As much as Tarjei Bø wanted to win one for the home team in Sjujøen today, the Norwegian biathlete knew when he missed his second shot that it wasn’t going to be.
“You do not deserve to win with two penalties,” he told Norway’s NRK broadcaster. “That hasn’t happened in the last two years I think. It’s good that someone could beat me.”
Simon Schempp of Germany had no such problem in the 10 k sprint. With just one missed shot, he beat Bø by 13.7 seconds to take the win in the first major biathlon competition of the 2015-2016 season.
“It was fantastic to win in the first competition,” Schempp told NRK. “I’ve felt good in training all year, and this confirms that my shape might last.”
Schempp broke through last season, winning three different World Cup races and landing fourth in the Total Score.
“It’s wonderful when the season starts like this,” Schempp tweeted after the race.
Simon Fourcade of France placed third, +32.3 with a single penalty. He landed just four seconds ahead of his younger brother Martin, who had three penalties and tried to charge hard for the podium after errors in standing shooting.
He made up ground, but not enough.
“Not so bad result with not so good feelings… Hope for better next week,” Simon Fourcade wrote on his Facebook page.
Much of the pressure was on the home team, which is preparing to host World Championships in Oslo in March.
Besides Bø’s second place finish, the team seemed shaky. Younger brother Johannes Thinges Bø had three penalties to place sixth.
“It was a little bit of nerves kicking in,” the several-time World Cup winner told NRK, according to a translation. “It was shitty shooting at the moment. But it will be an exciting season and it’s good to have started.”
On the other hand, the older Bø brother asked, well what did you expect?
“It was not Johannes who I feared most today,” Tarjei Bø told VG. “He is not the best in the wind. He has been okay in tailwind for several years, but with crosswind he is not so good.”
Several other Norwegians were in the top 20, but most were not the national team atheltes. Henrik L’Abee Lund placed 18th with three penalties, and Alexander Os, a successful Championships competitor who has lately been left off the national team and has started his own training group, finished 20th.
Stars Ole Einar Bjørndalen and Emil Hegle Svendsen didn’t start today’s race.
All of that might be worrying for the host country. But Tarjei Bø is confident.
“I want to be good all winter,” he told NRK. “I think I might be the type to be good from start to finish.”
Four Americans competed, and all finished in the top 30. Tim Burke led the pack in 13th with two penalties, +1:25.7.
“This was my fourth session on skis and my first speed on snow, so I was definitely not expecting to feel great,” he wrote in an email. “I felt very flat for the entire race, considering this, I was pleasantly surprised with the result. Everyone comes into these races with very different goals. Some are trying to qualify for World Cup teams and others are coming in under a big training load. With all of these variables, I don’t read too much into the results.”
That’s to be expected, said Women’s National Team Coach Jonne Kähkönen.
“In general, I would say most of the struggle was mainly because of the travel overseas (arrival on Tuesday pm) and due to that not quite adjusted,” he explained in an email, speaking of both the women’s and men’s teams. “At the same time; this was what I expected and wanted to do to speed things up in terms of adjustment.”
This is the first season that the U.S. team has competed in these races. Previously, the team would travel directly to Östersund, Sweden, to train in advance of the World Cup beginning there.
Burke appreciated the chance to get an extra race start in and feels that he’s working towards good race shape.
“This training season was a little up and down for me with a few different sicknesses,” he wrote. “I feel like I did not really start to get on track until the end of October. I’ve had some great training days in the past month and then some days where I feel pretty flat like today. I’m hopeful that I will be more consistent now when I start backing off the hours and get a few more races under the belt.”
Close behind on the results sheet were Leif Nordgren in 19th (+1:33.1, 2 penalties), Lowell Bailey in 25th (+1:41.9, 3 penalties), and Sean Doherty in 29th (+1:47.6, 2 penalties).
“It’s always nice to get the first race of the year in the books, and it’s an even better feeling when it does fairly well,” Nordgren wrote in an email. “I feel like in the past season I’ve started off much to slow, yes, my goal this year was to start as close to where last season ended as possible. I’m not at that point today, but I’m not so far off like I’ve been in the last few years, and with a few more races under my belt, hopefully it’ll pick up fast.”
Like Burke, he said it was unusual to go through the process of getting used to racing while also getting used to being on snow.
“I could tell it was the first race of the year today, I definitely felt a little off balance, and it was a little weird to be on fast skis!!” he wrote. “The conditions here in Sjusjøen are near perfect though, almost like mid winter conditions, its getting quite cold at night and there is plenty of snow!”
Of the four, only Nordgren is planning to compete in Sunday’s mass start, while the rest of the team will be training.
“I just feel like racing is something that helps me get into good form,” Nordgren wrote of his decision to buck the team trend. “This is a good opportunity to get a really high quality race in, so why not race!”
The success of all four in the first test of the season was taken as a good sign for the men’s team.
“Sean has definitely taken a good step forward already in the training season and today was a good confirmation on it,” Kähkönen wrote of Doherty’s top-30 debut. “Looking forward to seeing what he can do this year.”
With two half-seasons of World Cup racing under his belt, Doherty – who still has one year of junior eligibility left – has already been a calm presence in team events.
“Today was definitely a solid team performance,” Burke wrote. “Our entire men’s team is at a very high level and we are all very excited to see what we can do in the relay.”
This is too good not to include: also in the race was fun-loving Swedish cross-country skier Robin Bryntesson, who missed nine of his ten shots and finished last. That prompted retired star biathlete and fellow jokester Carl Johan Bergman to basically ask if the results sheet was upside down:
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.