OSLO, Norway—Business as usual? Despite three penalties, Martin Fourcade of France cruised to his third consecutive gold medal of these IBU World Championships, winning the 12.5 kilometer pursuit by 20.1 seconds over Ole Einar Bjørndalen of Norway.
On the final shooting stage, Fourcade missed two shots. The Norwegian crowd cheered; Bjørndalen, their biathlon hero for more than a decade, was skiing into the stadium in second place.
“I am a bit angry about my last shooting,” Fourcade said in the post-race press conference.
But Fourcade’s lead was big enough that he could ski the penalty loop twice and still exit it a second before Bjørndalen came out of the range.
And Bjørndalen had missed a shot of his own, so headed to the penalty loop himself, giving Fourcade a comfortable gap.
That meant Fourcade’s third of the championships after helping the French to a mixed relay gold and then winning the sprint. And it helped him lock down the 2015-2016 overall World Cup title, which he is now mathematically guaranteed to take home.
“I am so satisfied with winning the overall ranking for five years in a row,” Fourcade said. “It’s something I didn’t imagine even in my best dreams.”
The big question was whether Bjørndalen would stay in second, or whether the group behind him would pass him while he was occupied doing his penalty time. But with wind picking up, most athletes had at least a penalty on the final bout, so Bjørndalen was able to easily hold second place.
“For sure I am surprised that I kept the silver also today,” Bjørndalen said in the post-race press conference. “I know that the pursuit is a really hard level. There are so many athletes who have a chance to go on the podium. I did a really strong race.”
These are particularly meaningful medals for 42-year-old Bjørndalen, who has won 42 over the course of his career.
“I was in some different medal ceremonies, and this was one of the best feelings that I have got ever,” he said of the sprint ceremony in downtown Oslo last night. “There was so many fans there and such a great atmosphere. And also the medal ceremony for the girls with Tiril.”
On the day, it was a Norwegian onslaught, with Johannes Thingnes Bø also occupying second place for a time before being undone by penalties; he left on the final loop in third place, trailed by teammate Emil Hegle Svendsen.
Svendsen had moved up from 15th place after the sprint, with only a single penalty to his name. He was able to pass Bø near the end of the race and lock up bronze (+31.2), a strong result after a somewhat disappointing season for the Olympic champion.
“I was not so confident going out of the stadium,” Svendsen said. “Johannes was pushing quite hard. And I know he has been stronger than me in the last months, so I didn’t feel like I had it in my pocket. But on the track I saw that he was tired on top of the hills. So when we came into the stadium I did my best to take advantage of my strong sides and attacked on the shelf there. It was a good sprint for me and a good feeling.”
Bø finished fourth (+38.3). Jakov Fak of Slovenia was fifth (+41.9) and Simon Desthieux of France sixth (+42.9) after each shot a perfect 20-for-20; Fak moved up from bib 39 and Desthieux from bib 12.
Another big mover was Nathan Smith of Canada. After a frustrating sprint race which left him 46th – a far cry from the silver medal he won in the event last year – Smith had a strong shooting day and moved up to 15th with just one missed shot.
It was a big improvement over his shooting from the sprint.
“I tried to just not rush it as much,” Smith explained. “I felt like I shot slower, but I know it was maybe just a few seconds over the race, probably. But just that little bit, just feeling like I’m less careless I guess, not being as risky.”
He started just behind Anton Shipulin of Russia, who moved up even more – with a single penalty, he placed ninth.
“When you are skiing in a group the psychological effect is everyone tends to ski more or less the same speed,” Smith said. “I was kind of glad that Shipulin was starting right in front of me… he was ninth, he probably had one of the best times of the day. The group in front of us kind of, I’d say we gained almost 20 seconds in one lap.”
Smith hopes that this is a beginning of a turnaround for his World Championships luck.
“I knew the potential was there to have a good race,” he said. “I’ve had three really good skis in a row now. So, feeling good with my shape. Just had to shoot. There is a little bit, not the easiest shooting conditions today, but it was pretty good shooting today, I think.”
Also for Canada, Brendan Green finished 33rd (3 penalties, +2:32.9), Scott Gow 49th (six penalties, +4:30.1), and Macx Davies (four penalties, +5:26.8).
Tim Burke was the top American, turning his 14th place sprint into a 17th place pursuit. He had moved into the top ten early in the race with clean prone shootings, and even after a miss in the first standing was still within striking distance of the top ten.
But he was undone by two more misses in the final stage.
“It was another solid race,” he said. “Just disappointed in the last stage. Two penalties is too much there. I felt good. Just probably a little too cautious – you are trying a little bit too hard, throw you off your rhythm. The [conditions] looked really good, no reason to miss there.”
While the range was fairly calm, Burke said that the wind was actually more of an issue out on course.
“It was a little tricky on course today,” he explained. “There were a few sections where it was really a huge advantage to draft. It changed the pace of the race quite a bit… I ended up in front [of a group] a couple different times, and it was significantly harder than in groups.”
Burke is looking forward to the 20 k individual competition on Thursday, a race where he was silver at 2013 World Championships.
“The individuals are a different style of race, but it’s definitely my favorite ski race,” he said. “I have had success with it in the past, so I’m looking forward to it. I feel like I’m in a good shape, and in a pretty good rhythm… It’s a tough course, there is a lot of big climbs, but I really like it. I really enjoy 20 k. Most of the time you end up having to do it on your own. Especially on a challenging course like this, with the shape I have it should be good for me.”
Teammate Lowell Bailey also had a strong early section of the race, cleaning both prone stages. That brought him into the top 15. But with five penalties total over the two standing stages, he dropped to 36th (+2:57.2).
“This was one of my worst races of the year,” Bailey said. “Not much else to say.”
Sean Doherty finished 45th (five penalties, +3:52.1) and Leif Nordgren 52nd (seven penalties, +5:10.8).
-Harald Zimmer contributed reporting
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.