In an unusually tight race – the top 20 were within 25 seconds after two shootings, the top 15 within 22 seconds after three shootings, and the top 13 within 30 seconds after the final bout – Simon Schempp of Germany pulled out a win for the hometown crowd in Ruhpolding in the 15 k mass start on Sunday.
It came by the narrowest of margins: in a photo finish, Schempp snuck the toe of his boot past Quentin Fillon-Maillet of France, whose body was clearly ahead of the German’s. Along with the Michal Slesingr of the Czech Republic, the first three finishers were separated by less than a tenth of a second.
On the results sheet, they all have a time of 0.0.
And they didn’t have much breathing room, either: Emil Hegle Svendsen and Ole Einar Bjørndalen of Norway were 2.0 and 2.6 seconds back in fourth and fifth, and Anton Shipulin of Russia, Jean Guillaume Beatrix of France, Simon Eder of Austria, and Arnd Peiffer of Germany weren’t far behind. That put the top nine finishers all within 9.1 seconds.
Schempp looked relieved and confident when he cleaned his targets on the final prone stage. But he had work ahead of him.
“It was a really tough last loop,” Schempp said in a press conference. “We were five or six men together, and Quentin did a great job. We had a lot of speed.”
The top six fought furiously into the final two hundred meters; but there were only three finishing lanes. The Norwegians were cut off and Svendsen appeared visibly frustrated to be denied a lane towards the win. Instead, it was Schempp who timed his lunge perfectly over the less-experienced, 21-year-old Frenchman.
“It was really hard and I gave all I had,” said Schempp, who crashed after crossing the finish line. “It’s crazy to win here in Ruhpolding.”
He didn’t know it at the time though. The timing company reported that it was eight centimeters which separated Schempp from Fillon-Maillet; they waited and carefully measured before making the announcement.
It was the third win of Schempp’s career, and helped him jump up to the third-ranked spot in the World Cup overall score. It was a fitting end to a weekend of racing at a notoriously fan-crazy venue, the center of biathlon in Western Germany – and where Schempp lives and trains.
It was a race full of other interesting tidbits, too. Jakov Fak of Slovenia was leading on the third loop of racing, when he crashed on one of the course’s downhill corners; Johannes Thingnes Bø of Norway was skiing so close behind him that he tripped and fell, superman-style, into the snow (you can see a clip of the crash here). After two ski changes, Bø managed to hit all 20 targets and finish 10th. He is being monitored for a concussion.
…. Like Watching A Ski Wreck? (story continues below)
Both had abrasions to their faces. Fak, who also had to get new skis at least twice, finished 24th. There are plenty of crashes in nordic racing, but this one was particularly brutal.
“The problem was that it was flat light, so you can not see if there is ice or snow,” Bjørndalen told NRK news of the downhill that claimed the pair. “You must be freaking awake.”
Also left frustrated today? World Cup leader Martin Fourcade of France had pulled up early in Saturday’s sprint – sandbagging the final loop deliberately in order to save energy for the mass start. But it didn’t work out. After leading aggressively in the first loop, he finished 21st with four penalties.
“A weekend to forget like happens from time to time,” he posted on his twitter account, according to a translation.
One man who stayed completely out of trouble? Canada’s Brendan Green. After a 16th-place finish in Saturday’s sprint, Green placed 18th in the mass start, finishing 57 seconds behind Schempp. He also shot perfectly, bringing his tally to a stunning 40-for-40 over the course of the three-race weekend.
“It’s definitely the first weekend that I’ve hit all my targets,” Green said in a phone interview. “So that’s pretty sweet.”
Green said that Ruhpolding has “notoriously good shooting” because the wind is often quiet. But looking at a results sheet shows that the range conditions didn’t help anyone else achieve what Green did.
“There were a few things I was working on over Christmas to try to get a little bit more dialed in,” he explained. “So far I feel like I’ve been able to apply that process to the racing. And this week the body has felt really solid. Nothing has felt too out of control. It’s really positive and hopefully I can do that a few more times throughout the season.”
The pair of results are in Green’s ten best ever, which he said was a relief after less-than-exciting results earlier in the season.
“It has definitely been a bit of a slow and frustrating start to the season, especially with the first trimester,” Green said. “So finally to have some better results is definitely a nice feeling and motivating for sure.”
The lone American competitor, Lowell Bailey, finished 28th (+2:25.1) with three penalties.
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.