in the World Cup overall race. Fourcade was uncharacteristicall slow on his skis, placing 16th despite just two penalties, not a complete disaster on the range by any means; in the past he has won sprints with that score. Svendsen now trails by 62 points. A win is worth 60.
“Sometimes Martin has bad races and so do I, but I will do my very best to win the World Cup,” Svendsen said in the press conference. “Today was the first time that I really gained any points. I will give my best until the end… it is important to me.”
Just in front of Ustyugov and Volkov, Alexis Boeuf of France placed fourth. He was the only one of the top five finishers to shoot clean, and with bib nine, was chasing Svendsen and Garanichev. He just wasn’t able to ski quite fast enough, finishing 1.3 seconds behind the Norwegian.
Fredrik Lindström of Sweden, the very first starter, was the fastest after one shooting stage but then missed two shots in standing. He skied the second-best time of the day and placed seventh. Julian Eberhard of Austria, who started the season on the second-tier IBU Cup, had his best World Cup performance to date and placed eighth.
For the U.S., it was a disappointing day compared to the team’s success in the relay. Tim Burke placed 26th, Leif Nordgren 36th, and Lowell Bailey 51st; they’ll have a shot at improving in Sunday’s pursuit. Russell Currier just missed out on that opportunity, placing 64th with four penalties.
Canada’s two starters, Québecois buddied Jean Philippe Le Guellec and Marc-André Bédard, placed 55th and 57th.
Also of note, it was the first individual race back for three star athletes who couldn’t compete during the first trimester
– 2011 World Cup overall champion Tarjei Bø of Norway had been sick for almost six months with a bacterial infection, TWAR, that commonly causes pneumonia. He placed 25th with one penalty. Svendsen told NRK that his teammate was “terribly nervous” before the start, but Bø said that at the same time he had “never felt less pressure.”
– Simon Fourcade of France had compartment syndrome surgery on December fourth. That was quick. He wanted to wait until the spring, but decided he was in too much pain and plans to be back at full force for World Championships in February. The runner up in the World Championships individual race last season, Fourcade placed 30th with two penalties.
– And, Czech racer Jaroslav Soukup is rejoining the circuit this weekend as well. He had a horrific biking accident over the summer that required multiple surgeries. The bronze medalist in that same World Championships race, Soukup placed 49th in Oberhof despite four penalties.
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.