Just under a minute separated the Canadian and U.S. relay teams in the men’s 4×7.5km event at the IBU World Championships. And those 60 seconds meant more than just four places in the standings, loaded as they were with expectations and history.
The Canadians skied to a championship best-ever result of 8th, less than a second out of 7th and 15 seconds from 6th.
“It was a great day for us and a solid team effort,” Canadian scramble skier JP LeGuellec wrote to FasterSkier in an email, noting that the team’s previous top championship relay finish was a 10th at the Vancouver Olympics in 2010.
The U.S. on the other hand, 12th out of the 29 teams, was not satisfied.
“With this same team we had a 5th place earlier in the year so we were definitely hoping for more today,” veteran Tim Burke (USA) wrote in a post-race email. “But that’s just the way biathlon goes sometimes.”
LeGuellec started the Canadians off strong, tagging to Scott Gow in 8th, after using two spare rounds to clean his ten targets.
Gow struggled somewhat on the track, posting the 18th best time. That combined with three spares on the range dropped the team to 14th. But Nathan Smith started moving back up through the field. He shot the best of the quartet, needing just a single spare in prone.
Not just accurate, Smith was fast on the range as well, with the 2nd quickest shooting of the leg. He moved all the way up to 7th at the final tag.
Scott Perras took over and cleaned prone the first time through the range. He needed all three spares in standing, but avoided the penalty loop and then threw down the second fastest closing lap of the anchor leg.
“I had to give it my all on the final lap,” Perras told FasterSkier. “On the final climb which is pretty gradual and normally one skate I just offsetted with the fastest tempo I could manage.”
With an extremely tight race for second and third up ahead, Perras’ time was all the more impressive.
“I felt good on the skis today, I could go when I wanted and relax when I needed to,” Perras explained.
Like LeGuellec, Perras was pleased with the result.
“A top eight is big for us and I knew it,” Perras said, describing his mindset headed out for his leg. “I thought about the job my teammates did and drew motivation from that.”
Top relay results are extremely challenging because everyone needs to have a strong day. Finishing off such a performance brings added pressure.
“When you are anchor and your team tags over to you in a good position you do your best to close the deal… it’s something I enjoy but its also something that comes with a lot of responsibility,” Perras said.
Both LeGuellec and Perras, while pleased, are hungry for more and see potential in the current team.
LeGuellec pointed to cutting back on spare rounds. While it was good to avoid the penalty loop, the spares “represent a lot of time spent on the range.”
“We only need some time to take it to the next level, we all know that JP [LeGuellec] is World Class…and we are getting stronger,” Perras said.
For now, the team can enjoy the fruits of their labor. World Championships are done for all but LeGuellec, the lone Canadian man to qualify for Sunday’s mass start competition.
“We are very happy, we know we can do better but when you consider the other relays we have produced this year this is by far the best,” Perras concluded.
Burke’s sentiments ran somewhat differently in regards to the U.S.
It was hardly a terrible day, but disappointing nonetheless.
“No one had a bad race, but besides Russ [third leg skier Russell Currier], no one really put it together. I feel like we all skied well but we just had too many extra rounds compared to the top teams,” Burke said.
Lowell Bailey stayed with the leaders through the first shooting, but after using three rounds on standing, he dropped off the pace.
Burke was solid, skiing fast, but was unspectacular on the range just two days after winning a silver medal.
He needed a total of four spares, though he tagged to Currier in 8th.
Currier shot well, using just a single spare, but still dropped spots, slipping down to 11th.
Leif Nordgren took over for the final leg, and like Burke totaled four spare rounds.
Both Burke and Bailey have one more shot as both will race the mass start.
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Topher Sabot is the editor of FasterSkier.