After skipping the last World Cup weekend before the holiday break so that they could fit in a better pre-Olympic training block including some work at altitude, the Norwegian biathlon team was back with a vengeance in today’s 10 k sprint in Oberhof, Germany.
Veteran Ole Einar Bjørndalen set the pace early, starting with bib seven and setting a formidable mark despite two penalties. A few minutes later, teammate Emil Hegle Svendsen had the same iffy shooting, but was just a tad faster on the trails to eke out a 0.4-second win over his countryman.
It was another good sign for Norway after young racer Johannes Thingnes Bø won both the sprint and pursuit in Annency, when the rest of the senior national team was taking their break.
“We have trained well on this camp during Christmas and are trying to work with the shape until February,” Norwegian coach Espen Andersen Nordby told Norwegian broadcaster NRK. “That is the most important. After today’s run, we feel that we are well on track.”
“The win was a good confirmation of good and hard work in the past few weeks,” Svensen said in a press conference. “I was a bit anxious since I had no wins this year, so it is nice to have at least one win before the Olympics.”
Bjørndalen admitted that he was a little peeved to be bumped out of the leader’s chair.
“Until I realized it was Emil,” he said. “I am very happy with my race. I had good skiing, although the shooting was just okay.”
In fact, the whole field struggled with tough and windy conditions. Only five men shot clean; third-place Martin Fourcade of France, last year’s World Cup Total Score Winner, had three penalties.
But despite the difficulties on the range, the men all praised the organizers for giving them a course that was somewhat better than what this small town could offer up for the FIS Tour de Ski last weekend.
“The organizers actually did a very job preparing the tracks,” Fourcade said. “I agree with Emil that the conditions were very good and fair out there today.”
Both the U.S. and Canadians are in Oberhof with something less than their regular World Cup squads. For the U.S., only athletes already qualified for the Olympics are there: Tim Burke, Lowell Bailey, Leif Nordgren, Susan Dunklee, and Annelies Cook. The rest are at the IBU Cup for the next two weekends to fight it out for the final spots.
Of the Americans, only Nordgren made the cut for tomorrow’s pursuit, placing 43rd with two penalties. Bailey did not start and Burke was left one spot outside of the 60-man cutoff after challenges on the range gave him six penalties.
For Canada, the entire Olympic team is still in North America, training. Instead, an IBU Cup squad hit the first stop of the World Cup before continuing on to their other races. For many, it’s the first time they have been offered a World Cup start.
Macx Davies made the most of that chance, missing two shots to place 42nd and earn himself a second World Cup start. Marc-André Bèdard finished 78th with five penalties.
In the women’s 7.5 k sprint, Darya Domracheva of Belarus pulled off a 30-second victory over Kaisa Makarainen of Finland. Domracheva had a single penalty to finish in 23:06.7, while Makarainen had two penalties; third-place Olena Pidhrushna of Ukraine had shot clean to land 36.4 seconds behind the Belorussian.
Domracheva has finished second in the World Cup Total Score each of the last two years, first behind Magdalena Neuner of Germany and then behind Tora Berger of Norway (who placed fourth today). So far this season, though, things hadn’t been going so well. This was not only her first win, but actually her first podium.
“I’m really happy that the new year began from this race, from such a result,” Domracheva, the bronze medalist from Vancouver in the 15 k individual, told the IBU’s Jerry Kokesh in a video interview. “I felt really tired after the finish line because it has been a break from biathlon and it was quite heavy to come back to this long distance and speed.”
Makarainen, the 2011 World Cup Total Score winner, also seems to be coming into shape as the Olympics approach. She was second in Annency, France, before the holiday break, and now second in Oberhof today.
“I like Oberhof but have never been on the podium,” she said in a press conference. “I have been waiting for this moment. I usually have a good ski time here, usually one of the best. So it is nice to finally put a good race together. Today as usual, my running was good, and many times you will be 20th with two penalties. But today, with the hard conditions on the shooting range, I think many people had more penalties than normal and two was okay.”
Dunklee made the pursuit in 32nd place, missing four shots but skiing the tenth-fastest course time. Teammate Cook just snuck into the pursuit as well in 60th place, also with four penalties.
For Canada, Claude Godbout finished 52nd with a single missed shot, Audrey Vaillancourt was bumped to 61st, possibly the most frustrating spot after a sprint race, Julia Ransom finished 82nd, and Emma Lodge 83rd.
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.