KONTIOLAHTI, Finland — After more than a week of waiting, Simon Schempp could finally enjoy the 2015 IBU World Championships in Kontiolahti, specifically the last two hundred meters of the men’s 4 x 7.5-kilometer relay and everything that came after that.
Schempp, 27, had been given the task of anchoring the German team on Saturday, and after two races in which he failed to medal (including his 77th place in the sprint), it seemed like a tall order.
But Schempp spent much of this season ranked second overall in the IBU World Cup, so he simply needed to restore his confidence back to its pre-World Championships level. He did so in Thursday’s 20 k individual, placing eighth.
“I caught the self confidence for today and was prepared for this relay,” he explained in press conference after Saturday’s relay.
Things were better then — he had secured a 15.4-second victory for his team, matching the gold the German women won in the 4 x 6 k relay the day before.
His teammate Arnd Pfeiffer shot a perfect 10-for-10 on the third leg to tag him in first at the final exchange, 15.3 seconds ahead of Norway. Schempp proceeded to clean prone without any need for spares then used a single spare in standing to leave the range for the last time 15 seconds ahead of Emil Hegle Svendsen in second.
Svendsen also shot clean on his first stage and used a spare in standing to neither make up nor lose ground to Schempp, which he tried to change on the last lap. Meanwhile, French anchor Martin Fourcade went from fifth (behind the Czech Republic and Slovenia) to fourth on his first lap and used one spare to emerge from prone in third, 41.6 seconds out of first and 28.3 seconds from second.
The next time and final time around, Fourcade rattled off five quick shots to clean standing with the second-fastest range time. He remained in third, but within 25.6 seconds of Schempp and 10.6 of Svendsen.
Considering that, Svendsen had to think about defending silver and pressing for gold simultaneously on his last 2.5 k loop.
“I just tried to ski fast and didn’t look much behind,” Svendsen said in the press conference. “I tried to catch Simon, but had no chance.”
After being cheered on by his teammates while leaving the range, Schempp extended his gap to 19 seconds a kilometer into the final lap, then 20.9 seconds less than a kilometer later.
He finished 15.4 seconds ahead of Svendsen, taking the time to enjoy the finishing stretch while carrying the German flag.
“Only the last two-hundred meters I could enjoy because before, I gave all I have,” Schempp said. “I’m really happy and proud to be a part of this team.”
Lesser hit all 10 of his targets without any problems to hand off in third, 6.4 seconds behind Norway’s Ole Einar Bjørndalen, who also cleaned to take the lead, and France’s Simon Fourcade, who cleaned as well to trail in second.
“I think all the team was determined to get a medal today,” Simon Fourcade said in the conference. In the last week, he placed fourth in both the sprint and 20 k individual.
“I know the relay is not only about me; I wanted to do my best on the first leg to give the best position to [my teammates],” he added.
During the second leg, Norway dropped to fifth with three standing spares from Tarjei Bø. Jean-Guillaume Béatrix used one spare in each stage to bring France into first by the second exchange, 0.7 seconds ahead of Italy and 3.1 seconds ahead of Böhm — who used two standing spares to keep Germany in third.
“Today, I felt a lot of tension in our team. Everybody wanted to have this victory,” Böhm recalled. “Watching the two others after me was harder than skiing.”
“I felt a lot of tension in our team. Everybody wanted to have this victory. Watching the two others after me was harder than skiing.” — Daniel Böhm, Germany’s second leg on its gold-medal winning relay
Just over a year ago, the German men took silver in the 2014 Olympic relay behind Russia. They had the same team and same order.
“I was very nervous today, even more nervous before the individual races,” Peiffer said.
He took the lead with a flawless prone, leaving the range 2 seconds ahead of Norway’s Johannes Thingnes Bø, who also cleaned. Bø passed him early in the lap and the two skied together into the range for standing. There, Peiffer cleaned again and Bø used a spare, which made the difference.
“I knew that I was together with Johannes and it was going to be a hard last lap so I tried to save some energy and tried to [have a] good standing shooting,” Peiffer explained.
He left the range 13.3 seconds ahead of Bø, and the Czech Republic’s Michal Slesinger moved into second during that last lap of the third leg, coming within 14 seconds of Peiffer. Bø passed Slesinger back before the exchange, and the Czech tagged in third — one tenth of a second behind Norway.
