For many in the World Cup biathlon field in windy Pokljuka, Slovenia, today, the 10 k sprint represented a chance at redemption after a disappointing Olympics.
After all, the Games are big, but life goes on.
Björn Ferry made his case in the most dramatic way possible, collecting a single penalty in prone and skiing a blistering last lap to clinch the top spot on the podium by just a second and a half over Anton Shipulin of Russia.
For the tall Swede, who won gold in the pursuit at the Vancouver Olympics but couldn’t finish better than 12th in any race in Sochi, the win was a long time coming. And for his country, too – Sweden didn’t bring any women to the Olympics, but had high hopes for its men’s team. Yet they didn’t leave with a single medal.
“I am not so surprised,” Ferry said of the victory, his first since 2011, in a press conference. “If I was surprised I would never believe in myself and probably wouldn’t do the sport. Everybody in the field believes that they are really strong and they hope for this great day. But of course I am a bit surprised. I was not really close in the Olympics, but today I was really strong.”
The results were incredibly close, with third-place Arnd Peiffer of Germany finishing 2.7 seconds behind Ferry and Dmitriy Mayshko of Russia just 0.2 seconds behind Peiffer. One of Ferry’s strong points was his shooting speed: he earned more than his margin of victory just by being quick and efficient on the range, for instance shooting five seconds faster than Shipulin.
Ferry, who has noted good humor, made the most of his first opportunity in the spotlight for a while, for instance making fun of his own race preparation.
“I have not eaten anything special,” he told Sweden’s TV4. “My breakfast today for example… There was a porridge failure, you know, such hard oatmeal. Then I put a pancake on top of it and Kellogg’s Frosties. It was a worthless mixture- I would not recommend it to anyone. At the Olympics I tried to eat like Charlotte Kalla, rice pudding, but it seemed to do more for her.”
The top 16 racers will start Saturday’s pursuit all within a minute of Ferry. That includes two Americans, Lowell Bailey and Tim Burke. The pair missed one shot each to finish 12th and 16th.
“I was definitely ready to get back to racing today,” said Bailey, who had a top finish of eighth, the best ever by a U.S. man, in Sochi. “I’ve said from the beginning of this year that although the Olympics is my top priority, my focus is set on the entire World Cup season. I’m psyched to start of the last trimester with a top 15.”
After the Games, the U.S. team had traveled to Ruhpolding, Germany, for recovery and a training camp. After a few days of rest, it was back to working out to get ready for the final week of racing. Bailey and Burke had the 21st– and 25th-fastest ski times today, and said that they were ready for more.
“I went telemark skiing one day and slept a lot!” Bailey said of how he moved on from the excitement of the Games. “After two days, it was back to normal training. I’m ready for the last three weeks!”
For Burke, the finish was extra gratifying as he has been beset by health issues for the last several weeks. A sinus infection a week before the Olympics knocked him out of training and impacted his results, and then he got sick again during the Games and ended up sitting out the men’s relay, a race he had been looking forward to.
“I continued to struggle a lot with my health after Sochi and I seriously considered ending my season,” Burke wrote in an e-mail. “I decided to stay and use these first few races as training efforts with the hope that I can be back to normal form by the World Cup final. Now I just hope that my body reacts in a normal way to the hard effort and I feel better with each race.”
Frustratingly, if it weren’t for the Olympics, Burke believes he would have properly recovered from some of his earlier illnesses and might be feeling better right now.
“I feel like we did a good job monitoring my training efforts this year, so I don’t feel it has been an issue of over training,” Burke wrote. “I think the biggest issue is that I was racing while I was not 100% percent for most of the Olympics. If those had been normal World Cup races, I never would have started most of the competitions. I think it really takes a toll on your body when you compete while not 100%.”
Come pursuit day, the pair will be in the hunt.
“I’m psyched with the result and looking forward to starting in 12th on Saturday,” Bailey said. “I felt good throughout the first and second laps today and didn’t quite have a the final kick on the last lap.”
“I am still very hungry for results this season,” Burke agreed. “I put so much into preparing for this year and I still feel that I have not been able to show what I am capable of on the ski course. I know all of the hard work has to pay off sometime!”
They will be joined in the pursuit by teammate Leif Nordgren, who finished 42nd with three penalties. Russell Currier placed 73rd with two penalties.
Brendan Green led Canada in a tie for 21st place, accumulating two penalties and finishing 1:18.4 behind the winner Ferry. Teammate Nathan Smith will also be in the pursuit after placing 41st, while Macx Davies was left outside in 71st.
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.