It may be cliché, but the stars do seem to shine brightest on the biggest stage. Emil Svendsen (NOR) and Marin Fourcade (FRA), well established as the brightest of the bright led their teams to gold and silver respectively in the men’s 4×7.5k relay as the International Biathlon Union World Championships continued in Nove Mesto, Czech Republic.
Biathlon is a sport that has rarely been dominated by one country, with the fickleness of combining shooting and racing making consistency challenging.
But Norway has turned that concept on its head. Nine races have been held at the 2013 World Championships, with two remaining. The Norwegians have won seven of those and took a silver in one other.
Svendsen made sure the team kept rolling, following the example set by their female counterparts yesterday.
With two individual golds under his belt already, plus another in the mixed relay, the Norwegian took the final tag in strong position, 16 seconds up on Erik Lesser of Germany.
The Germans were in contention on the strength of impressive marksmanship, not missing a single shot through a total of six shooting stages.
Lesser and Svendsen stayed locked together on the first lap, and both men shot fast and clean.
As relays so often do, it all came down to the final time in the range. If Svendesen cleaned the race was his. If he faltered, and the German continued the perfect day, the gold would be in question.
Svendsen missed his first shot in standing, and the door to a comeback was cracked open. But he calmly cleaned the next four, and quickly knocked down the final target with a spare round.
Always one of the fastest on skis, Svendsen was in no danger of losing his lead short of a miracle.
Lesser erased any slim hope for the Germans, completely imploding in standing. He missed five shots, racking up two penalties. While the damage was significant, he still held second place, 13 seconds in front of Russian Dmitry Malyshko.
Malyshko had brought the Russians back into medal contention after teammate Evgeniy Garanichev incurred two penalties on the third leg, dropping the team from podium position.
Fourcade needed two spare rounds to Malyshko’s one on the final standing, and the Frenchman headed out just a few seconds down.
Malyshko attacked on the first climb of the final lap, but could not shake Fourcade. Lesser, just ahead, looked tired, but was still moving well and 14 seconds up with just 1.5k to go.
A kilometer later, however, it was a completely different race. Fourcade came up on Lesser at nearly a full sprint, blowing by the German, who had nothing left to respond, and it was only the finish line that saved him from the Russian behind.
“I was expecting to fight Malyshko,” Fourcade said at the post-race press conference. “When I saw he was not with me, then I decided to go after Germany. Then I saw Erik on the last uphill — I just went after him.”
Fourcade’s brother Simon, who skied the scramble leg, had left the stadium, convinced a medal was not a possibility, only returning when he heard over the radio that Martin had a shot.
“I was really disappointed in what I did, handing off so far back,” Simon said.
Lesser said he was “very disappointed” with his shooting the final time, but still satisfied with a bronze.
He pointed to the lack of pressure in his final shooting as part of the problem. Malyshko and Fourcade were nowhere in sight and he had no chance of catching Svendsen, and he relaxed too much.
While the gold for Norway continued a phenomenal Championship run, it also was part of another impressive mark.
With the win, veteran Ole Einar Bjorndalen earned his 50th Championship medal (39 World Championships, 11 Olympics).
Svendsen skipped the previous individual race due to illness, and said he was “insecure” about his form heading in to the day.
He clearly had no cause for concern, and had no reason for the Norwegian dominance.
“I don’t know if I can put my finger on one thing that we have done better,” Svendsen said. “What can I say, it has been a fantastic journey for the Norwegian team.”
While Svendsen had the glory of the anchor, Tarjei Boe did the work for the initial gap on the third leg. Boe has struggled at times this season, unable to consistently find his top form.
“The season is all about winning the yellow [overall World Cup] and fighting for medals. So the season is almost over tomorrow,” Boe said with World Championships entering the final day.
Racing wraps up on Sunday with the mass start competitions.
Topher Sabot is the editor of FasterSkier.