For 31-year-old Tora Berger, it just keeps getting better. Norway’s leading female biathlete took control at the International Biathlon Union (IBU) World Championships on Wednesday, cruising through the 15-kilometer individual race to not only defend her title, but do so without error in Nové Město na Moravě, Czech Republic.
Starting 62nd of 118 women, Berger attacked the five-lap course to catch contenders like Ukrainian sisters Valj and Vita Semerenko. And while the freshly fallen snow was slow and a strong crosswind in the range made shooting difficult, Berger remained calm and collected, shooting clean through three stages to take the lead by more than 40 seconds.
With one more stage and two laps to go, anything could potentially happen, even for Berger, the event’s defending world champion who already notched gold in Sunday’s pursuit and the opening mixed relay of this year’s World Championships.
“I knew that if I shot clean today I had a chance to be the winner,” Berger said in a post-race press conference.
She did so – for her first time in a World Championships 15 k individual race – knocking down all five targets on the final standing en route to her third victory of the week and seventh world title.
One of just three women to shoot to perfection on Wednesday, Berger didn’t let off the gas after last time in the range. With a lead of 1 minute and 25 seconds, she then clocked the second-fastest final lap and had the fifth-fastest course time of the day.
Only Germany’s Andrea Henkel in bib 71 came close, finishing second, 52.7 seconds behind Berger’s winning time of 44:52.5. Along with France’s Marie Laure Brunet, who ended up 19th, Henkel shot clean for her 12th World Championships medal and first individual podium since 2008.
“I knew how important the shooting range is,” said Henkel, 35. “I thought the individual race is the biggest chance for me to win another medal so I took this chance.”
Out of all her medals, she said each is special. “Behind each medal there’s a little story, and I think this is another nice one,” Henkel said.
Also on the World Championships podium for the first time since 2008, Valj Semerenko hung on after starting third and missing one shot on the first prone. She cleaned the next three stages and finished in the lead, but told her congratulators to wait; the best skiers were nearly 40 bibs back.
She was right. Poland’s Magdalena Gwizdon in bib 42 led through the first three stages, with one penalty on the first standing, but fell out of contention with two more misses and ultimately placed 18th. Vita Semerenko then moved to first with three clean stages, but missed one on the last standing to end up fifth (+2:25.9).
Slovakia’s Anastasiya Kuzmina cleaned the first two stages, but suffered a penalty on the second prone, losing 40 seconds to Berger. Kuzmina missed one more on the final stage to place fourth, just 12.5 seconds off the podium.
And while the time penalties were costly – as they always are in individual races – Valj Semerenko managed to keep her head in the game.
“The miss was quite a shock for me, but it was OK,” she said. “I told myself that every miss in this race puts you about 10 places behind so I [skied as hard] as I could and I hoped to lead the race.”
For Semerenko, who finished 1:42.5 back from Berger, the medal was her first since her 2008 women’s relay captured second. Perhaps most notably, was her third in a non-team event at the World Cup level.
“I told myself if I deserve a medal, I will win one, and I just tried my best,” Semerenko said.
Alex Kochon (email@example.com) is the former managing editor at FasterSkier. She spent seven years with FS from 2011-2018, and has been writing, editing, and skiing ever since. She's making a cameo in 2020.