“It’s hard to escape Ruhpolding without racing in the type of conditions we had today,” Brendan Green wrote in an email on Saturday, following the IBU World Cup men’s 10-kilometer sprint in Ruhpolding, Germany.
One day, it’s pristine — like men’s relay on Thursday — with clear skies and fast, firm conditions, and little-to-no wind. Other days, it’s not, like the women’s relay on Wednesday, when rain pelted the stadium, or Saturday, when soft, heavily falling snow refused to let up as the men’s race wore on.
Some of the top-ranked competitors, like France’s Martin Fourcade and Germany’s Simon Schempp, opted to start later in the 102-man field, anticipating that the course would speed up with each passing skier. That didn’t exactly pan out.
If anyone, earlier starters seemed to have the benefit, but it was hard to say. The sprint was a slog-fest and most felt slow on their skis. Among those who found the most success were the ones who shot clean: eventual-winner Johannes Thingnes Bø of Norway, who started 25th and led from start to finish, and Schempp, who started some 23 minutes later in bib 71 and came within 24.5 seconds of Bø’s winning time of 23:59.2 to place second.
Germany’s Arnd Peiffer started 37th and placed third with a single penalty, 57.9 seconds behind Bø, with the fourth-fastest overall course time. His podium secured his spot on the German team at IBU World Championships in March.
And then there were two Canadians — Green and Scott Gow — who knocked down all their targets for flawless shooting, and despite not feeling fast, notched season and career bests, respectively.
Green started 79th and ended up 16th, 1:30.2 behind Bø, with clean shooting through two stages. After prone, his time ranked 38th, and he moved into 14th after hitting all five of his standing targets as well.
“It was really hard for me to judge how my skiing was going,” Green explained. “The conditions were frustrating to ski in for sure with deep slushy snow, but I did what I could to ski smooth and not let the conditions get the better of me. I opened up my race much slower than I would have hoped, but my speed and how I felt progressed steadily as the race went on.”
Starting later, he wasn’t able to warm up as much as he would have liked on the small, congested warmup loop, but Green wasn’t sure that had an impact on how he opened his race.
What matters is how he ended it, and he closed out his last lap with the 22nd-fastest time to place 16th for his best result of 2014/2015. It was the second-straight race he shot clean following the men’s relay.
“It’s hard to say exactly why my shooting has been so solid over the last two races, a bit of luck for sure, but I think I’m finally able to commit to a few small changes that I was working on over Christmas and fully trust my current position and mental approach,” Green wrote. “Any day you shoot clean it’s a bonus and I’m glad I was able to capitalize on that today and make it into the Mass Start tomorrow.”
Green was the lone North American male to qualify for the mass start, which kicks off Sunday with the women’s 12.5 k at 12:30 Central European Time (CET) and the men’s 15 k at 15:40 CET (9:40 EST).
He’ll start in bib 29 of 30. “I think I’m still capable of better results and tomorrow will be another good opportunity,” Green wrote.
“Brendan’s result is in line with our expectations,” Biathlon Canada High Performance Director Chris Lindsay said in a press release. “He has a pattern of success later in the season and this is a planned step on the way to peaking at the World Championships in March.”
Two years ago, Gow notched his previous World Cup career best of 29th in Ruhpolding, also in the sprint. While he explained that memory was “definitely in the back of my mind,” he added that he tried to keep it there to avoid distraction on Saturday.
Given the conditions, he knew he was going to need all the focus he could muster.
“I knew that good skiing and shooting could put me into the top 30, and that it was important to be focused on the entire process,” the 24-year-old Gow wrote in an email.
He ended up cleaning both stages to put himself in 31st overall heading out on his last lap, and he tied Green for the 22nd-fastest last-lap time to finish 27th (+1:53.5). He was just 1.8 seconds behind Fourcade in 26th, who had two misses and the 18th-ranked overall course time.
“My main focus for the race was my skiing,” Gow explained. “I don’t always fare well in deeper, slushy snow, so concentrating on achieving the best glide possible was my biggest goal for the race. Of course shooting is also a priority, but it was definitely secondary to my skiing.
“I would have liked to ski a little better and end up in the top 20, but I will have to wait for that result,” he added. “I managed to finish the race with relatively strong last lap which I was very happy with. … This performance was important to me because it is a validation of my training this past summer, and shows that I have the potential to be a more consistent top 30 athlete.”
Lindsay said he was excited to see the depth of the Canadian men’s field starting to show, with Nathan Smith placing 35th (+2:06.9) despite three penalties.
“Three men in the top-40 is a metric that shows our status as a top-eight nation in the world,” Lindsay said. “Now we need to see more consistency, and work on getting all four men in the top-40.”
Gow’s younger brother, Christian, 21, raced through illness to place 81st with a single penalty.
Smith, who started 33rd, wrote in an email that he found the conditions to be fair given the weather.
“For sure the guys who were still out there at the end of the race were at a disadvantage when the newly fallen snow was being skied in less and less,” he wrote.
At the end of the day, he wasn’t sure what went wrong with his shooting, especially with two prone penalties, but he explained he was “definitely disappointed” with that first stage.
“It’s been feeling so natural and easy. Two misses was a bit of a shock,” he wrote.
Despite dropping to 48th after the second stage, Smith posted the 19th-fastest overall course time to end up 35th, 2:06.9 back from the winner.
“I actually didn’t realize my skiing was quite fast,” Smith wrote. “My end result is pretty good for having three misses. But this is biathlon and you need to have perfect or near perfect shooting to get top results. Today was one of those days where I did 50% of the sport really well.
“I was really hoping to get back into the top-25 overall with a strong result today,” Smith added, which is what he would have needed to guarantee himself a start in Sunday’s mass start. He’s currently 29th in the overall World Cup. “Unfortunately that didn’t happen … I’ll have to wait until Antholz next week to redeem myself.”
Lowell Bailey was the top American in 41st (+2:22), with a single standing penalty, which he referred to as simply a bad shot.
“The conditions were deep and slow,” Bailey, who started 65th, wrote in an email. “It was a tough race and I definitely didn’t feel like I could get everything out of my skis. … There’s only so much you can when it’s changing so frequently. I might have done better by picking a different pair of skis. But there really was no way of knowing. All in all, not my best day. I hoped to be better.”
Tim Burke placed 50th (+2:46.3) with three misses, all in standing, and while Bailey and Burke remain in the overall World Cup top 30 (in 27th and 30th, respectively), they didn’t qualify for the mass start.
“Every day is different on the World Cup,” Bailey wrote. “There are so many variables that come into play; fitness feeling that day, weather, wind, shooting, skis, wax, crowds, etc. Some days are better than others. It’s been a bit up and down lately but I’ve been around this sport long enough to know that you just need to appreciate the good days, and learn what you can when things don’t go perfectly, then move on.”
Also for the U.S., Sean Doherty started last in his first individual World Cup of the season and finished 80th with one miss.
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.