(Note: This article has been updated to include comments from Canadian youth men’s anchor Zachari Bolduc.)
With all but one day of racing completed at World Youth and Junior Championships in Cheile Gradistei, Romania, the youth men’s relay is sure to be a high point for the Canadian biathlon team.
Teo Sanchez (Biathlon Quebec), Adam Runnalls (Calgary Biathlon Racers), and Zachari Bolduc (Biathlon Quebec) were in fourth place until late in the 3 x 7.5 kilometer relay, before Bolduc was ultimate passed by a blazing-fast Sandro Bovisi of Switzerland.
Fifth place, though, was still a solid finish for three first-time World Youth Championships racers. The squad ended the day +3:44.5 behind the wining team from Norway, and their use of just five spare rounds tied them with Russia for the best shooting of the day.
“After last shooting, it was safe to say that they will have a good race,” trip leader and Biathlon Alberta Training Center coach Richard Boruta wrote in an email. “After solid individual performances of Teo and Adam throughout the week, it has been a possibility that they can do well if they hold their shooting together.”
The team did just that. Sanchez, who has been in the top 20 in every individual race so far at the Championships, used one spare in each of his two shooting stages and tagged off in seventh, 56.9 seconds behind the team from Ukraine, which was leading at that point.
“The race was pretty smooth through the start,” Sanchez wrote in an email. “Mass starts are often a mess but this one was clean. I just went for it and ended up right with the top pack coming into the range for the first prone. Everything in this race went pretty well. I think I managed to ski quite well and my shooting was consistent. I only needed to use two spare rounds total.”
Runnalls also used two spares, one in each stage. While he lost time on the leaders – the Norwegians moved into first and built up a huge time cushion they never relinquished – Runnalls was able to move into fourth by the exchange. The gap to third place and the podium was just 30 seconds.
“Teo tagged in 8th position and my focus for the first loop was to post a decent ski time and hold my place,” Runnalls wrote in an email. “My first lap is always slower than the rest and I had a few guys skiing right on my tail. I managed to keep them behind me and come into the range with a good lap time.”
It was just to Bolduc to close things out. He did one better than his two teammates and used a single spare round, in prone, but the team slipped to fifth.
“I just used strategy, the guy from Switzerland was faster than me on the second so I let him go beacuse I wanted to be able to do a good standing shooting,” Bolduc wrote in an email. “I pefered to let him go and to clean because in the other case I know that I had had a bad standing shooting. During all my race I just tried to say calm even [when] I was in 4th place.”
He left the range in fourth for the last time and lost one spot to Switzerland on his final lap. But it was enough to let them leave Romania happy with what they’d done there.
“I keep my focus and shot clean with no spare!” Bolduc said of his last stage. “I was back in 4th but [Switzerland’s] Bovisi was faster than me and he got on this last lap… I had really wanted to [get] him but I just didin’t have to energy … Anyway 5th is a strong performance at youth world junior even more if we consider that it was a fisrt international competiton for all of our team!”
“The team felt really really good about the fifth place,” Runnals wrote. “It definitely exceed our expectations. We held our own against the international field and showed that not only are we strong as individuals but we are even stronger as a team. I will take a lot away from this experience, things from race tatics to the way I see home. I had never been to Europe before and also never raced at an international level. I think that both of these new experiences have taught me tons and I will never forget them.”
That’s what Boruta was hoping for, because the trio will have more shots at Championships racing at the youth or junior level in coming years.
“I’m pleased with the consistent Youth Men performance, there is some good base there and a hope for the future,” Boruta explained. “Often times, you can tell even in this age whether or not those athletes can make it far when they become older. I have been working with Teo this spring and summer and I think he is confirming here what he is capable of. I know Adam has been quite a fast skier even last year and if he can control his shooting (as he did today in relay), there could be a bright future for him as well.”
The Norwegians ultimately won by 39.1 seconds over Russia, with the Italian team finishing third, +2:06.9.
The American team of Cody Johnson (Maine Winter Sports Center), Vaclav Cervenka (Mount Itasca), and Peter Carroll (Auburn Ski Club) finished 15th, undone by trouble on the range. The trio combined for eleven spare rounds and four penalty loops, all skied by Carroll, and finished 7:59.1 behind Norway.
In the youth women’s 3 x 6 k relay, Poland was leading until the final leg, where Joanna Jakiela used two spares in prone and then skied two penalty loops in standing, dropping her team off the podium.
Instead it was Russia who charged from third place to gold on the final leg, with the Czech Republic taking second and Norway third.
The Canadian team of Emily Dickson, Nadia Moser, and Megan Bankes (all from the Biathlon Alberta Training Center) finished tenth, +3:51.2, with 14 spare rounds and two penalty loops (both by Bankes).
“I have been also positively surprised with Nadia Moser, who is completely new to this environment, but adjusting quickly,” Boruta wrote. “I am pretty sure we will here more about these girls in next few years. Megan has been skiing here very well. Unfortunately, she is reverting on the shooting range to some of her old habits and not able to perform at the level where she was this fall. It is often the case with young athletes, I would like to think that next year she will come back much stronger.”
The United States team of Chloe Levins (Mountain Top Nordic), Amanda Kautzer (Loppet Nordic Racing), and Ariana Woods (Bridger Biathlon) was a few minutes behind in 16th, +8:27.3, with eleven spare rounds and five penalty loops.
Racing concludes on Tuesday with junior men’s and women’s relays.
“The team was overall working very well together, we didn’t have any real issues with anybody,” wrote Boruta. “I think we did have some of the best skis here for the whole week, special recognition should go to our service team Andy Lesnik, Andrew Chisholm and Martyna Galewicz. Also Rachel Koroscil has done very good job and was helping to keep things running smoothly.”
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.