Coming into this race, the Norwegian team of Vetle Christiansen, Sturla Holm Laegreid, Tarjei Boe, and younger brother Johannes Boe, had never lost a relay. But the windy range and the pressure on the Norwegians to carry Johannes Boe to his sixth straight gold medal of the 2023 Championships proved too much for the team to handle. Already one minute behind in 12th place after Christiansen’s lead leg, the team played catch-up for for the rest of the race, always taking two steps forward, one step back. They consistently made up time on the ski course only to falter at critical moments on the range. A record 15.9-second clean shooting by Johannes Boe on the final stage secured silver, but France was already well on their way to the finish with a 30-second lead. The Swedes outpaced an incredible performance by the Czech men to take the bronze.
After a week of uncharacteristically calm and clear skies, the traditional Oberhof weather set in on Saturday for the men’s and women’s relays. Race organizers issued a warning about potential race cancellation due to forecasted winds of 85 kph, but when gusts seemed safe and manageable early Saturday morning, they made the call to go ahead as scheduled. Fog and light rain added to the quintessential Oberhof feel. For the teams and the 30,000 spectators who packed venue, these conditions may not have been welcome but they were expected.
France got off to a magnificent start with Antonin Guigonnat, who shot competently through challenging conditions while his main rivals from Norway and Sweden used spare after spare, with Sweden incurring a penalty loop. After Shooting 2, Norway was in 16th and Sweden in 19th out of 22 nations. Guigonnat left the range in fifth but made his way to the front of the pack in time for the first exchange. Matching Guigonnat’s pace, Michal Krcmar of the Czech Republic tagged in second, setting the tone for what would be a record-tying performance for his nation. Sebastian Stalder of Switzerland was the only athlete on the first leg to shoot clean through both stages with no spares, and left the range in first but was caught by France and the Czech Republic on the way to the exchange. The German home team tagged in fourth and Canada’s Christian Gow put in an excellent first leg, using just two spares to tag in 5th. Norway tagged in 12th, 59.2 back, while Sweden was in 18th, 1:21 back. One minute is certainly not insurmountable in a relay that takes over an hour, especially for the star-studded Norwegian men’s team, but it was not the start they hoped for.
Tarjei Boe’s ski speed in the second leg gave Norway a chance. Coming into the range for Shooting 4, Boe had reduced the gap from one minute to only 36 seconds, but facing high winds, he shot slowly and incurred a very costly penalty loop, leaving the range 1:26 behind. He wasn’t alone—twelve teams had penalty loops on that stage and the standings got completely shuffled. Jeremy Finello of Switzerland, who had skied into the range in first, missed all five shots and hit only one spare, incurring a devastating four penalty loops. Czech and France got away unscathed, breaking open a lead of over a minute as they skied together to the second exchange. Sweden tagged in third, Italy and Norway tagged together in fourth and fifth, and thanks to a fifth-ranked second leg by Paul Schommer (USA), the Americans found themselves in sixth at the halfway point
On the third leg, Sturla Holm Laegreid continued like his teammate Tarjei Boe, making headway on skis but failing to capitalize on the range. He too incurred a penalty loop in standing. But the French leader did as well, so the gap held steady around one minute. While everyone focussed on the French and Norwegian favorites, Jakub Stvrtecky of Czech caught and passed France’s Emilien Jaqueline to take the lead and tag in first place with just one leg to go.
World Cup Overall leader Johannes Boe (NOR) took to the course 49 seconds behind Czech, 39 behind France, and just 1 second ahead of Sweden. While Boe has superhuman skiing capacity at the moment, he was up against very worthy adversaries: last year’s Overall winner, Quentin Fillon Maillet (FRA), and two-time individual bronze medalist at these Championships, Sebastian Samuelsson (SWE). Twenty-two-year-old Jonas Marecek for the Czech Republic was by far the underdog among the leaders, but he had a significant lead.
Boe made time on the Czech and French teams, coming within 31 seconds of the lead as they approached the range for Shooting 7. But in a decisive moment, Boe needed all three spares, while Fillon Maillet and Samuelsson each used just one. France’s lead extended once again to almost a minute, and Norway left the range a mere five seconds ahead of Sweden. Czech’s Maracek incurred two penalty loops and fell out of the medal positions to fourth. Pushing hard on the course once again, Boe reduced the gap to 37 seconds, but it wasn’t enough. In the final shooting, Fillon Maillet hit all five targets with no spares and no hesitation in less than twenty seconds. Even Boe’s sub-16 second finale couldn’t overcome the thirty second gap. Fillon Maillet skied to a very sweet victory– his first of these Championships. Sitting comfortably in the silver medal position, Boe conserved energy on his last loop in preparation for Sunday’s Mass Start. Sebastian Samuelsson crossed the line in third to take bronze for Sweden. Czech finished fourth, tying their best-ever World Championship result.
From North America, Canada got off to a great start with Christian Gow leaving Shooting 2 in third and tagging in fifth at the first exchange. Adam Runnalls (CAN) and Logan Pletz (CAN) each incurred a penalty loop on legs two and three for Canada, so the team was in 15th at the third exchange. But anchor Trevor Kiers (CAN) pulled off the fifth-ranked last leg to move the the team back to 11th at the finish.
For the US, Sean Doherty got off to an underwhelming start, using three spares in the first shooting stage to find himself separated from the pack. But in leg two, when wind gusts derailed many of the frontrunner teams, Paul Schommer (USA) used just two spares to tag junior athlete Maxime Germain (USA) in sixth at the halfway point. Germain suffered two penalty loops in standing and tagged Vincent Bonacci in 11th, who held the position until getting passed by Canada’s Kiers on the last loop to finish 12th. Both Germain and Bonacci made their World Cup debuts this winter and are competing in their inaugural World Championships. 2022 Olympic Team member Jake Brown got sick in the first week of February, sadly ending his Championship hopes, but opening the door for these younger athletes to get valuable experience. The US team has been plagued by illness this winter, making top performances hard to come by. But as the World Championships come to a close, the team looks ahead to opportunities at the three remaining World Cup stages in the final trimester of the season.
Biathlon World Championships Men’s Relay RESULTS