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Ever since France upset Norway to win the opening Mixed Relay of the 2024 Biathlon World Championships, their magnificent esprit de corps has been on display. After that race, the entire team gathered around the podium and belted “La Marseillaise” in the rain as the French flag was raised in the Vysocina Arena in Nove Mesto na Morave, Czech Republic. That same winning energy pulsed through the French women’s team Friday as they delivered an historic sweep of the first four places—a feat not seen since the inaugural Women’s Biathlon World Championships in 1984 when the Soviet Union swept the 10 k Individual. (American Kari Swenson was fifth.) There were 35 finishers in that race. In Friday’s 7.5 k Sprint, The French quartet of Julia Simon, Justine Braisaz-Bouchet, Lou Jeanmonnot, and Sophie Chauveau bested a field of nearly 100.
All eyes were on Simon, wearing bib 2, to set the time to beat for the day. After laying down a perfect anchor leg in Wednesday’s Mixed Relay, she picked up where she left off with another 10/10 performance, leaving little room for any challengers. Simon’s ski time ranked fourth and her total shooting time of 42 seconds for prone and standing was the fastest of the day. It was a dominant Sprint performance from the 2023 World Cup Overall champion, who is better known for her head-to-head racing.
Another early starter, Jeanmonnot in bib 5 matched Simon’s speed on the course but lost some time to her on the range (like everyone else) and missed one target in standing, eventually finishing 40 seconds back. It seemed inevitable that other competitors would fill that gap, but as the race went on it became clear that the only athletes skiing fast enough to challenge the French women were their own teammates.
Out-skiing the field by over 30 seconds in Wednesday’s Mixed Relay, Braisaz-Bouchet demonstrated that she is one of very few athletes who can ski a penalty loop and still fight for gold. That scenario nearly played out in Friday’s Sprint, as Braisaz-Bouchet gapped the field by 28 seconds, missed one in prone but then hit all of her standing targets, leaving the range with just a 13-second deficit to clean-shooting Simon. She closed the gap in the final kilometers but couldn’t quite catch Simon, crossing the line just 4.9 seconds behind.
The two Italian stars, Lisa Vittozzi and Dorothea Wierer, were early challengers for the podium, both showing their trademark poise on the range with 10/10 hits, but they didn’t have the ski speed to keep up with the French women and ended up seventh and tenth. Swedish sisters Hanna and Elvira Oeberg did the reverse; they skied well but both missed in standing and dropped to eighth and ninth.
The only other athlete who could challenge Simon for the gold was World Cup Overall leader Ingrid Landmark Tandrevold (NOR) in bib 26. She came through the prone shooting in the lead, 1.5 seconds ahead of Simon, but then suffered a disastrous standing bout, missing three targets and falling to 25th place—her worst result of the season.
The podium positions seemed secure until Chauveau, wearing bib 40, nearly overtook Jeanmonnot. Chauveau found herself down in 30th after a miss in prone but then launched into podium contention with her clean standing shooting and third-ranked course time. In the finish she was a mere four seconds off the podium.
Simon’s gold is her first Sprint podium of the season and only her second-ever Sprint victory. Braisaz-Bouchet, who skipped last season to have her first child, had never finished better than 25th in a World Championships Sprint, despite taking part in every edition since 2015 and winning a list of World Cup races and an Olympic gold medal in Beijing along the way. Jeanmonnot’s bronze is her first World Championship medal, and Chauveau’s fourth place ties her second-best career finish. She earned her first World Cup medal, a bronze, in January of this year.
While the French women shot exceptionally well, they owe their sweep to their ski speed. Four of the top-five fastest skiers in the Sprint were French. The other was 2021 cross-country World Cup Overall Sprint champion, Anamarija Lampic of Slovenia, who missed five and finished 36th. Reflecting on the role that ski preparation played today, US Biathlon ski technician Federico Fontana said, “The dirt and the wet in Nove Mesto is always challenging. The French had incredible skis.”
The surprise of the day was Latvia’s Baiba Bendika, who finished fifth to match her career-best result, having given birth to her first child in October—just four months ago. She had a chance to break up the French sweep but missed her last shot. Franziska Preuss of Germany completed the Flower Ceremony, also with one standing miss.
Irwin and Geraghty-Moats Qualify for Pursuit
Deedra Irwin was the top American in the Sprint, finishing 39th with one miss each in prone and standing. She wrote on her Instagram account, “It isn’t what I wanted but then I realized that it is my personal best World Champs Sprint finish!” Irwin has consistently been scoring World Cup points in the top 40 this season and has the potential to move up significantly in Sunday’s Pursuit. She’ll be joined in the Pursuit for the first time by teammate Tara Geraghty-Moats, who sneaked into the top-60 qualifiers with a new personal-best of 58th.
Geraghty-Moats cited her start position as playing a role in her qualification. “I had good course conditions with the second-to-last starting bib. With the warm temperatures, I thought the course would degrade a lot by the time I raced but it didn’t.” She had the advantage of watching earlier athletes go through, and drawing on their energy. “It looked so epic. It made me super excited to go out there. With the results I’ve had this winter I didn’t think I would make the Pursuit so I just wanted to have a race where I executed my plan well.”
Chloe Levins and Jackie Garso completed the US roster in Friday’s race. Levins echoed Geraghty-Moats’ comments about the atmosphere in the stadium: “The energy under the lights in Nove Mesto was electrifying tonight.” Levins, who finished 80th with two misses, is coming off a training season that was interrupted by a number of health issues. “I’m nowhere near satisfied with my result, but continue to gain great experience and feel myself racing back into shape.” Garso, competing in her first World Championships, finished 87th with three misses. She, too, was shocked by the crowds: “It’s unbelievably loud! You can’t even hear yourself breathe.”
Saturday 10 Feb Men’s Sprint 11:05 (Eastern Time)