After a disappointing day of sprints in Sjusjøen, Norway, on Saturday, the Norwegian biathlon team rebounded in Sunday’s mass starts to claim wins from Marte Olsbu in the women’s race and Erlend Bjøntegaard in the men’s race.
In the women’s 12.5 k mass start, Olsbu had just one penalty, in the first prone stage, and came back through the field to ski to a 25-second win over Anais Bescond of France, who had two penalties. Synnøve Solemdal of Norway was third (+31.6) and Fuyuko Tachizaki of Japan fourth (+48.7), both shooting clean.
“It was very fun,” Olsbu told Norwegian broadcaster NRK, according to a translation. “I did what I had planned, and it means a lot that I can stand on the podium with another Norwegian.”
The men’s field was so large that it was split into two mass start races, an “A” and a “B” competition, each of which had more than the 30 standard entrants for a mass start competition.
Martin Fourcade of France was near the front for almost the entire race, on form after having won Saturday’s sprint, but missed the last shot of the competition. He was unable to make it back into first place by the end of the 15 k race.
Instead, it was Norway’s Bjøntegaard taking the win. Bjøntegaard had missed just one shot, in the second shooting bout. He skated to an 11.8-second victory over teammate Johannes Thingnes Bø, who missed three shots over the course of the race. Fourcade was third, +16.1.
Despite his win, Bjøntegaard is not headed to the World Cup opener in Östersund, Sweden, next week. Norway’s team had already been decided, and Lars Helge Birkeland and Henrik L’Abee-Lund, who did not have stellar results this weekend, will go instead. They told NRK that they had not focused on these Sjusjøen races because the priority was instead performance at the World Cup.
“That’s how it is,” Bjøntegaard told NRK. “I don’t bother to spend time on it. I can promise that my possibilities will come.”
Based on his 29th-place finish in Saturday’s sprint, Scott Gow of Canada made the “A” mass start. He picked up six penalties, including three in the third stage, and skied to 37th place (+4:12.3).
“I shot poorly today due to me being too much inside my own head,” he wrote in an email. “My first prone was an oversight on the wind conditions, and my first standing was me totally rushing. Lesson learned, I hope… I would say I still have some speed in the tank. Shooting, aside from today, has been very good lately, so I’m happy with that. Skiing has been solid too, but I could feel the travel a bit this weekend, so hopefully that’s all gone by next weekend.”
Gow and his brother, Christian, went to Sjusjøen along with fellow Biathlon Canada National Team member Brendan Green. It was not an official team trip, but the trio felt the need to get some extra acclimation to the European time zone and another set of races under their belts before the World Cup begins.
“Christian, Brendan and I had been talking about wanting the team to go to Sjusjøen for a while, but that was never going to happen with our [national team] budget woes, so we took it upon ourselves to make the trip happen,” Scott Gow wrote. “We believe the early acclimation and high-end racing is great preparation for Östersund, where the three of us always feel like we start flat and struggle to achieve good results. Our goal is to adjust to Europe and have our bodies is the best shape possible. I would say we’ve accomplished our goals. We adjusted well to the jet lag, and we all had at least one decent race.”
After the sprint, Christian Gow and Green were slotted into the “B” mass start. They made the most of the opportunity, with Green missing two shots but taking the win, and Gow missing one shot and finishing 8.8 seconds behind in second place.
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Things didn’t go particularly smoothly for either Canadian. Both of Green’s missed shots came in the first shooting bout, but he faced challenges even while cleaning the other bouts.
“In addition to the two misses, I had some problems in the range during each prone shooting which caused me to lose some more time,” Green wrote in an email. “I spent the entire rest of the race working my way back to the lead group. I think I came in for my final shooting bout in seventh, left the range in third, and was able to ski to the lead from there. Christian lost time early on with a broken pole right at the start of the race, so we both had our work cut out today.”
While the goal had been to make the “A” mass start, Green pointed out that there was value in racing in a competition where he was fighting for the win, even if few of his regular World Cup competitors were in this race.
“Today was still good preparation for the World Cup next week, and a nice way to finish the weekend of racing here,” he explained. “ t’s good sometimes to have a little more control during a race, and there is still the pressure when you’re at the front to perform which is always good practice.”
While Green said his speed was not yet at 100%, the group was excited to be back competing after a long summer and fall of training.
“I love this time of year because it means we’re racing!!!” Scott Gow wrote.
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.