20-year-old Johannes Thinges Bø of Norway has had a pretty successful run of things coming into this season. He had collected three individual and two relay gold medals at World Junior Championships, and then been asked to join the senior national team (and his older brother, World Champion Tarjei Bø).
Feeling confident, the young biathlete painted his rifle solid gold.
At first, it didn’t work out so well for him. In his first season as a full-time member of the World Cup team, Bø opened with a 27th-place finish in the 20 k individual race in Östersund, Sweden. That came with four misses, hardly gold rifle worthy.
He collected his first wins – a sprint, pursuit, and relay in Annency, France, in December – over Martin Fourcade, the World Cup leader, but many of Bø’s own fastest teammates were sitting out. When the World Cup recommenced, he was nowhere near the top. In each of the next weekends of racing, he had a few disastrous shooting stages, including one where he ruined Norway’s chance of a relay victory by taking three penalty loops. Meanwhile, his teammate Emil Hegle Svendsen went on a tear, winning four races.
But this weekend in Kontiolahti, Finland, Bø proved that his earlier results were not a fluke. Svendsen was there competing, and neither he, Fourcade, nor any of the other favorites could come close to young Bø. After winning sprints on both Thursday and Saturday, Bø swept to a 16-second win over Fourcade in the 12.5 k pursuit today.
Nobody on the circuit has matched Bø’s five victories, which he earned despite sitting out two different weeks of racing. Bø jumped over Svendsen, Dominik Landertinger, Olympic champion Ole Einar Bjørndalen, and five others to move from tenth to second place in the World Cup total score in a single weekend.
Perhaps the gold rifle is fitting after all.
Besides his victories, Bø has six other top-tens, all coming this season. But he also has finishes in the 20’s, 30’s, and 50’s. The inconsistency in results might be due to the fact that Bø is so young – or that he broke his collarbone this summer.
“Training this summer was really slow going after I got injured,” Bø told NRK earlier this weekend. “I think people would have been shocked if they saw my training diary from the summer…. I trained as many hours in three months as the team did in a single month.”
Regardless, Bø seems to be here to stay, and is excited that next season’s World Championships will be held in Kontiolahti where the courses seem to suit him so well.
“It looks really good for next year,” he told NRK.
Bø had built up a large lead over the course of the race. Conditions were extremely windy, but he managed to clean both prone stages and collect a single penalty in the first standing. His lead had grown to well over a minute.
When Bø arrived at the last stage, however, the wind had picked up and he was also exhausted; he said later that he was “shaky”. He missed four of his five shots and headed to the penalty loop.
But Fourcade, Björn Ferry, and Norway’s Lars Helge Birkeland all missed at least one shot too, once they had arrived in the range while Bø was in the penalty loop.
“I had a moment there when I was a bit worried, but I guess that one hit in that stage was enough…I won,” Bø said in the press conference.
Fourcade placed second, wrapping up the World Cup title for the third consecutive year, and Ferry continued his strong recent results with a third-place finish.
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.