Emil Hegle Svendsen’s strategy for Saturday’s pursuit was pretty simple. Don’t miss.
The 29-year-old Norwegian started 24 seconds behind Russia’s Anton Shipulin, who won Friday’s 10-kilometer sprint to start the 12.5 k pursuit first.
He had Austria’s Dominik Landertinger 12 seconds ahead of him in second, and after the first shooting stage, it became fairly evident that everyone in the top 11 was “on” — at least early on.
Shipulin, Landertinger and Svendsen all cleaned, leaving the range in that order, followed by France’s Martin Fourcade, who started fourth. Norway’s Johannes Thingnes Bø in bib 10 was already up to fifth, Germany’s Simon Schempp left the range in sixth, then France’s Quentin Fillon Maillet in seventh, and Italy’s Lukas Hofer, up from 15th to eighth. Three more men also cleaned the first prone — Germany’s Daniel Boehm, France’s Jean Guillaume Beatrix, and Vladimir Iliev, respectively — to leave the range in the top 11.
Shipulin led into the stadium for the second prone, where he hit his first four shots but missed the last. Landertinger, Svendsen and Fourcade were quick to capitalize on his mistake and cleaned, leaving the range 6.8 seconds, 7.6 seconds and 14.6 seconds behind him, in that order.
By 6.8 k, Landertinger and Svendsen essentially caught Shipulin, trailing him by a second. They approached the third stage as a unit, where Svendsen cleaned, Shipulin missed another, and Landertinger missed two. Suddenly, Svendsen was in sole control, leaving the range 21 seconds ahead of the Russian in second and 33 seconds head of Fourcade, who missed one but hung in fourth.
Landertinger started his fourth lap 56 seconds off the pace, four seconds ahead of Hofer, who missed one on his second prone but cleaned his first standing.
Svendsen went on to clean his final stage, and so did Shipulin, but at that point, the Norwegian was too far gone — with a 25.4-second lead with 2 k to go.
Fourcade was still shooting when Shipulin left the range to chase Svendsen down, yet he took his time to clean the final stage and keep him soundly in podium position.
Meanwhile, Svendsen powered through the last lap, keeping 20 seconds between himself and Shipulin at 11.8 k. Cruising down into the stadium, he stood up and relaxed, waved to the crowd then let out a fist pump at the finish.
The only man in the top 12 to hit all 20 targets, Svendsen won by 17.8 seconds. Shipulin placed second, nearly 42 seconds ahead of Fourcade, who looked back to make sure no one was challenging him for third.
“It was a fantastic day today,” Svendsen told the IBU. “I am a sunshine boy; I like the sun. I had a lot of energy.”
It was certainly sunny on Saturday afternoon, with shadows covering the targets for the men’s race, but bright sunlight blanketing the rest of the course.
“On the shooting range it was so easy,” Svendsen continued. “It was one of the easiest days of my career on the shooting range. I was faster and felt better on skis.”
For Svendsen, who reclaimed the overall World Cup lead on Saturday over Fourcade, it was the second-straight race in which he shot clean and his second win of the season (after winning the individual World Cup opener in Östersund, Sweden, also with perfect shooting).
Shipulin said he made a couple mistakes, two to be precise, which took him out of the hunt.
“I hope to improve on that in the next race,” he told the IBU.
Svendsen will start Sunday’s 15 k mass start in bib 1 as the World Cup leader, next to Fourcade in bib 2 and Shipulin in bib 3. Landertinger placed fourth on Saturday (+1:12.9) with three total penalties (0+0+2+1) and will start in bib 4. Ondrej Moravec of the Czech Republic placed fifth (+1:14.2) with two penalties (1+1+0+0).
Burke Improves to 21st
Americans Lowell Bailey, Tim Burke and Leif Nordgren started the pursuit 16th, 26th and 53rd, respectively. Nathan Smith led the Canadians in the sprint to start 25th (four seconds ahead of Burke), and teammate Brendan Green went out 19 seconds later in 34th.
