Brendan Green couldn’t put his finger on it after the men’s 10-kilometer sprint in Antholz, Italy, but whatever it was, he was hoping it kept up.
The 28-year-old Canadian rolled to his fourth-straight flawless IBU World Cup race on Thursday — flawless in the sense that he didn’t miss a single shot, and perhaps the most perfect of all four given that he achieved a career-best fifth place in doing so.
“I’ve always loved racing here in Antholz and it is definitely my favourite stop on tour,” Green wrote in an email. “It’s hard to say exactly why I’ve been able to find success here. It’s a fun venue to race, the atmosphere and fans are awesome, the weather is almost always perfect, and the course is one that maybe plays a little more into my strengths.”
Just over a year ago, Green recorded his previous career-best World Cup result of eighth in the Antholz sprint. On Thursday, he broke an IBU record for the longest clean-shooting streak of any man on the circuit in the last two years, according to RealBiathlon.
As of last Sunday, Green was the first biathlete to clean a three-race weekend in 2014/2015, closing out the races in Ruhpolding, Germany, in 18th in the mass start.
And on Thursday, he became the first male in the last two seasons to notch 50-for-50 shooting, matching Belarusian female biathlete Nadezhda Skardino, who did so in Ruhpolding last season.
“It’s been awesome to have had such success with my shooting since Christmas,” wrote Green, who hasn’t missed a target in a race so far this second World Cup trimester. He returned to the circuit in Ruhpolding, starting with a relay on Jan. 15.
“After the first trimester of racing I came home with some specific changes in mind that I needed to address before I continued back on the World Cup circuit,” he explained. “No major changes or revelations, but I did make a few small positional adjustments and then from there fine tuned a few areas in my approach to shooting. So far it seems to be working and I really hope that I can continue on in the season with strong shooting.”
But no pressure.
“At the moment I’m trying not to overthink it too much and focus more on each race day to day,” he added.
With his fifth-place result, Green will start Saturday’s 12.5 k pursuit in fifth, 24 seconds behind sprint winner Simon Schempp of Germany. On Thursday, the Canadian finished 24.4 seconds behind Schempp and 3.5 seconds off the podium.
Schempp, who tied Italy’s Lukas Hofer for first in last season’s Antholz sprint, won it outright on Thursday in 23:18.8, 14 seconds ahead of Russia’s Evgeniy Garanichev. It was the German’s second-straight victory and fourth ever since he won the Ruhpolding mass start four days earlier.
Schempp cleaned his third-straight race with the second-fastest course time. Switzerland’s Benjamin Weger was fastest on course in the three-lap race, but missed one prone target to place fourth, 30.9 seconds behind Schempp and 0.8 seconds off the podium (behind Slovenia’s Jakov Fak in third).
“This is crazy. The last three races were really good for me,” Schempp told the IBU. “I think I made good progress in my training over Christmas. I am really happy about January.”
Green’s overall course time ranked ninth and his range time was 31st-fastest among 102 finishers. The 42nd starter, Garanichev cleaned with the third-fastest range time and skied to second with the sixth-fastest course time — coming closer than anyone but still 14 whole seconds away from Schempp, who started in bib 29 ahead of him.
Fak started 48th, and with the fourth-fastest ski time and sixth-ranked range time, the Slovenian was headed for first with one shooting stage and one lap to go, but missed his final shot (his lone penalty of the day) to finish 20.1 seconds behind Schempp.
“The pressure on the trigger was not quite right and I missed by a small amount,” Fak told the IBU. “I was shooting really well in zeroing — no misses. That probably gave me too much confidence. It is better to miss a few and then you work harder to make sure you hit in the race.”
However, for Green, who started 53rd and jumped from 15th after prone to fifth after standing, it was about keeping his momentum going.
“Brendan always seems to get into race shape in skiing and shooting after Christmas, it takes him a while to gain the right pacing and shooting confidence in race intensity,” Biathlon Canada Head Coach Matthias Ahrens wrote in an email.
“We worked a little bit on his zeroing pending on what type of race related to how the pace is being pushed, i.e. individual compared to sprint, mass start, relay, etc.,” Ahrens explained. “Historically he also has quite good races in Antholz with fast ski times, maybe it is the combination of the altitude with the course profile which suits him.”
