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Shut out at last year’s World Championships, Norway’s Sturla Holm Laegreid claimed his place in the spotlight on Saturday, edging out defending champion Johannes Thingnes Boe (NOR) in dramatic fashion for gold in the 10 k Sprint. Vetle Christiansen completed the podium sweep for Norway, taking his first individual World Championship medal.
Laegried’s results in the four non-team competitions at last year’s World Championships were two silvers, a bronze, and a fourth place. Thingnes Boe won all but one of those races; he took the bronze in the Mass Start, pushing Laegreid off the podium. Laegreid has ranked second in the World Cup overall score the last three years in a row—twice behind Thingnes Boe—and is currently the sixth of six Norwegians who fill the top of the rankings. It’s hard to think of Laegreid as an underdog, and yet somehow he is. But second fiddler no more, Laegreid boldly claimed first chair in the Sprint at the 2024 World Championships in Nove Mesto na Morave, Czech Republic.
Laegreid’s super power has always been his shooting, and on Saturday it earned him the gold. Wearing bib 50, he was latest of the medal favorites to start, and one by one the others in front of him missed targets. Only Sebastian Samuelsson of Sweden managed to hit 10/10, but he couldn’t quite match the speed of the Norwegians and had to settle for fifth.
When Laegreid left the range after hitting 10/10, he had an eight second lead over J. Boe. But he couldn’t match Boe’s speed on the uphills of the final lap and with just one kilometer to go, Laegreid trailed Boe by two tenths of a second. In the final meters, with the advantage of knowing Boe’s splits, Laegreid put in a decisive finishing sprint to win by a margin of 3.5 seconds. It’s been a long time since an athlete looked so thrilled to cross the finish line in first.
Only Samuelsson and fourth-place Eric Perrot (FRA) infiltrated the otherwise Norwegian top seven. Perrot’s fourth place ties his second-best finish and is the closest any French man has come to the podium this winter. His teammates Quentin Fillon Maillet and Emilien Jacquelin finished eighth and ninth, and Samuelsson’s teammate Martin Ponsiluoma was tenth.
Just outside the top ten, American Campbell Wright set a new personal-best of 11th with clean shooting. This is Wright’s first season competing for the US, after training with the team last season while still competing for his other nation of citizenship, New Zealand. Wright will start Sunday’s Pursuit in bib 11 just 1:08 behind Laegreid. Teammates Jake Brown and and Sean Doherty also qualified for the Pursuit in 38th and 44th, both with three misses. Maxime Germain just missed qualification, finishing 63rd with four misses.
Doherty expressed mixed emotions about qualifying but not with a standout result: “It was tough and although I am very much looking forward to the Pursuit,” he said. “I feel like I left a bit on the table with three misses.” He also pointed to the exciting atmosphere and success of his teammate: “The crowds were awesome and I am really proud of Campbell.”
Jake Brown also expressed mixed emotions, describing how good execution doesn’t always align with a good result in biathlon. “I think I pushed pretty deep today and I’m satisfied with that. As for shooting, I was satisfied with my shooting speed; I really committed to sticking to my process, and I did that, and it was just frustrating to miss two in standing.” He went on, “I really came in with confidence. I’ll probably take the same approach in tomorrow’s race.”
The gap in ski times in the men’s Sprint was enormous, resulting in an unusually large 3:37-spread separating the top-60 Pursuit qualifiers. A typical spread is 2-2:30. When asked why he thought the spread was so large, Brown pointed to a combination of skis, conditions, and the ban of fluorinated wax products enacted this season. “There are pine needles everywhere, it’s very dirty, and there is a lot of loose, wet snow. It seems like the ski times on the first lap are somewhat normal but then they open up on the second and third laps.” In these conditions, technicians face an extra challenge of preparing skis in such a way that they repel dirt. Brown said that the US team had good skis, while many other nations struggled. The Germans, for example, who have been highly competitive all winter with three different gold medalists, did not place a single athlete in the top ten of the ski time rankings, and their best finisher in the race, Benedikt Doll, was 13th. Technicians from every team will have their work cut out for them again Sunday for both the men’s and women’s Pursuits.
Sunday 11 Feb Women’s 10 k Pursuit 08:30 (Eastern Time)
Sunday 11 Feb Men’s 12.5 k Pursuit 11:05 (Eastern Time)