Invincible? Meet vincible.
Down on your luck? Meet winner.
Just one day before the World Cup 12.5 k pursuit in Khanty-Mansiysk, Russia, Martin Fourcade of France showed once again why he is the best biathlete in the world when he took a 39-second win in the 10 k sprint. He shot clean; so did the next three finishers. It’s the combination of shooting and fast, fast skiing that has made Fourcade so unstoppable all season, and he showed no signs of letting up.
But in the pursuit, it was like a different Martin Fourcade showed up to the race. He missed at least one shot in each stage and five total, and didn’t have the fastest ski time. On the last lap he found himself chasing down older brother Simon, who had started a minute and a half back in 22nd place and is recovering from compartment syndrome surgery.
The younger Fourcade, the one in the yellow bib of the overall World Cup leader and the red bib of the Pursuit discipline leader, couldn’t do it.
Instead, Simon was second and Martin third. In first? By a huge margin – about the size of Fourcade’s from the day before – was Christoph Sumann of Austria. Like Simon Fourcade, he had cleaned all twenty targets, but starting from fourth position he had a bt of an advantage.
36-year-old Sumann, an Olympic and World Championship medalist with five prior career victories, hadn’t been on the podium since the very first World Cup weekend in Ostersund, Sweden. In the meantime, he had been left off his country’s World Championships roster for all but the relay.
Just two weeks ago, he was at home in Austria, competing in ski races. Not even skating ones – he placed second in a 15 k classic mass start FIS competition, his first since 2001.
Luckily for Summann, luck can change. He found himself back in his own sport and, today, at the top of the podium.
“This is a big surprise because I had a lot of troubles in the last weeks,” he said in the post-race press conference. “I started on the podium in Östersund and everything in between was not so good. I was thinking about quitting. It is a big surprise! It is big motivation to train hard one more year and then finish after Sochi.”
Despite Martin Fourcade’s woes on the range, it was a great day for France as the brothers were reunited again.
“This is the second time that Martin and I are on the podium together and the second time I am in front of him; that is great,” Simon Fourcade said. “But it is a great pleasure to be up here with him…I had really good feelings warming up today. I came back from 22nd place to the podium which I did not expect.”
Martin Fourcade actually tied for third, thanks to a disaster not of his own making. The race was marred by a cross-firing by Germany’s Andi Birnbacher, who was in fourth place in the third stage. But he fired on the wrong targets, instead knocking down those in lane three, which should have been Michal Slesingr’s. That left Birnbacher with five penalties for the stage, and Slesingr with problems of his own.
“The official had a very slow reaction to my raised hand,” Slesingr said. “The target needed to be cleared. Then he asked me what was wrong; ironically it was the Czech referee. I lost lots of time, probably more than the 25 seconds. I lost contact with the group when I spent such a long, long time standing. That affected my skiing. I felt my legs were more tired as soon as I left the shooting range.”
It undeniably affected the race to have Slesingr delayed on the range; he likely would have been a force in the fight for the win, although of course nobody knows for sure. In subtracting seconds from his race time, officials finally decided just to award him joint third place with Fourcade.
“The decision is fair for both of us,” Fourcade said.
Racing resumes tomorrow with mass start competitions.
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.