SJUSJØEN, Norway — Twenty-year-old Justine Braisaz, of France, won the biathlon season opener on Saturday in Sjusjøen, 23.1 seconds in front of Norwegian Tiril Eckhoff and 36.6 second ahead of Ukrainian Juliya Dzhima. The young French woman shot down 10 out 10 targets and skated equally fast throughout the 7.5-kilometer sprint. Eckhoff missed once during prone and once standing while Dzhima missed her second shot standing.
The fourth place finisher, France’s Celia Aymonier, finished 56.3 seconds off of Braisaz’s winning time, while Norwegian Fanny Horn Birkeland was another 1.5 seconds back in fifth (+57.8).
From the start, the podium appeared to be a competition among Braisaz, Eckhoff and Dzhima.
In her finish-line interview, Braisaz said, “I am happy about the result, and even though I hit every target today, the shooting is something I have to work on because it is not my strong suit. But it was a good day.”
Before the race, Erlend Slokvik, president of the Norwegian Biathlon Association told FasterSkier that he thought Eckhoff was the likeliest candidate for the top of the podium, and throughout the race the crowd seemed to agree with him. The 26-year-old Eckhoff received loud cheers for her 8-of-10 shooting.
After the race, the finish-line interviewer asked Braisaz if she thought she’d be dangerous this season.
“Yes I think so, I hope so,” she replied.
When asked by NRK during the post-race press conference what she thought about her victory Braisaz said, “I didn’t expect it, and I really don’t know how it happened.
“I have worked hard over the summer with my technique and shooting and it’s reassuring to be in good shape today.” she continued. “I had to focus on what I could do because Eckhoff and Dzhima were very strong.”
Asked what her goals are for the season, Braisaz said she has no specific goals, but she hopes to be “in shape for the World Championship.”
Also at the press conference, Eckhoff was asked how she felt about her race.
“I’m glad to have started the season, and I feel like I’m in good shape and that I am strong, but I may have started a little too quickly,” she said.
As for her shooting: “I’m happy about the standing, but I used a little too much time during the prone so the focus from now on will be to systemize the shooting so I can do it faster and better,” she said.
Third-place finisher Dzhima said after the race that she was happy about being in good shape, but she wasn’t happy with 90-percent shooting.
“I’m not happy about missing one target, I wanted to hit all ten, but luckily it’s early in the season,” the 26-year-old told FasterSkier through a translator.
Fourcade Leads Five Frenchman in Top 6
In the men’s 10 k sprint, Martin Fourcade took charge from the start. The five-time World Cup overall champion hit all his targets and skated the track equally well. No other biathlete could match Fourcade’s performance and the closest was Norwegian Johannes Thingnes Bø, who finished 12.9 seconds behind him with perfect shooting.
“I am happy about the result, but I am not in that good shape so today was a very good day,” Fourcade told L’equipe after the race.
And indeed it was for the French team. Five out of the top six men’s finishers were French. Fabien Claude placed third (+31.7), Quentin Fillon Maillet was fourth (+59.3), Jean-Guillaume Béatrix was fifth (+1:05.7) and Simon Desthieux was sixth (+1:07). The only miss among these five came from Desthieux, who missed once in his standing shooting.
Norwegian TV2 called the French team’s performance a “frightening shot for the Norwegian biathletes”.
In the post-race press conference, Fourcade said he was “satisfied with the result. It was not my best performance, but for November this is good.”
Asked about the performance of his team, he said, “It means a lot. It pushes me in training and I have to work really hard to stay ahead of my team, so it’s good.”
Fourcade pointed to World Championships as his goal for the season, but he’s also focused on the World Cup. “I want to be as good as possible all season,” he said.
Up until the second shooting, it looked like Johannes Bø could potentially threaten Fourcade’s place on the podium, but the final lap of skiing became too tough for Bø.
“I’m happy about the race, it was a good performance,” he told FasterSkier. “I skied well, but I feel like I can do better than I did today, but I started feeling it in the second lap and third was painful and I was happy to finish.”
Asked how he felt about his 10-for-10 shooting, he said, “I’m very happy and I feel confident about it. We’ve focused more on shooting in training this season and it seems to have paid off.”
Third-place finisher Claude, who, at 21, has never raced a World Cup but has made it to four Youth/Junior World Championships, said that he was happy about his performance.
“I am really happy and satisfied with my race, my preparations have been great and the conditions today were great so I’m really happy,” he told FasterSkier. “And zero misses is not common for me so that is something I will take with me into the season.”
His main goal for the season? To reach the World Cup, he said.
Eight-time Olympic gold medalist Ole Einar Bjørndalen finished ninth, 1:33.9 minutes behind Fourcade. After the race, the 42-year-old Norwegian told FasterSkier, “This was no super race but I shot well and I skied as fast as I had planned. The fact that I am that far behind Fourcade is not something I worry about this early in the season.”