These days at the International Biathlon Union (IBU) World Cup in Kontiolahti, Finland, biathlon star Martin Fourcade of France is not as worried about his opponents on the course as he is about the imminent birth of his second child.
“That’s the first thing I did when I came to the finish, I checked my phone to see if my wife called,” he told German broadcaster ZDF after the race.
There was no message yet, so he declared that he also intends to race on Saturday before traveling back home. “Then I don’t know about my schedule, I have to wait what my wife decides,” he added with a laugh.
In Friday’s 10-kilometer sprint, Fourcade once again posted the best course time as he so frequently has this season, and thus was able to make up the seconds he lost after a miss in his standing shooting. At the end of the day, he was the only man in the top five without hitting all 10 targets.
After that penalty, Fourcade had to fight hard for the victory on the last loop. He crossed the finish line in 22:17.0 minutes, just 0.6 seconds ahead of Czech Republic’s Ondřej Moravec, who had taken the lead just a few minutes earlier. Three-hundred meters before the finish at the last timing point, Fourcade had been two seconds behind.
“Just after the shooting, I saw the screen [in the arena] and thought, ‘OK, five seconds back with one more penalty loop, it’s something I can do,” Fourcade explained at the post-race press conference. “Then at the first split time, I was still five seconds back and thought to myself that it’s over and I will never catch him. But at the last split time my coach said to me, ‘Only two seconds,’ so I started to believe again. I think I was really lucky to start on his back. It was a real advantage today to know about the situation.”
“I think it’s a track that suits me well,” Fourcade told ZDF. “I’ve known this place for a long time, it’s where I got my first victory in the World Cup. I love it because it’s really hard, you never stop pushing. Of course I am really satisfied, because the three guys behind me were not in PyeongChang [South Korea, at last week’s World Cup]. So I didn’t choose the best situation to win here because the travel was really hard, but I [managed] to win in PyeongChang and today so I am really proud.”
With his victory Fourcade also secured the “small crystal globe” awarded to the sprint World Cup discipline winner, after he had already locked up his sixth overall World Cup title in PyeongChang. With this 13th victory of the season, he also surpassed the all-time record for most victories within one season after he previously tied Norway’s Ole Einar Bjørndalen mark a week ago.
“I want to thank him for being such an amazing inspiration,” Fourcade said during the press conference, and added regarding his sprint title: “It’s not just business. I can remember when I won my first globe in 2010 in Oslo. I always try to remember the feeling I had. And I really respect this award, and am proud and satisfied I won it.”
Norway’s Emil Hegle Svendsen claimed the third place on the podium (+9.4), pushing his teammate Johannes Thingnes Bø to fourth. Both Moravec and Svendsen had opted against the long trip to South Korea.
“Battling with Martin is always hard,” Moravec said in the press conference. “When I saw him in the last hill it was really close with 2.2 seconds. And then I knew, ‘This is not good,’ because the last 500 meters of my race were nothing special, I was really tired on the last part of the track.”
At last month’s IBU World Championships in Hochfilzen, Austria, US Biathlon’s Lowell Bailey denied Moravec his first win of the season in the individual race by 3.3 seconds.
“It is what it is, 0.6 seconds, but today I am still really satisfied for the second place,” Moravec said. “Last time [in Hochfilzen] I was 50-50 maybe, but today it’s different.”
“I think it was a big advantage for me,” he added when asked about not traveling to PyeongChang. “Because I did a great preparation at home and took a rest … I think my result today is a good answer to this question.“
“Of course I thought about going to Korea,” Svendsen explained. “But I think if I would have gone there I would have done medium races during the last three World Cups. Now I got at least one podium, and I think it is better to have some good races than a lot of medium races. I think it was better for me to stay at home after a really bad World Championships.”
“Five podiums this year is much more than I expected,” he said when asked to reflect on his season. “Because the preparation this year was not so good. I am really happy with this after all the troubles I had last summer… But I hope I can now have six good months of training and come back stronger than ever.”
One of the earliest starters in bib 3, Bø hit all of his targets and was the race leader until Svendsen finished 2.7 seconds faster. As the race progressed, Fourcade and Moravec also finished ahead of him, pushing Bø to fourth (+12.1)
“It was quite a good race,” Bø told the IBU in an interview. “I don’t know where I could do better. So even if I’m fourth place I know I did my best today. It was high level on the shooting range today, and for myself I am quite happy with 10 hits in a fast speed. … I felt strong on the tracks, and just wish I were a little bit stronger to make the podium.”
Also shooting clean, Germany’s Arnd Peiffer finished fifth (+22.3).
“This is a demanding course with three long and steep climbs,” Peiffer told ZDF. “I am glad I got through with clean shooting on the range today. In PyeongChang, I was struggling in my standing stages … and that was pretty annoying. On the course it was a solid performance. I am still feeling the effects of the travel, but that won’t be any different for the others … So I am happy about this fifth place.”
Just behind Peiffer, Austria’s Simon Eder placed sixth (+23.0) with one penalty (0+1), and Latvia’s Andrejs Rastorgujevs missed the first World Cup podium of his career after he missed his last target to finish seventh (+25.1) with one penalty (0+1).
Kontiolahti is hosting the eighth World Cup stage of the season in place of Tyumen, Russia, which withdrew as a host in the wake of the McLaren report. Though almost 2,000 miles away from Tyumen, thanks to the new location near the northern Russian-Finnish border, a number of Russian fans still made the trip to Finland. Judging by flags, outfits and cheers, it seemed like they were about even with the local fans with the feel of a home World Cup.
Bailey Clean But Slower on Course
Another skier who managed to shoot 10-for-10 on Friday was Bailey, continuing his extremely accurate shooting form of the last few weeks. But this time, the American didn’t quite have the punch that propelled him to his historic gold medal at last month’s World Championships and another second place in PyeongChang last week. After eight straight races of placing in the top 10, Bailey finished 16th on Friday, 1:01.1 behind Fourcade.
But Bailey didn’t blame the travel from South Korea to Finland for his slower ski time than usual, after posting the 43rd-ranked course time of the day.
“It was actually a little bit longer than 24 hours,” Bailey wrote in an email to FasterSkier. “I’m not sure I can use that as an excuse; several athletes did just fine after that travel (Martin Fourcade was flying again!).
“I didn’t feel completely comfortable on my skis today,” Bailey added, regarding the race conditions. “It was an icy, unstable track and I struggled to keep a flat gliding ski … The conditions were the best we’ve had all week; not too much wind on the range and the tracks were hard and didn’t seem to break down at all.”
Coming out of the final standing stage in 12th place and 32.6 seconds out of first, he lost almost another 30 seconds on the final loop.
“I definitely didn’t have the strongest last loop,” Bailey wrote. “I just didn’t have a whole lot in the tank for the three big climbs. Some days are better than others and today I wasn’t at my best on the course. But, things can change quickly and I’m hoping to feel better for tomorrow’s pursuit.”
Three Americans, Two Canadians in the Pursuit
In addition to Bailey, two other Americans qualified for Saturday’s pursuit in the top 60, with Leif Nordgren in 43rd (+1:36.8) with two penalties (1+1) and Sean Doherty finishing one position behind in 44th (+1:38.5) with one standing miss (0+1).
Paul Schommer, who is replacing Tim Burke in these final World Cups, finished 84th (+3:02.5) with three misses (2+1).
Two Canadians shot clean and also qualified for the pursuit: Brendan Green in 45th (+1:41.4) and Christian Gow in 50th (+1:55.0). Scott Gow missed the top 60 in 67th (+2:21.9) with two penalties (1+1).
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.