For many teams, the first international races in mid-December are how World Cup rosters are decided. And that means they matter a great deal to athletes like Alexander Os.
A 2010 Olympian with seven individual World Cup podiums to his name, Os is now 35 years old. The Norwegian federation has made clear that they only want one old man on their national team, and that’s Ole Einar Bjørndalen, the “King of Biathlon.” Os has been named to World Cup teams every year, but he’s no longer on the national team.
So along with Michael Rösch, a German who transferred to Belgium, Os made a new team. It’s called Team Feskslo, or fish guts.
And just like last year, Os came to the season opening races in Sjusjøen looking to perform.
He didn’t win the sprint on Saturday as he had in 2014, but Os came very close to winning Sunday’s 15 k mass start competition. After leading the whole race, he missed two shots in the final shooting stage. That left him still at the front, but right with Germany’s Simon Schempp – the man who had won the sprint.
“Nice conclusion today,” Schempp tweeted after the competition.
He bested Os by 5.8 seconds, while Norway’s Tarjei Bø made a hard charge on the final loop to ski up to third, +8.8. It was an impressive performance despite six penalties; both Schempp and Os had three.
“He was a super talent, so he trouble a couple of seasons around 2010/2011 because of overtraining,” Bø told VG of Schempp. “Over the past year, he has had an incredible progress. Simon is one of the few complete biathletes, who is good to shoot and little lacking when it comes to skiing. He goes like a Norwegian, very easy on the skis… It is good that there are some foreigners here, because if it had only been Norwegians here we would not have received the ‘reality check’ we deserved to get.”
Bø said he felt great on his skis – he had the fastest ski time by 36 seconds over Germany’s Benedikt Doll – and wants to beat Schempp once the season begins.
“He says that, but I saw him in the rearview mirror,” Schempp laughed to VG, before sobering up. “These were just the first races of this season. Next week is the World Cup and it is more important for most people here.”
France’s Jean Guillaume Beatrix placed fourth, +17.6, and Germany’s Arnd Peiffer fifth, +19.5.
And as for the King of Biathlon, Bjørndalen returned to the scene after two months of illness this autumn. He placed 11th, +54.4 with five penalties and the sixth-fastest ski time.
“The shooting was all too bad,” he told Norwegian broadcaster NRK after the race. “But really an okay start. We will make it better eventually.”
Most of the American team was training rather than racing, but Leif Nordgren finished 19th with six penalties.
“For the shooting, it was quite windy again today,” Nordgren wrote in an email. “That made the shooting pretty tricky. I was happy with how the prone shooting went- it didn’t feel like it was only the second race. Standing was a little more rough, a lot of guys struggled with the standing today. I was disappointed for sure since it was such a good opportunity against tough competition, but considering the conditions, I’ll get over it quick!”
In the women’s race, Juliya Dzhyma of Ukraine used a clean five-shot sequence in the final standing stage to win the 12.5 k mass start over Franziska Preuss of Germany and Tiril Eckhoff of Norway, each of whom had one penalty; Marie Dorin Habert of France had been leading, but picked up two penalties.
That allowed Dzhyma to leapfrog from sixth place to an 11.6-second margin over Preuss. Eckhoff was another 5.3 seconds behind.
“On shooting the wind was blowing in the same direction, rather strongly, not always, but in gusts,” Dzhyma told xsport.ua after the race, according to a translation. “That means it’s luck – if you come when there’s the steady wind, you can adjust. If it’s a gust – it’s hard. The first standing, for example, I was not lucky – there were gusts and I went to two [penalty] loops. And then at the second [standing] was the opposite, it was lucky – the wind was steady and I worked cleanly.”
Indeed, there were many penalties throughout the field; four for Dzhyma and Preuss, and seven for Eckhoff.
“Today it was a real challenge on the shooting range,” Eckhoff told VG. “I misjudged it a little bit. I need to practice a bit in the wind.”
While Eckhoff and Preuss, both young, have established themselves as among the leaders of their teams with strong results last season, Dzhyma might be heading in that direction too. She has three World Cup podiums so far, but is yet to take a win.
“Of course, I want to run every race like it went today,” the 25-year-old said. “Let’s see how it goes. This season with our new coach very seriously changed and diversified the training, a change of emphasis. New emotions, new motivation. Work was fun and [we had] a good mood.”
Canada’s Megan Tandy placed 40th (+4:34.7) with seven penalties, three of which came in the first stage and knocked her to the back of the pack.
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.