In his attempts to emulate Petter Northug, Martin Fourcade resorts to showboating – often at the expense of his competitors. His cocky attitude on the trails has only grown in the last season, as he has won more World Cups and again topped the overall standings.
But in Oslo today, Fourcade chose to express himself in a different way, offering spectators something they probably couldn’t have imagined. After all, it’s not so often that you get a high-five from the race winner – during the race.
After leaving the range for the final time with a 58-second lead, Fourcade could afford to loaf around the trails if he wanted to, but he also spent that extra time getting some unique interaction with fans. As he skied down the backstretch – before climbing up and over the back of the range and dropping down into the finishing straightaway – he slowed up to high-five anyone lucky enough to be standing in the front row.
Winning Norwegian hearts and minds? Probably not – but at least it’s a better try.
After the race, Fourcade even met the King Harald V, who was on hand at Holmenkollen to watch the races. There, he pulled a trick more like something Northug might devise to taunt a rival country.
“I gave my French skis to the King of Norway,” Fourcade said in the press conference.
But he was still gracious, and showed that he did appreciate the occasion.
“Meeting the king was really cool,” he admitted. “I met him a few years ago in 2010, when I had my first win at Holmenkollen, but I really wanted to win here again. So it was cool.”
For the first two laps of the 12.5 k pursuit, Fourcade was neck and neck with Norway’s Tarjei Bø, who had won the sprint by just 0.1 seconds over the Frenchman. But on the second shooting stage Bø missed two shots to Fourcade’s one, and from that point out, it was all Fourcade.
“Today I felt Martin was stronger than me,” Bø said in the press conference. “Not a little bit stronger; he is much stronger than me. I was just lucky to win second…. the King came on the wrong day this weekend.”
Fourcade clearly had plenty of time to think about things, as he was skiing all alone for the final 7.5 kilometers of the race and had the range to himself as well. That took a lot of pressure off. Despite the wind – which was not quite as bad for the men as it had been for the women – Fourcade shot very quickly on his last stage. He ended up missing one of the shots, but it didn’t matter.
“I knew I could miss two shots and still win before the last standing,” he said. “It was not relaxing, but it was good. I think you needed some luck to win, but it wasn’t about luck today – I shot much better in harder wind conditions, and I think that was the key of my success.”
Third place went to Alexandr Loginov of Russia, who started fifth and then climbed to third after cleaning the first stage. With three penalties total, he never again dropped lower than fifth, and put in an impressive last lap to demolish Arnd Peiffer of Germany.
What makes that all the more impressive is that this is Loginov’s first weekend of World Cup racing. He just turned 21, and rounded out his junior career with two gold medals at World Juniors earlier this winter; last week, he swept the junior races at Open European Championships.
Russia is hardly hurting for talent on the men’s side, but the team decided to rest much of its “A” squad and Loginov, as well as fellow top junior Maxim Tsvetkov, got the nods to start. After placing eighth in the sprint, Tsvetkov dropped to 37th in the pursuit.
Regardless, though, the pair might be earning more starts in the future. After crossing the line, Loginov was positively beaming as he shook hands and congratulated Fourcade and Bø. It was clear that the experience of meeting two of the sport’s biggest stars, much less sharing the podium with them, was a dream come true.
“I never thought of that,” he said though a translator in the press conference, still smiling. “I was far away in my dreams – my goal was to get to the World Cup and fight with the best sportsmen in the world. I wanted to be on the podium, but in my dreams I didn’t think I’d be going against these athletes twice in a row. I don’t know what to say – I’m so full of emotion.”
At World Junior Championships, Loginov, Tsvetkov, and Bø’s younger brother Johannes Thingnes Bø were so clearly in a league of their own; in the pursuit, for instance, the fourth-place finisher was almost a minute off the podium. Now, those juniors can know that those guys they raced against really are among the best in the world, not just for juniors, but for biathletes.
After Peiffer, Loginov’s older teammate Alexei Volkov claimed fifth, followed by Simon Eder of Austria and Fredrik Lindstrom of Sweden.
U.S. racer Tim Burke made an impressive jump from 32nd after the sprint up to fifteenth; his three penalties were good given the windy conditions, but matched by quite a few other racers. He skied the ninth-fastest course time and said that he has felt good all week, so he has high hopes for the mass start on Sunday.
As for the shooting, he had no specific strategy – but managed to work things out as he went along.
“I knew it was going to more of a lottery because it would go from blowing super hard to almost nothing in a minute,” he wrote in an e-mail to FasterSkier. “It’s always tricky to know if you should wait out the wind or just go for it, but I think with today’s conditions it was smarter to take your time because the wind was not consistent.”
Lowell Bailey climbed from 50th to 34th despite five penalties, while Russell Currier and Leif Nordgren finished 47th and 48th with six and seven.
For Canada, Scott Perras matched Burke’s shooting and raced from 60th up to 42nd. He was particularly fast on the standing shooting, where in each trip to the range he was the second-quickest man in the field to get his five shots off.
“The choice was easy for me today, adjust and just try to shoot,” he explained. “I started 60th so knew I wasn’t moving back…. it could be ok one minute and terrible the next. I clicked my sights every direction and aimed off when I didn’t think it was enough. I was happy and lucky to have hit 9/10 prone.”
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.