With Ondrej Moravec skiing the last leg, the Czech Republic slipped to fourth with his three prone spares. Russia’s Anton Shipulin and Austria’s Dominik Landertinger both hit every standing target without any slipups to overtake Moravec before the final lap. The Czech fell to sixth, where he would end up at the finish, behind Russia in fourth and Austria in fifth.
While Germany won in 1:13.49.5 and Norway was 15.4 seconds back in second, Fourcade pushed hard on the last lap aim for silver, but came up 18.2 seconds short in third.
“I was really happy to conclude what the team did,” Fourcade said in the conference. “Jean-Guillaume and Simon [Fourcade] were perfect on the track and on the shooting range. I think we had a bit more pressure, but we are really satisfied with this third place.”
Bailey Surges for Early Lead
American Lowell Bailey thrust himself into the spotlight as the first skier for the U.S., taking the lead 1.8 k in and holding it as he and the 27-team field approached the range for the first time.
Perhaps even more impressive was the fact that Bailey started near the back of the pack in the seventh of nine rows.
While the start was congested from his vantage point, Bailey explained he was able to use his fast skis and an eye for an opening before the first descent to move toward the front. By the first uphill, he found himself around fourth.
“Then I got to the front, and I think [Austria’s Daniel] Mesotitsch was trying to slow things down,” Bailey said. “On the wall, I just figured there’s no real advantage in this range to go in third or fourth. Normally it can be, but in this range, being in first is fine.
“I was just going my own pace and I wasn’t sure where that would end up, but I figured there can’t be any harm in going to the front and staying up there,” he added. “No one wanted to pass and that was fine with me.”
During that prone stage, Bailey cleaned without any spares and left the range in sixth, 3.6 seconds out of first. The following lap, he pushed the pace once again on the “wall,” the course’s biggest climb, to move into second behind Mesotitsch.
Bailey entered the standing stage with the leaders, where he used two spares to clean standing and slipped to ninth, nearly 23 seconds out of first. He went on hand off to teammate Leif Nordgren in seventh, 30.3 seconds back.
“I lost contact with that lead group, but all in all, I was pretty happy with it,” Bailey said of his race. “Using two extras, that’s an extra 20 seconds, but what we want to do today is, if we all can perform at our normal capacity, then I think we can have a solid result. It’s not like all four of us have to shoot the moon. We all have to have good, solid days.”
On a good day, the U.S. would finish with less than eight spares, he said. Even better would be if they ended up with six.
“It’s not like all four of us have to shoot the moon. We all have to have good, solid days.” — Lowell Bailey (US Biathlon)
Despite Nordgren keeping the team in contention, using one spare in each round and tagging Tim Burke in eighth at the second exchange, the Americans ended up with more extras and penalties than they’d hoped.
Burke used one spare in prone then all three in standing before skiing two penalty laps. When Nordgren tagged him in eighth, Burke had been 34.7 seconds out of first. By the time he handed off to anchor Sean Doherty, the U.S. was 2:22 back in 15th.
“Standing, I bobbled the spare a little bit … it was probably an extra second or two,” Nordgren explained of his second leg. “I came back again with one extra and pushed as hard as I could the last loop. In the relay, you just have to do what you can, and hopefully it comes together [for] all four of us.”
Doherty used all three spares during prone, but escaped without a penalty to hold onto 15th. In standing, he hit every target without any extras to move into 14th.
He finished 14th, 3:31.6 behind Germany and 6.5 seconds after Finland in 13th. In all, the Americans had two penalties and 11 spares.
“I stared pretty hard and I paid for it in prone,” Doherty said. “I had a good skiing day today and course is in good shape, so it was fun, but it was tough to be out of the mix a little bit.”
Earlier this season, Doherty, 19, skied the second leg on the U.S. men’s relay, which placed eighth at the World Cup in Antholz, Italy. Before that, he was the third leg on the team that placed 16th at the 2014 Olympics.
In terms of what it felt like to anchor his first World Championships relay, Doherty said he didn’t read too much into the start order.
“It’s a compliment in a way if they think I’m mature enough as an athlete to handle that role well,” he said. “It wasn’t the same pressure as if we were fighting for the medals, but still, I’m not gonna want to miss.”
Christian Gow Gets Up Front, Smith Shoots 10-for-10
Starting Saturday’s race off for Canada, Christian Gow started in the second row in bib 6 and moved into fifth by 1.8 k. Following Bailey, he entered prone in the lead pack, around seventh.
“I thought quite a bit about the start of this race and just the way the course flows,” Gow, 21, explained.
