What was the value of perfect shooting in Ruhpolding today?
In the 20 k individual, only Ondrej Moravec of the Czech Republic and Maxim Tsvetkov of Russia shot clean over all four stages. But it got them only fourth and fifth place, respectively – a wooden medal for Moravec.
He was happy to clean the fourth four-stage race of his career, podium or no.
“I think my wife is impressed with this,” he told Biathlonworld.
For French star Martin Fourcade, it was the opposite: one penalty, coming in the third stage, but he took home the win by 17.5 seconds over Simon Eder of Austria. By not shooting clean, he missed another prize.
“I said if I shot clean, I would shave my beard,” Fourcade said in an IBU video interview after the press conference. “I’m sad because today it wasn’t so far off. Like in the mass start, it was just one. Maybe I have to say that if I shoot more than 90% I can shave.”
Joking aside, it was a big day for Fourcade, who won his fifth World Cup this season to extend his Total Score lead. It was also the 44th win of his career (including Olympic Games), tying him with French legend Raphael Poirée.
(That still leaves him 50 wins behind Ole Einar Bjørndlen of Norway, who placed 44th today with an uncharacteristic four penalties.)
The weather played a large role in the race, with snow falling heavily for the early starters and creating near-whiteout conditions. It also softened up the trails, making it difficult to overtake slower competitors in some sections.
“It was snowing really hard for the early starters, and then it tapered off towards the middle of the race,” said U.S. biathlete Lowell Bailey, who started in bib 25. “I think you saw in the results that the higher bib numbers generally had better conditions… It was challenging. You always hope to be on the good side of the luck curve, but that’s what we sign up for.”
And Fourcade had one of those higher bibs – 42. Anton Shipulin of Russia was the early leader, but was bumped down first by Eder and then by Fourcade. He ended up third (+28.9).
“Anton didn’t have luck,” Fourcade told French newspaper L’Equipe. “If he had gone out with my bib, we would have had a much tighter race…. on the first two loops, I had the same conditions as other athletes who had started before me. On the third loop I could tell the track was getting faster, and I knew that behind me there were athletes like Johannes Bø [of Norway] who would benefit.”
Bø was a threat until the last shooting stage, where he missed three shots. He eventually finished 16th.
That left Eder in second place. He could have taken the win – as he did in the pursuit last weekend – but missed one shot in the final stage.
“The last shooting was a test for my nerves, because I got information about my position on the loop, so I knew what was at stake,” Eder told Austrian broadcaster ORD. “Of course I’m annoyed by the miss, but the wind [situation] was not so easy. I am super happy about the podium.”
Bailey 14th, Masters the Fourth Stage
Bailey had finished last weekend’s stage in Ruhpolding on a sour note, missing two shots in the final stage of the mass start to drop from the top ten down to 16th.
“I was pretty bummed with the last stage of the mass start on Sunday,” he said. “I felt like it wasn’t what I had trained to do. It wasn’t the level of shooting that I’ve worked in the training season to get to. So I was bummed, especially since in the last two mass starts I’d had those chances and kind of let them get away.”
Today, he was determine to get that final stage back.
“One of the biggest problems – it’s a very common problem in any shooting sport or any sport where you can get distracted easily – is just that,” he said. “It’s getting distracted and getting away from your game plan.”
Bailey had one missed shot in his first prone stage, but he didn’t let it get to him. At that point the snow was blowing hard, and he knew that few other men would have a perfect day.
As the race went on, he cleaned the second stage, then the third.
And on the fourth? He cleaned that one too.
“When I left the range, I definitely felt like ‘okay, that was more like it’,” he said.
That left him in 14th overall, two minutes and 47 seconds behind Fourcade.
Bailey is shooting for his best performances in the North American period of Worl Cups, in Fort Kent, Maine, and Canmore, Alberta – and of course at World Championships in Oslo in March.
But he’s also working on process goals and to have as many “quality races” as he can. The fourth stage was an example of that.
“That was my main focus, and to be honest it’s something I’ve been working on for years,” he explained. “I think every biathlete finds the final stage of a race to be the most difficult. So it’s not like I just took a couple of days and worked on it. But I really made a conscious effort to analyze what happened and try to really focus today on the internal things rather than the external feedback. In shooting your external feedback is what’s going on on the target, if you’re hitting, if you’re missing. A lot of times that can affect and distract you versus if you just think about executing the actual actions that go into good shooting.”
He also knows not to rest on his laurels: there are plenty more long races where he is going to have to focus and fight.
“I’ve been around long enough to know that there’s pretty much nothing in biathlon that gets nailed down and you can say, okay, that’s taken care of,” Bailey laughed. “It’s constantly changing, and you have good days and bad days, and you definitely – the second you turn around and say ‘okay, I’ve got this handled’, usually that means you don’t have it handled.”
Teammate Leif Nordgren, recently moved back up to the World Cup after a brief stint on the IBU Cup, was a late starter and was skiing in the top 15. But the fourth stage got the better of him. The U.S. Biathlon twitter feed reported that both were split bullets, making it even more frustrating.
Along with his two other teammates, Nordgren finished the day with three penalties. He landed 27th (+3:32.8), closely followed by Tim Burke in 30th (+3:45.2). Sean Doherty rounded out the U.S. finishers in 75th (+7:03.4).
Green Leads Canada in 18th
Brendan Green led the Canadian team in 18th place (+3:11.0) with two penalties. It was his first race back after the holiday break, and the best result of his season so far.
“It definitely feels good to be back into the top 20,” Green wrote in an email. “Hopefully this is a turning point in my season and more good results will follow. It was a challenging race today with difficult ski conditions, but I was able to just put my head down so to speak and tough it out. I am happy with my performance on the range, especially with how I was able to focus and execute on my last bout of shooting.”
He was laid low by injuries over the break, but seems to be back to full power.
“Initially it was planned that I would race last week as well, but some ongoing back problems forced me to cancel my flight last minute and spend the following week in Canmore focusing on rehab,” he explained. “It was a disappointing way for me to start the New Year, but considering that at this time last week I couldn’t bend over to touch my knees, I’m happy with today. I’m optimistic to see what the next weeks bring and I’m looking forward to the rest of the season.”
Christian Gow was the next Canadian in 46th (+4:32.0, one penalty), followed by Nathan Smith in 51st (+4:44.5) and Macx Davies in 52nd (+4:46.3) with three and two penalties, respectively. Scott Gow finished 100th with eight penalties (+11:27.0).
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.