Green compared it to his training base in Canmore, Alberta, in terms of “weather, snow, and terrain,” he wrote. “I’m sure training and living at 1400 meters [4,600 feet] in Canmore would also be another factor. The fact that I have had some of my better results here, like my sprint race last year is definitely a motivator as well.”
He also had his parents to race for and in front of, after they traveled three days from the Northwest Territories to watch him race for the weekend. They arrived in Antholz on Wednesday night.
“I think the most special part of today was having my parents in the crowd,” Green wrote. “They’ve dedicated so much time and energy towards my career and for them to see in person what I spend my winters doing and experience the World Cup atmosphere was awesome for them. It was really special to be able to share my result today with them and I think that’s what I’ll remember most from today — seeing my parents smiling and waving a flag from the grande stand during the prize ceremony.”
From the start, Green knew his skiing already felt stronger than last week. And after his first shooting stage, he realized he was on track for a top result if he stayed on the same unblemished path.
“I tried not to take any risks shooting and focus more on a steady and consistent race,” he wrote. “I think if I can race in control with a process that I know I can trust, that will be the key factor to good results for me.”
Leaving standing with 10-for-10 shooting behind him, he looked up at the big screen to see his split time: fifth. From there, the Canadian staff gave him splits on the final lap.
“I did all I could on my last lap, I knew it was tight and that the podium was close, there really wasn’t too much else going through my mind,” Green wrote.
When he finished, he looked up again, confirmed he had held onto fifth and turned his attention to the stands. Still standing at a time when most other racers collapse to catch their breath, he raised one arm to celebrate.
“Today was a great result for me,” he wrote. “I’m sure I’ll think about those 4 seconds to the podium eventually, but for now I’m especially happy with the race I executed and the end result.”
According to a tweet from Biathlon Canada, Green will receive “clean shooting pins” for his last several performances.
Former US Biathlon racer Sara Studebaker explained in an email that the national-team coaches used to reward her teammates for clean-shooting races with “Fika” — coffee and pastries.
“It really is pretty cool that Brendan cleaned the whole weekend! If that had been me, I probably would have celebrated with a couple glasses of wine with my team,” Studebaker wrote after his Ruhpolding performance. “But at the same time, it’s your job to shoot well … so you can’t go too crazy. It’s awesome, but also kind of like, ‘yeah, that’s what I’m SUPPOSED to do.’ ”
“ I probably would have celebrated with a couple glasses of wine. … It’s awesome, but also kind of like, ‘yeah, that’s what I’m SUPPOSED to do.’ ” — former US Biathlon member Sara Studebaker on clean shooting
Biathlon Canada High Performance Director Chris Lindsay noted that Green’s progression and shooting success has been in line with the team’s expectations.
“Brendan has consistently been a very strong shooter for a number of seasons,” Lindsay wrote in an email. “The change in the past two years following his [back] injury has been that the ski speed has improved. I think that the work that our physiologists, physiotherapists, and strength coaches did to rebuild his fundamental movement skills has been paying off and serves as a lesson for young athletes. You have to get the basic fitness correct before working on the things that will shave the final seconds off your time. It’s a similar philosophy to shooting — hit the targets first, then worry about speeding up.”
Lindsay also pointed out that Green is following a similar pattern to last season, “where December laid the foundation for the success around the Olympics,” he wrote.
But Green explained that he had hoped to start this season stronger than he did.
“It was never really the plan to follow a similar trajectory as seasons past,” he wrote. “I would say almost the opposite, this year I was really hoping to start off the season and first trimester with a bang. I’m not sure why I historically get better as the season progresses but it’s starting to seem more and more like a very difficult trend for me to change.”
With his first-ever appearance in the flower ceremony (top six), Green led three teammates, including Christian Gow, who qualified for Saturday’s pursuit in 52nd (+2:03.9). Scott Gow finished 74th (+2:38.5) with three penalties (2+1), and Nathan Smith ended up 78th (+2:43.3) with four misses (2+2).
Two Americans made the top-60 cutoff for the pursuit as well, with Lowell Bailey placing 32nd (+1:31.2) with a single standing miss, and Tim Burke finishing 48th (+2:02.1) with three penalties (1+2).
Also for the U.S., Sean Doherty placed 63rd (+2:19) with three misses (1+2), and Leif Nordgren missed four for 80th (+2:49.5).
Alex Kochon (firstname.lastname@example.org) 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.