Remember Norway’s Bø brothers? Younger Johannes Thingnes, who famously spray painted his rifle gold when he started winning International Biathlon Union (IBU) World Cups four seasons ago? And his older brother Tarjei, a two-time individual World Champion (in 2013 and 2011) who earned an Olympic gold with the 4 x 7.5-kilometer relay in 2010? Well, now they’re a little older, at 23 and 28 years old, respectively, and not on quite as hot of a streak as they were in recent seasons.
Despite struggling with illness, Johannes Thingnes (J.T. for short) has frequently been in the mix in World Cup races this season, and reached the podium as an individual (rather than in a team event) twice this season in the sprints in Östersund, Sweden, and Pokljuka, Slovenia.
But a win this season eluded him — until Sunday. Coming off a standout performance for his team in Saturday’s 4 x 7.5 k relay, in which he put Norway in first at the end of the third leg (and they ended up second), J.T. Bø was the only man to hit all 20 targets in Sunday’s 15 k mass start in Antholz, Italy, and he ended up winning by 3.7 seconds in 37:04.3.
“It means a lot. It’s been a long time since my last win,” Bø said, according to an IBU press release. “When you are not in your best shape and you don’t have the results that you want, it’s not easy to think positively. But I have maintained my aggression and my ambition to win.”
While he never led after the four shooting stages of the mass start, he put himself in front when it counted, passing France’s Quentin Fillon Maillet as they entered the stadium.
Leaving the range for the last time, he trailed Fillon Maillet in first by 1.7 seconds.
“I had to fight really hard to pass Fillon Maillet,” Bø said. “I was so bad before Christmas that I had to prove to everyone I am the favorite for World Championships.”
And he might have to represent his family at 2017 IBU World Championships in Hochfilzen, Austria. His brother Tarjei has been quoted as saying his chances of qualifying for the upcoming World Championships (which run Feb. 9-19) are slim. He told NRK that this is the toughest period he’s been through in some time.
“I was in good spirits before Christmas, but when I got a new blow, it was tough,” he said of his bouts with illness, according to a loose translation.
The second-place finisher on Sunday, Fillon Maillet was pleased with his near-perfect shooting. One miss in the first prone stage put him back in 22nd and nearly 30 seconds out of the lead, but three clean stages thereafter (1+0+0+0) moved the Frenchman into first by the final stage.
“The last couple of weeks I had problems with my shooting,” Fillon Maillet said, according to the IBU. “It’s all in my head. I have negative thoughts often. Today was good, and I hope to maintain this feeling during the World Championships.”
As for what happened in the finishing stretch, he wasn’t quite sure.
“It’s very odd, as I knew I had better skis than Johannes,” Fillon Maillet. “At the finish, he sprinted faster than me.”
Russia’s Anton Shipulin claimed third (+21.7) for his eighth-career podium, following up on his victory in the Antholz 20 k individual two days earlier.
Like Fillon Maillet, Shipulin shot 19-for-20, missing his shot in his second prone stage. That put him back in 15th with two stages to go, which he proceeded to clean (0+1+0+0) to move into third by the start of the last loop. There, he left the range 13.7 seconds after Fillon Maillet and about 12 seconds behind Bø.
“I don’t know why, but it was very tough today,” Shipulin reflected, according to the IBU. “Maybe it’s acclimatization that is kicking in, but I am happy to be on the podium.”
For the World Cup field, Sunday marked the final day of racing before World Championships (except for those racing at European Open Championships, which start this Wednesday in Duszniki-Zdrój, Poland).
For all 30 men in the mass start, it marked the third-straight day of racing. American Lowell Bailey, who ranked 16th in the overall World Cup standings going into Sunday, was among that elite crew, along with Canada’s Scott Gow, who earned his first-ever start in that format with a career-best 17th place in Friday’s 20 k.
Bailey cleaned the first two stages of Sunday’s mass start to move into second after the second prone stage, 0.8 seconds behind Ukraine’s Dmytro Pidruchnyi in first, but missed one on each of the standing stages (0+0+1+1) to slip out of the top 10.
“I’ve worked a lot on my range efficiency, and that has been going well, especially in prone,” Bailey wrote in an email. “This is a tough range approach, with a short uphill, followed by a long flat. That, coupled with the fact that we are at a fairly high elevation, makes for a difficult range. I just tried to be prepared for that, and part of that preparation was taking quick, decisive shots. I’ve found that waiting with a long hold on this range doesn’t work for me!”
In his first standing, he simply took a “bad shot … way out to the left,” Bailey explained.
“I was a little too aggressive on the trigger uptake and let the shot go much too early, before I even came close to the hit zone!” he wrote. “The second miss was a smaller miss; just out of the target. Sometimes they fall your way, sometimes not.”
In 13th leaving the range for the last time, Bailey ended up 16th at the finish (+1:33.4). He is currently 17th in the overall World Cup standings.
“I’m happy with the performance today, but hungry for better results,” Bailey wrote. “I set out this season with a goal of reaching the podium at least once; whether that’s at World Championships or anywhere else on the world cup tour. I’ve been excruciatingly close in several races during this first half. I’m happy with the fact that I’ve been consistent; but I’m not satisfied. I know I can do better… that will be the singular focus for these next two weeks of training heading into World Champs; fine tuning everything, trying to find that fraction of a percent improvement to reach the podium!”
Gow, wearing bib 30 in his first World Cup mass start, ended up 30th (+4:09.9) with four penalties (1+0+2+1).
“It was a very fun experience,” Gow wrote in an email. “I wish I could have been racing with the pack more often, but the little bit of time I did get with the group was great skiing.
“I’m not super pumped on my performance, but I’m not super disappointed either,” he continued. “I would love to have a few more hits today and a little more speed under my feet, but I think I was too gassed from the previous two days of racing to pump out anything spectacular. It was definitely a good learning experience, and I hope to improve upon it in the future. … I feel like I’m on the cusp of being more consistently in the top 30, and as long as I can maintain confidence in my skiing and shooting abilities I have a very good chance of accomplishing that goal.”
Gow explained that the Canadian team planned to stay in Antholz for another week of altitude and volume training before traveling to Seefeld, Austria, for some intensity and recovery before World Championships. There, he’s targeting the 10 k sprint, 20 k individual, and relay.
“I have had a lot of success in all three of those disciplines, and if I can crank out a good pursuit and qualify for another mass start that would be icing on the cake,” Gow wrote.
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.