In the fourth of eight weekends of IBU Cup racing in Europe, the U.S. biathlon team proved that their successful pre-Christmas campaign was no fluke.
No, the Americans are there to stay. They aren’t going anywhere…. except maybe up.
Haley Johnson and Jeremy Teela were added to the World Cup roster after their performances in Nove Mesto, Czech Republic this weekend, and will race at the next three stops on biathlon’s biggest stage: Rupholding, Germany next weekend, and then Fort Kent and Preque Isle, Maine, in early February.
Johnson, who was racing in Europe for the first time this season, started off with a bang, finishing 14th in the opening 15 k individual race on Saturday. She was just four seconds and one place behind teammate Annelies Cook, who was continuing an already-strong European campaign which included her very first World Cup starts. But in Sunday’s 7.5 k sprint, Cook missed one more shot then Johnson. The pair finished 28th and 31st, separated this time by 11 seconds.
Combined with results from a time trial on Thursday, this meant that Johnson got the promotion to the World Cup, while Cook will head to Altenberg, Germany with the rest of the IBU Cup racers – who should watch out.
“I accomplished what I set out to do and am very excited to look ahead to the next opportunities,” Johnson told FasterSkier in an e-mail. “I’m a bit on my own track this year having raced domestically in December, rising through the USBA Trials system, racing on the IBU Cup and not starting the World Cup until this week. It feels good to be back… after experiencing the teams on different levels, in different countries and different race scenarios, I am very glad to be back with the World Cup crew. Our staff is perhaps the world’s best and our resources are super professional.”
Johnson, a 2010 Olympian, said that after a disastrous series of trials races in Canmore to start of the season, she stayed focused on the big picture instead of getting discouraged.
“It’s a long season,” she said.
“There are so many elements in a biathlon race and a good percentage of them need to be working together in order for a race to go well. In Nove Mesto I felt stronger and snappier on the uphills, improved my four-stage shooting percentage, improved my range times and found hard for every second. It wasn’t a week of perfect racing, but it was just good enough to move up to the next level. I have four solid World Cups before World Championships in Russia and plenty of time to find my place on the World Cup this season – one race at a time. All of that keeps things in perspective.”
Cook has one more chance to qualify for the Maine World Cups next weekend. And based on her results so far – in four IBU Cup starts, she has finished in the top 20 three times – it’s not a stretch to say that she’s a shoo-in.
“I feel pretty confident racing at this level,” Cook said in an e-mail. “It won’t ever feel like racing at home, but I don’t feel uncomfortable either. I like being in Europe!”
Cook’s shooting was a mixed bag this weekend, and she said that her skiing had definitely been her strong point.
“I was very pleased with how I felt skiing, especially on Saturday when I was more fresh. It was so nice to feel aggressive and competitive. I was really excited with my skiing [on Sunday] because even though I felt quite tired, I was still able to push hard. Last year was a very rough year for skiing for me, so anytime I ski well it is huge.”
Tracy Barnes also had a good day on Saturday, finishing 19th with two misses over four stages. In Sunday’s sprint, Barnes missed three shots and finished 44th.
Susan Dunklee, the last member of the women’s squad, finished 48th and 58th.
Teela, meanwhile, had the top U.S. finish in the men’s races. After starting off with a disappointing 46th-place finish in Saturday’s 20 k individual – a race in which he missed six shots, and finished more than seven minutes behind the winner, Erik Lesser of Germany – Teela turned on the afterburners in Sunday’s 10 k sprint. He had the seventh-fastest course time, which allowed him to finish 20th even though he missed three shots.
Teela, a member of the last three U.S. Olympic teams, had been pre-selected for the first period of World Cups based on his performances from last season, but after a rough December, he was sent back to the IBU Cup to re-qualify.
Jay Hakkinen, another several-time Olympian, looked like he was going to be Teela’s biggest competition. Hakkinen, who missed the November trials and December races due to illness, had earned his place on the IBU Cup trip based on discretion and “force majeur”.
Before leaving for Nove Mesto, he wrote on his blog, “It will be good to get back to Europe, and see what the competition has got. I start with the US Trials, I guess for the World Championships, but I am not really sure how the trials systems works anymore. The important thing is to be back on the World Cup by Rupholding [sic].”
In Saturday’s individual race, Hakkinen appeared to be on track, and turned in the kind of performance that got him nominated for the trip in the first place. He missed only one shot in four shooting stages and finished 22nd, leading the U.S. men.
But in Sunday’s sprint, Hakkinen faltered on the range, missing three shots in prone and two in standing. He finished 58th, behind Teela and Zach Hall.
As a result, Hakkinen will be headed to Altenberg, not Rupholding. Along with Cook and Barnes, he’ll be a favorite when they have one last chance to qualify for the World Cups in Maine.
Hall had his best IBU Cup performance so far this season in Nove Mesto, finishing 47th in the sprint. He had struggled in the individual, missing seven shots, but improved for Sunday’s race. After cleaning in prone, he appeared to be on track for his first top-20 finish, but he missed two shots in standing.
Bill Bowler finished 51st in the individual, with four penalties, and 85th in the sprint, while Wynn Roberts had finishes of 62nd and 71st place, respectively.
Russell Currier finished 77th in the individual and did not start the sprint.
Canada did not send athletes to Nove Mesto.
Links to results: