Norwegian biathletes started in the lead of both of today’s World Cup pursuits in Antholz, Italy, today, and one stayed there: Johannes Thingnes Bø cruised to a one-minute win over French rival Martin Fourcade, shooting a perfect 20/20 and flying on the trails. In the women’s race, his teammate Tiril Eckhoff had a few too many missed shots, and as she faded to fourth Germany’s Laura Dahlmeier surged to eventually claim a 17.3-second win over Dorothea Wierer of Italy.
Dahlmeier Finding Form as Olympics Near
Dahlmeier started second today behind Eckhoff, and shot 19/20 to take the win. Her only missed target was the last shot of her very first shooting bout; from then on she was perfect, and looked calm as she knocked down target after target, even in the last shooting bout as she went head to head with Eckhoff and Belarus’s Darya Domracheva.
“Pursuits are a real thriller,” Dahlmeier told German broadcaster ARD after the race, according to a translation. “The one who keeps her thoughts in check the best usually wins. I tried to shoot clean but had a miss right in the first stage. Then I tried to close the gap again, and in the third and fourth shootings it was incredibly suspenseful again. It was absolutely important to stay centered within yourself. And I am really really happy it worked out like this today.”
Behind her, the race for second place was intense. With Eckhoff missing two shots in the final shooting bout, she was out of contention. Domracheva had missed one shot and headed to the penalty loop; as she came out, Wierer – who had cleaned that last bout – joined her.
The two battled on the trails, with Domracheva initially leading but unable to drop Wierer, then Wierer passing her on the last big, open climb, but unable to drop Domracheva. In several stretches of the course, the two women were side by side, each skiing their hardest but unable to get any sort of gap.
Then rounding the final corner to the finish line, Domracheva – following Wierer closely – stepped on her competitor’s pole, pulling it off completely. In an act of sportsmanship, Domracheva hung back as Wierer skied with one pole down the finishing stretch to claim second place.
“I was before Darya, and it can happen – of course it was really [close] between us, and she took my pole, but it is like this when you are fighting,” Wierer said in a press conference, before adding that her competitor’s response to the incident was nice. “Thank you Darya!”
“Of course, it would be absolutely unfair from me if I would fight against an athlete with one pole,” Domracheva said in the press conference. “I was the reason that she lost it. So. Even so, I couldn’t be sure that I could be hear to this finish line. But anyway, it was not such a nice situation for us both, but I could not play it another way.”
Both women are on an upward trajectory, with Wierer picking up her third podium in the last five races, and Domracheva taking her third podium of the season. In the last ten races, the triple Olympic gold medalist has only been out of the top eight twice.
“I’m really happy today,” Wierer said. “Of course a lot of people expect a podium at home. It’s even more difficult – there are lots of things to do, interviews and appointments and everything. So it’s really stressful for me. But I felt really relaxed today, I felt comfortable on the skis and I think with two mistakes, it was okay, for today.”
Eckhoff crossed the line +1:09.9. Finland’s Kaisa Makarainen finished fifth, +1:18.4, after moving up from 26th place in the sprint thanks to just two missed shots. That means that she holds on to the overall World Cup leader’s bib.
Sixth place went to Kazakhstan’s Galina Vishnevskaya, one of just three women to shoot 20-for-20. Her result was accompanied by the news that the Kazakh team is still being investigated for doping materials found in Austria last year. The police carried out a search warrant of their team lodging and van in Antholz today, according to an International Biathlon Union press release.
For the U.S., the top finish came from Clare Egan, who moved from 56th up to 37th despite three missed shots; she had the 22nd-fastest ski time of the day.
“I’m really happy with my skiing right now,” Egan wrote in an email. “I’m finally getting into race shape, just in time for the Games. Today I had the 8th fastest last lap, which is a personal best for me. I also believe I had the fastest skis out there. I was psyched to stay with Justine Braisaz all the way from the last shooting to the finish and I think if we hadn’t had to go around a few other people I could have gotten a better finishing Lane for the sprint.”
Emily Dreissigacker, competing in her first-ever World Cup pursuit, finished 56th (+6:27.2) with four missed shots.
“My strategy was really to just relax and try not to get too caught up in the excitement,” Dreissigacker wrote in an email. “I think I did a good job of that until my last shooting. That last standing I was definitely very tired going into it and it just felt very rushed and hectic, not relaxed at all. I think this was a good final weekend of racing before the Olympics. I definitely struggled with the altitude a little but overall I think it was good progress. I am looking forward to getting in a good training block in Ruhpolding before we head to Korea.”
Susan Dunklee sat out the pursuit with a cold. No Canadian women qualified for the event.
Bø Decimates Field in Men’s Pursuit, But Fourcade Still Leads World Cup
Bø started with a lead of 12.8 seconds over Fourcade, and it only got bigger. The pair have been battling all season and between them have taken every win so far but one – that went to Bø’s brother, Tarjei.
But today Fourcade didn’t look like a match for the Norwegian, who not only hit all his targets but also skied faster than the Frenchman, and gained a few seconds on the shooting range, too.
With Fourcade missing just one shot, by the finish the margin between the two men had grown to a whopping 1:00.5.
“Until the last shooting, anything is possible,” Fourcade said in a press conference. “But since the first shoot, I knew that I had to expect Johannes [to make mistakes] to be back in the competition. Today he was perfect. There’s nothing more to add…. I’m satisfied with what I did today. It’s not my best shape, but… I’m satisfied that I did a beautiful biathlon competition and a beautiful second place.”
Anton Shipulin of Russia moved from fourth into third place after the second shooting, and never relinquished this spot as his only penalty of the day had come in the first stage. He finished +1:18.4. Arnd Peiffer of Germany, who has started in third and missed one shot in the second stage, finished fourth, +1:47.5.
Fifth place went to Emil Hegle Svendsen of Norway, who cleaned all his targets to move up from 32nd.
Three men started for the U.S., with Tim Burke and Lowell Bailey both collecting just one penalty. That moved Burke from 43rd up to 21st in the pursuit, finishing +3:03.4.
“I feel like I may have been a bit too conservative on the range in some of my previous four-stage races this season,” Burke wrote in an email. “I went out there today with the goal of being more aggressive and getting my total range time back down to a more competitive time. Today was just one of those days when it clicked and I was able to carry through with the plan. I was in quite the group on the last lap but unfortunately was at the end of the group for the entire loop. I did not have the legs today to get around. Tomorrow I will have another chance in the mass start!”
Bailey moved from 41st to 35th (+3:54.8).
“Shooting was decent today, but I didn’t feel any better on the skis, unfortunately,” Bailey said in a U.S. Biathlon Association press release. “For now, I’ll take a rest day and get back to it on Monday with the preparation for the Olympics. I trust my training was good this season. Now, it’s just a matter of doing some quality training sessions over the next two weeks and focusing on the Olympics.”
Despite three misses, Leif Nordgren climbed from 50th to 44th (+4:40.8).
No Canadian men had qualified for the pursuit.
-Harald Zimmer contributed
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.