By the first stage, Smith cleaned to leave the range in 17th, a minute and 15 seconds behind the leaders, and Bailey missed one to move to 19th, 2.9 seconds behind Smith.
In the second prone, Smith and Bailey both cleaned to leave the range in 13th and 14th, respectively, just over a minute behind the leaders. By the third stage, they were up to ninth and 10th, respectively, despite one miss each, 1:21 and 1:23 out of first.
The two dropped into the top 30 after the fourth stage, with two penalties apiece. Smith headed out on his last lap in 23rd and Bailey was 26th with 2 k to go.
“My shooting felt really solid today, right up until the last standing,” Smith recalled in an email. “My shooting speed is always an advantage in short-loop races like the pursuit. Even if I lose a little time skiing I can catch back up after gaining a couple in the range.”
Burke was right behind Bailey in 27th after a single miss on his final stage and two on his first prone.
“It was actually a really rough start for me with two penalties in that first stage,” Burke said on the phone Saturday. “I think I fell back almost twenty places [to 44th], but I was able to claw myself back in it.”
With clean shooting on his second and third stages, he improved to 36th and 26th, respectively. And on his last lap, Burke passed six people to finish 21st with three penalties, 1:56 behind Svendsen.
“I was really happy with my last lap,” Burke said. “I just tried to keep a little bit of distance over the last group over that last climb. I think I just tucked over the line.”
He treated that last rise before the straightaway downhill into the stadium like the finish line, and made sure to lead over the top of it. At the actual finish, Burke edged Smith by 0.8 seconds and Germany’s Erik Lesser by another one-tenth of a second in 23rd. Smith narrowly topped Lesser in the photo finish for 22nd, and beat out Austria’s Sven Grossegger in 24th by 0.8 seconds.
“Leaving the range I could see ahead a German who was suffering,” Smith wrote. “I could also feel a good 5 people breathing down my neck. So I did my best to keep them at bay and catch the German. Tim looked really strong skiing and passed a bunch of us like it was nothing on the longest climb.
“Thankfully I managed to stay somewhat in contact with the guys that followed right behind him,” he added. “Tim was too far ahead at the finish, but I had a good draft heading into the ridiculously fast finish and could free skate past the other two.”
Bailey finished 29th (+2:07) with four penalties (1+0+1+2), Brendan Green cleaned his first and third stages but missed three total (0+1+0+2) to place 33rd (+2:22.7), and Nordgren ended up 51st with three penalties (0+1+2+0).
“Skiing felt decent. Shooting got a little shaky toward the end,” Bailey wrote in an email. “I don’t think I was nervous, but I my legs were definitely a little unstable from late-race fatigue. … I definitely didn’t feel completely in sync with my standing shooting today and missing those two targets in the end hurt pretty bad. But, tomorrow another day!”
On Sunday, Burke, Bailey and Smith will start the mass start in bibs 15, 18 and 30, respectively — which is where they stand overall on the World Cup. And while Smith will start in the 10th-and-last row, he explained he was excited to make the mass start.
“It’s only my second one ever,” he wrote. “The first one was at the Olympics, but unfortunately that one ended 500m in thanks to a crash. I’m not sure what to expect, but a top 15 would be nice. Since I’m starting way at the back I’ll just hang out there and not worry about trying to move up at all first lap. I will have to also be quite careful entering the range as lane 30 is right at the bottom of the downhill entry, where you have to slam on the brakes.”
Since the more-condensed start format is new to mass starts this season, Burke wasn’t sure exactly what to expect.
“I’ve never done one of these starts before; I haven’t heard many positive things about it so it’ll be interesting,” he said. “I imagine I’ll be right in the middle of the pack, which isn’t necessarily where I want to be.”
But he’ll try to ski the first loop relaxed. “I just try to avoid any trouble,” he said. “I try to tell myself that the race really start after the first prone.”
Alex Kochon (email@example.com) is the former managing editor at FasterSkier. She spent seven years with FS from 2011-2018, and has been writing, editing, and skiing ever since. She's making a cameo in 2020.