Leif Nordgren didn’t have the best start to 2015. He was so sick that he had to delay his travel from the United States back to the World Cup circuit in January, missing the Oberhof race weekend completely and joining the U.S. biathlon team in Ruhpolding.
There, he competed in the relay to help his team out, but didn’t feel great. He sat out the next competition, a sprint. From Ruhpolding it was to Antholz, Italy, where Nordgren still didn’t feel thrilled with his performance. While the rest of the team took a break from the World Cup and traveled to Inzell, Germany, for a training block, Nordgren had another idea for how he could get his mojo back.
“I floated the idea to my coaches just to get in more racing before I pick the World Cup back up,” he said in an interview from Otepää, Estonia, where he has been competing at Open European Championships. “It’s one thing to go to [Inzell] to train with the team but I wasn’t sure that the conditions were going to be like there and it’s nice to be racing in the winter. They liked the idea of me coming here. There wasn’t pressure or anything to perform here, it was just to get back into the swing of things.”
After a disappointing sprint where he missed three shots and finished 51st, but still led the U.S. team, Nordgren made a plan for Sunday’s pursuit competition: shoot well and move up. He executed and jumped all the way up to 19th place after 20 shots and 12.5 k of skiing.
It has been windy in Otepää all week, and Nordgren knew that if he could hit targets, he could pass his competitors.
“I had a plan just to shoot pretty slow and shoot as secure as possible and get as many hits as possible,” he explained. “That worked out in prone. I had 10 for 10 in prone and I moved up a lot just in those two stages.”
That moved Nordgren up to 19th. After three misses total in the standing stages, he dropped to the mid-20’s, but climbed back up again by the finish.
“A couple of the misses in standing were just little gusts of wind that happened to hit me right as I took the shot,” he said. “It blew me right off target, so I was bummed about those. But yeah, I’m happy with the shooting. That’s what made the difference because it was such a nasty day.”
Besides the wind, it had snowed until about noon at the venue; the women’s races in the morning had to deal with snow, but Nordgren said that the tracks were surprisingly firm by the time he was racing at 1 p.m.
Only one man moved up more than Nordgren: Tomas Hasilla of Slovakia, who had just two penalties and moved from 59th up to 15th. Nordren lost only 50 seconds on race winner Alexey Slepov of Russia, who started in bib number one and cruised his way through to a 44-second victory over Krasimir Anev of Bulgaria.
Both have been in the World Cup points multiple times this year. Open European Championships used to be limited to competitors under the age of 26, but at the International Biathlon Union Congress this summer it was voted to remove the age restriction. Coupled with the fact that the World Cup is currently on break, it made for a competitive field; other World Cup top ten finishers like Andrejs Rastorgujevs of Latvia and Christoph Stephan and Florian Graf of Germany were also competing.
For Nordgren, who will soon rejoin the World Cup team in Nove Mesto, Czech Republic, where competitions start on Friday, it’s just a relief to be back on track. Earlier in the week, he hadn’t been so sure. He was forced to drop out of the individual race.
“I had this nasty cough that I got on Sunday that was hanging around all week and that’s what made me pull out of the individual on Thursday,” he said. “I was coughing up a lung in the middle of it. It went away a little before Saturday and today was a little bit better. I was still coughing a little bit today but overall I think I’m getting better and better.”
Nordgren is aiming for World Championships, and is getting closer to the form he wants to see there.
“I was sick for a solid two weeks, and two weeks away from shooting can make a big impact,” he said. “I wasn’t really happy with the races in Ruhpolding or Antholz really. Finally this weekend getting back into the swing of things with shooting, is a good sign of the next couple weeks to come. I think the skiing is coming around too. It will be fun racing the next couple World Cups when I’ll be in a good place in skiing and shooting.
Other North American Results
In the men’s 12.5 k pursuit (results), Nordgren was the only member of the U.S. team to qualify based on the sprint. Macx Davies led Canada in 27th place, after starting 28th and racking up seven penalties. Scott Perras started and finished 48th, accruing eight penalties.
“At this point in my career there is still room for firsts. Crashed in the penalty loop today,” Perras, a 2014 Olympian, tweeted after the race.
In the junior men’s 12.5 k pursuit (results), Canada’s Matt Hudec went from 34th up to 25th with four penalties. Teammate Arthur Roots climbed from 55th to 45th despite eight penalties. Brian Halligan, the lone American, had five penalties and rose from 58th to 49th.
In the women’s 10 k pursuit (results), Emma Lunder moved from 33rd to 28th. The Canadian had seven penalties, but shooting was poor across the field (21st-place Galina Nechkasova of Russia had ten penalties) and Lunder’s ski times kept her competitive. She finished 5:28.5 behind winner Ekaterina Shumilova of Russia.
In the junior women’s 10 k pursuit (results), Canada’s Leilani Tam Von Burg slipped from 17th to 23rd with six penalties. Teammate Emily Dickson moved up one spot from 32nd to 31st. The pair were 6 ½ and 9 minutes, respectively, behind winner Anastasiya Merkushina of Ukraine.
The United States qualified three junior women into the race: Mikaela Paluszek, who moved from 56th up to 45th with eight penalties; Siena Ellingson, who suffered through 13 penalties to place 13th; and Maddie Phaneuf, who opted not to start.
Racing at the Championships concludes with relays at the beginning of the week.
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.