“I love Norway so much, and Norway gives it back to me.”
That’s how French biathlete Martin Fourcade described his week of competitions, and the support he received from fans at the 2016 IWorld Championships in Oslo’s famous Holmenkollen ski stadium, in an interview with German television network ZDF.
During Thursday evening’s ceremony on the medal plaza in Oslo, Fourcade was awarded with his fourth gold medal of the week, adding the victory in the men’s 20-kilometer individual race in a time of 49:13.9 to his long list of achievements, despite a one-minute penalty in his first standing stage shooting.
Previously at these World Championships, Fourcade already won the mixed relay with his French teammates, as well as the men’s sprint and pursuit. And with two more races for the men on the schedule, this might not be the end yet, potentially setting a new historical record.
Silver and bronze went to two Austrian biathletes, with Dominik Landertinger placing second 5.1 seconds back and Simon Eder third 14.4 seconds behind Fourcade. Both Austrians shot clean with no penalties.
Landertinger started early with bib 10, and was the first athlete to shoot clean through all four shooting stages, taking a commanding lead in the finish.
But while he immediately knew he had achieved a very good result, he still had to wait a long time to see if his time would be enough for the podium in a large field with 99 athletes. In the end, only one man would still be faster.
“Incredible,” Landertinger told Austrian broadcaster ORF. “I can only do one thing: I dedicate this medal to my mom, who unfortunately passed away last November. I couldn’t even have dreamed about this. Shooting ‘zero’ four times is very, very hard. When you manage to do it on a day like this, of course that’s perfect.”
Asked about the last loop and the narrow gap to Fourcade, Landertinger added, “I almost wouldn’t have made it into the finish, that’s how much I pushed the tempo. I got dizzy. I was completely at my limit. I wouldn’t know where I could have even saved another half a second.“
Despite leaving the range still 6.4 seconds ahead of Landertinger and getting split times from coaches, Eder could not quite keep up with the pace of his teammate on the final loop falling back from first to third place. Still, he was highly satisfied with his result.
“It probably doesn’t get any better than this,” Eder told ORF. “For the first standing shooting it was a bit shaky. I was happy that those five [shots] went in.”
Eder only recorded the 16th-best overall course time, though largely due to two slower first loops. As he often does, the left-handed quick-trigger shooter achieved one of the best range times.
“You can think a lot during a race like this,” he told ORF when asked what he thought when he saw on the video wall that (at that time) two Austrians were leading the race after the final shooting. “You think through every scenario imaginable. You have to be highly focused for the 20 to 30 seconds on the shooting mat, but the rest of the time you can do with your mind whatever you want. That might have been the key to shooting clean.”
Fourcade incurred a miss in the second shooting stage, setting him back to eighth place at that time, then reduced the gap again on the next loops with the fastest skiing times on the course and clean shootings.
“I knew that I was [still] in position to fight with them in spite of one mistake,” Fourcade said during the IBU press conference.
After the last shooting he left the range only 0.3 seconds behind Eder’s time and 6.1 seconds ahead of Landertinger, with his coaches frantically running next to him on the side of the track yelling split times to the Austrians.
“On the top one of my coaches told me ‘only three seconds to Landertinger’,” Fourcade described the last loop in an interview with the IBU. “I know Dominik since more than ten years. I know how fast he is on the last loop. Wow, what a fight now. And I gave all I had. Probably more than what I had. I did one last uphill with my eyes closed because I had no energy to open my eyes.”
He comfortably beat Eder’s time and still lost a bit to Landertinger on the final loop, but was able to preserve a 5.1 second lead into the finish.
“My wax man told me ‘only two seconds to Landertinger’,” he recalled the final section through the arena, pushing hard until the finish line. “He lied, I know that now.”
Starting four positions behind Fourcade, Norway’s Johannes Thingnes Bø could have still displaced the athletes on the podium, but after a narrow miss in his last standing shooting the 22-year-old biathlete only finished fourth, 57.2 seconds back.
This gap seems relatively far away, yet in the individual discipline each miss results in an automatic full minute added to the race time as a penalty, with athletes not allowed to use spare rounds or ski a penalty lap.
“Are you kidding? I was this close to being World Champion at home?” Bø told Norwegian TV broadcaster NRK shaking his head in disbelief, when he was shown a close-up replay of his missed shot that hit the edge of the target, with the metal disc visibly shaking but not flipping over.
“I’d somewhat put this on the organizers, they should have oiled the targets better- it hung up on some rust,” his older brother Tarjei Bø, who finished 22nd, joked in an interview with NRK, according to a translation.
Fifth place went to Czech Republic’s Michal Krcmar (+1:16.4) with no penalties, tying his best World Cup career result from a mass start in Ruhpolding, Germany, earlier this season.
Fourcade, who lives and trains in Norway for part of the offseason, lauded the support he received from the fair audience at the Holmenkollen arena and around the course, despite repeatedly having prevented even better results for the local athletes.
“I really have the feeling that the audience is cheering for me,” he told ZDF. “So I am happy about not being the public enemy number one. I am not being cheered as the Norwegians, but probably the most like one of them.”
With his victory, Fourcade also secured the ‘small crystal globe’ awarded for the individual-race discipline title in the World Cup ahead of Eder, who would have needed to win or place second to keep a narrow lead. Fourcade will also win the overall World Cup.
“That’s good,” Fourcade told reporters during the press conference. “I read in the French press this morning that in the last 11 individuals I won 9. I knew individual is a competition I love so much. It’s probably the competition I’m the strongest in.”
“I didn’t know what Martin would do today,” Eder told ORF in his interview. “I was hoping to keep the globe, but that is gone now.”
At least Eder now has the bronze medal as a great consolation prize, his first in an individual-start race, and his second after a silver medal with Austria’s men’s relay at the 2009 World Championships in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
“It’s really special,” Eder said in the press conference. “It was a big goal for me in the last years. Sometimes I was very close to it. Today was the day. I can just believe the moment maybe in the evening.”
For Landertinger, it was his third medal at World Championships, after a silver medal in that same relay, and gold in the mass start also in 2009.
Fourcade has won 19 medals at World Championships now, including 10 gold ones.
Races in Oslo continue on Friday with the women’s relay, followed by the men’s relay on Saturday, and wrapping up with mass starts on Sunday.
-Chelsea Little contributed reporting.
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Harald has been following cross-country skiing and biathlon for some 20 years since the Olympic Winter Games in Albertville and Lillehammer. A graduate of Middlesex University London and Harvard University, he now lives near the Alps where he likes to go skiing, snowboarding and hiking. He is a former track athlete in middle-distance running, as well as a huge NBA fan.