He wanted to avoid the accordion stop-and-go effect of being near the back before short pitches and any crashes on a particularly icy downhill corner.
“I knew I wanted to be right with the top guys,” Gow said. “I knew that was totally possible. I had a blast on that first loop. … It felt so easy to just stay right at the front. That’s an amazing feeling. I know it doesn’t mean much, per say, but to be able to ski with some of my idols and just feel so relaxed, like really feel like I belong in that group, the relays are for sure my favorite for that. It’s such a great experience and so much fun.”
In prone, he used two spares to drop to 24th, 27.5 seconds out of first. He moved back into 23rd heading into the range for standing, before using another extra there and heading into his last lap in 22nd.
“I’m really happy with what I did skiing,” Gow said. “I finally felt strong on skis, but my shooting wasn’t quite there. I think I was pretty nervous coming in just so far up. I don’t think I was quite as settled as I should have been.”
Gow tagged teammate Nathan Smith in 22nd, 1:20 back. Smith proceeded to shoot a perfect 10-for-10 with the fastest shooting and fourth-fastest course times of the second leg to bring the Canadians to 10th.
“It was actually a really good race for me, my second best race here,” said Smith, who earned silver in the sprint last weekend. “I skied pretty relaxed. It was pretty icy, though, so my shins were hurting by the last lap. If I can do a race like today again tomorrow [in the mass start], it will be a really good result.”
In terms of team goals, he said their “middle goal” was a top eight, “really good would have been top six.” At the last World Cup relay in Oslo, Norway, the Canadian men placed fifth with the same lineup. They were seventh at the Olympics with Jean-Phillipe Le Guellec, Scott Perras, Brendan Green, and Smith as the anchor.
“It’s so fast right now that if you have a few spares, it puts you way back, more than normal,” Smith explained of Saturday’s boilerplate conditions.
After he tagged Scott Gow in 10th, 44.8 seconds behind the leaders, Gow used all three spares and had two penalty loops in prone to fall to 19th, 2:11.1 out of first.
“The whole race wasn’t very good,” Scott Gow said. “I felt good going into today, but I was gassed the whole time and then prone was really bad, I have no idea what happened there.”
In standing, he used two more spares but remained in 19th, 3 minutes back, before tagging Green in the same position, 3:48.5 behind.
“[I] was so far back that they only thing I could try to do was to ski hard and try to make up as much time as possible. It couldn’t get any worse so it was worth just going for it,” Scott said.
“We came in fifth in Oslo, we’ve had sixth places, top tens before, so I think the expectation was if everyone pulled their own weight and put in little bit extra in the range, that we could walk away with a top eight and maybe another fifth place would be great,” he added. “It’s a little disappointing to not even be close.”
Receiving the tag 40 seconds behind Sweden, which was 18th, Green said he raced hard for a couple laps to see if he could catch its anchor, Ted Armgren, but he was too far ahead.
Green cleaned prone and used one standing spare to maintain 19th and avoid being lapped, which happened to Poland in 20th as well as seven other teams behind them.
“On the last loop, the techs told me I had a cushion so I was able to relax and kind of coast it home,” Green said after finishing 19th, 5:03.4 behind Germany.
In all, the Canadians had two penalties and nine spares.
“Today definitely didn’t turn out the way were hoping, but the guys tried their best,” Green said. “It happens from time to time. It’s always unfortunate when it’s at World Championships, but you’ve got to roll with the punches, I guess.”
He said his solid-shooting streak was a good indicator for Sunday’s mass start, which he qualified for along with Smith for Canada, and Burke and Bailey for the U.S.
“I’m definitely a little tired. Tomorrow will be the sixth race [here], but I’m definitely excited at the opportunity,” Green said. “Mass starts are always a lot of fun and pretty tense, so looking forward to it.”
- 2015 IBU World Championships
- 4 x 7.5 k relay
- Arnd Peiffer
- Brendan Green
- Christian Gow
- Daniel Böhm
- Emil Hegle Svendsen
- Erik Lesser
- french men's relay
- German men's relay
- Jean Guillaume Beatrix
- Johannes Thingnes Bø
- Kontiolahti IBU World Championships
- Leif Nordgren
- Lowell Bailey
- Martin Fourcade
- Nathan Smith
- norwegian men's relay
- Ole Einar Bjorndalen
- Ondrej Moravec
- Scott Gow
- Sean Doherty
- Simon Schempp
- Tarjei Bo
- Tim Burke
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.