FasterSkier’s Coverage of the Biathlon World Championships is made possible through the generous support of the Craftsbury Outdoor Center: New England’s finest snowmaking, world class race venues and touring trails, healthy food in abundance, comfortable accommodations at Craftsbury: Sports, Sustainability, Stewardship.
In the opening race of the 2024 Biathlon World Championships, France overcame heavy favorite Norway to take gold in the 4×6 k Mixed Relay. It was a tightly contested race with 25 nations on the start line and only 40 seconds separating the top five teams at the third exchange. On the final leg, Norway and Sweden overtook Switzerland to capture silver and bronze. The Swiss ended up a mere 1.2 seconds off the podium in fourth—their best finish ever in a World Championships Mixed Relay. Steady freezing rain did not stop 30,000 biathlon-crazed fans from packing the Vysocina Arena in Nove Mesto na Morave, Czech Republic, making for an electric atmosphere on opening night.
The unofficial “ice breaker” of World Championships, the Mixed Relay tends to be chaotic and full of surprises, and today’s race was no exception. Ranked sixth going into the race, the home Czech team met disaster on the very first visit to the shooting range when Michal Krcmar incurred a penalty loop and found himself in second to last, a full minute behind the leaders. Krcmar exchanged in 21st, two minutes back. Third-ranked Italy fared even worse: Didier Bionaz incurred two penalty loops in his standing shoot and tagged off in 23rd. Meanwhile, 19th-ranked Kazakhstan and 17th-ranked United States tagged in fifth and sixth, thanks to world-class performances from Alexandr Mukhin (KAZ) and Vincent Bonacci (USA).
The big surprise on the second leg was that Norway did not come through on top. Norwegian brothers Tarjei and Johannes Boe—ranked third and first in the men’s World Cup overall standings—are such a powerhouse combination that they were all but guaranteed to deliver a Norwegian lead at the half-way point; however, they both lost time on the range that they were unable to recover on skis. Germans Justus Strelow and Phillip Nawrath combined to put 48 seconds into the Norwegians just in shooting time. At the halfway point, Germany led, with France eight seconds back and Norway another twenty behind. The US and Canada tagged in ninth and tenth, just 15 seconds outside the top six.
Anyone who bet on the Norwegians for gold would have felt uneasy going into the third leg, with the German and especially the French women’s teams both very strong on paper. But it was a rollercoaster for all. France’s Justine Braisaz-Bouchet went into the penalty loop in prone and dropped to fifth place, giving Franziska Preuss of Germany a 39-second advantage. Then their fortunes switched in standing when Preuss went into the penalty loop! Braisaz used a single spare and out-skied the field in leg three by a whopping 33 seconds, making an enormous comeback for France and tagging in first. At the third exchange, only eight seconds separated the top three teams, with Switzerland moving up into second and Norway hanging in third. After a quiet first half, Sweden’s Hanna Oeberg brought her team within striking distance on the third leg, tagging her younger sister Elvira in fourth, just 14 seconds off the podium. Germany fell to fifth. Both the USA and Canada held in the top ten.
In the final leg, Julia Simon left no room for any contest, blazing down all her targets, taking a bow, and then skiing to the finish with a comfortable 45-second lead for France. Switzerland’s Amy Baserga performed flawlessly under pressure, shooting ten out of ten, but was overtaken on her first loop by the World Cup overall leader Ingrid Tandrevold of Norway and then on the last loop by Elvira Oeberg, who captured the bronze for Sweden by just one second.
The US stayed in the top ten until the very last loop when the Italians came clawing their way back from the dead and pushed the US down into 11th. Canada finished 13th, just in front of the Czech Republic.
Next up is the women’s 7.5 k Sprint on Friday, February 9th.