A little Olympic experience goes a long way. So does home-turf advantage in New England.
Less than a week after competing in his first Olympics in the 4 x 7.5-kilometer men’s relay in Sochi, Russia, 18-year-old Sean Doherty, of Center Conway, N.H., opened the 2014 International Biathlon Union (IBU) Youth/Junior World Championships on Friday with gold in the youth 7.5 k sprint.
Shooting wasn’t easy in the two-stage race on a windy and frigid day at the Nordic Heritage Center in Presque Isle, Maine, where temperatures hovered slightly above 0 degrees Fahrenheit before the women’s 10 a.m. start, according to an IBU press release. The wind darted from left to right across the range, making clean shooting difficult in both the women’s and men’s races.
Doherty, a favorite after taking silver in the sprint at last year’s World Championships, missed four shots en route to the win in 19:35. Two came in prone, which quickly put him 35 seconds out of the lead. On the next loop, he skied his way back near the front, hitting the first two shots, then missing the third and fifth for two more penalties.
An early starter, Doherty’s fast ski time stood up as Russia’s Dmitri Shamaev crossed the line in second with two penalties (both in standing), nearly 19 seconds back. Germany’s Marco Gross, who missed one prone and two standing, bumped Shamaev to third, finishing 1.7 seconds behind Doherty for silver. As Doherty’s win became more evident, a small crowd broke out chanting, “U.S.A., U.S.A,” according to the Portland Press Herald.
“This is unbelievable,’’ Doherty told the Press Herald. “It means a lot to me. All the people who supported me were here to see it.’’
His prone shooting worried him at first: “The shots were just not falling,” he told IBU. “But I had super skis thanks to our wax techs and felt great on the tracks. … I have no words to describe how it feels to win a gold medal in a Championship on home soil.”
None of the 62 men cleaned. This is Doherty’s second world title and fourth medal after winning the youth pursuit last year.
In the women’s race, Italy’s Lisa Vittozzi had just one penalty to claim her first sprint gold the youth 6 k in 18:49.9. Like Doherty, she took silver in last year’s event.
Vittozzi topped Germany’s Anna Weidel, who also had a single penalty, by 13 seconds for the win. Weidel missed one in prone then cleaned standing to finish first, more than a minute faster than anyone else. Vittozzi challenged her with a rapid-fire clean prone stage, then one standing miss to put her 0.4 seconds ahead of Weidel heading into the final loop. There, she picked up more than 12 seconds on the German to bump her to second.
“I prepared well for this competition and hoped for a top place, but never expected to be World Champion,” Vittozzi told IBU. “On the final uphill, I started to think this might be a very good day for me, so I gave everything I had.”
Also with one miss, France’s Julia Simon finished 18.4 seconds back from the winner for bronze. Maddie Grace Phaneuf, who trains with the Maine Winter Sports Center (MWSC) in Presque Isle, was the only competitor to clean all day, putting her fourth, 41 seconds off the podium.
“I was trying to stay mentally calm, and focused on my skiing technique while I was skiing and focused on my shooting while I was shooting,” Phaneuf wrote in an email. “I tried to do what I do when I’m training and nothing different. It wasn’t too difficult to do until I heard that I was doing so well, then I got a little nervous but tried to stay focused.
“I couldn’t be more proud of Maddie, her teammates, and coach Seth Hubbard for all of the hard work they’ve put in to create a culture of belief here in northern Maine,” MWSC program director Will Sweetser wrote in an email. “Maddie showed true confidence today in her first international competition. She was composed, efficient and then, just hammered to keep her 4th place around the entire last lap.”