Simon Schempp and Lukas Hofer looked pretty chummy after the finish men’s 10 k sprint at the World Cup in Antholz, Italy this Friday. Maybe their laughter was a product of their relief of finishing a challengingly slow course, or maybe it was that both of them were on the podium for the first time this season. More likely, however, it was the fact they both sat atop that podium in a rare tie for first place having skied the 10 k in 22:44.9.
Schemmp a member of the German national team had originally been declared the winner of the race, edging out Hofer by 0.3 seconds. However, upon review of the finish line back-up system, the German and the Italian were declared to have a tie.
With a steady fall of snow and slow conditions, the race looked much different than the women’s 7.5 k sprint held Thursday.
Despite having to slug through the slow snow, the first starter, Simon Fourcade of France, was able to ski a fast first lap and shoot clean to keep him in first place for much of the beginning of the race. But as the snow got faster and the skiers got stronger, Fourcade saw his position decline in the standings.
One skier that contributed to Fourcade’s drop was Arnd Peiffer of Germany, who eventually finished in third. Starting in 27th position, Peiffer skied the fourth fastest first lap and shot clean in both prone and standing. His next two laps were slower, but they were enough to keep him in third.
The podium was the first of the season for Peiffer, and he was pretty happy about it. ”This is a good feeling and it fills a hole in my resume,” said the German in a press release. “I have never finished third before!”
Hofer came soon after Peiffer and was determined to leave everything on the course. An Italian hadn’t won a World Cup race in Italy since 1988, and while it often seemed there were more German and Norwegians in the stands than anyone else, a win in Antholz would not only be a personal triumph, but also a national one.
A strong skier, Hofer clocked the fastest time on the course in the first lap. He shot clean in prone, and skied a fast second lap. Unfortunately for the 24-year-old his luck didn’t hold through the standing and he accrued one penalty.
The setback didn’t stop Hofer as he skied his last lap. He skied agressively and crossed the line, 4.3 seconds ahead of Peiffer, then collapsed face-first into the blanket of newly fallen snow in the finish area.
“What more can I expect as an athlete?” the Italian said of his result. “I had a really good race and am really happy.”
Schempp who started 61st, raced with efficiency and purpose. The German skied the second fastest first lap, and the second and third laps were just as strong. His skiing, mixed with clean shooting, made for a lethal combination that earned him his first World Cup podium of the season and first career victory.
The overall result could have been different, however. Coming into the finish, Schempp chose to take the same lane as a Czech skier in front of him, which caused him to slow considerably just before he crossed the finish line.
Regardless, the German was very happy to have his first World Cup victory. “I am very satisfied with my race. It was an incredible day. Only first place was missing in my resume, so this is a good feeling; a perfect race,” he said in a press release.
Canadian racer, Brendan Green, who just last week was racing in the IBU Cup, had a breakthrough result in Friday’s sprint, finishing in eighth place, a career best.
Green, who sat out last season due to an injury that required double-back surgery, has made a significant comeback this year and nabbed the last spot on the Canadian Olympic team earlier this year.
Before the Friday’s race Green was worried about the snowy and slow conditions because he was the 10th starter, meaning it was likely he would have a slower course.
“Conditions were definitely tough to race in but I just tried to focus on the process of putting together the best race I could at that time,” Green wrote in an email. “Antholz can be a tricky and weird range for shooting, so again I just tried to be solid with each shot and not get too ahead of myself.”
His mentality worked, as he was able to make it through the rounds of prone and standing shooting without missing a shot.
On top of that, Green was feeling better and better as he skied along the course.
“My skiing picked up with each lap throughout the race. It’s hard to say how much of that was due to the track speeding up, or maybe just me getting more and more into my groove. Maybe a little bit of both. “
At the end of the day, Green attributed his career best result to staying in the present and not thinking ahead. “Just getting the work done, one step at a time, one shot at a time.”
Looking forward, Green feels confident going into Saturday’s pursuit and next month’s Olympics.
“I’m definitely really happy with this result and the time frame that it has come in. Hopefully it’s a sign that my shape is progressing in the right direction and that I can still improve in some areas before we head over to Sochi.”
Green will be joined by teammate Nathan Smith and Americans Lowell Bailey and Tim Burke in Saturday’s pursuit.
Bailey finished 19th in Friday’s sprint. He was followed by Smith in 22nd and Burke in 50th.
Burke, who has said that the course in Antholz is one of his favorites, had an uncharacteristic tough day.
“I am pretty disappointed with my race today on all levels. My shooting was off with three penalties and I simply felt tired on the skis,” Burke wrote in an email.
He now plans to solely focus on the Sochi games in order achieve his best-possible Olympic results, even if that means making some sacrifices in the meantime. “I will put my entire focus now on the Olympics so I will only start tomorrow if I feel 100% recovered. I have been a little flat in all of my races lately so I won’t push too much now with only a few weeks left before the Olympics.”
Racing continues tomorrow in Antholz, with the women’s 12.5 k and the men’s 15 k pursuits.
Lander Karath is FasterSkier's Associate Editor from Bozeman, Montana and a Bridger Ski Foundation alumnus. Between his studies at Middlebury College in Vermont, he is an outdoor enthusiast and a political junkie.