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Luminita Piscoran of Romania won the 15 k individual by 20 seconds despite five penalties, giving her country its first title ever. (Photo: http://otepaa.biathlon.ee)

Luminita Piscoran of Romania (bib 40) won the 15 k individual by 20 seconds despite five penalties, giving her country its first title ever. (Photo: http://otepaa.biathlon.ee)

Senior racers got their first chance at glory at Open European Championships in Otepää, Estonia, in the 15 k and 20 k individual races today.

Gold went to Luminita Piscoran of Romania in the women’s 15 k. Under extremely tough shooting conditions, Piscoran missed five shots – but between that and the tenth-fastest ski time, she came out ahead by 20 seconds. It was the first podium ever for a Romanian biathlete at the Championships. Second-place Christina Rieder of Austria had three penalties and the best shooting of the day. World Cup regular Ekaterina Yurlova of Russia placed third.

Canada’s two entrants, Emma Lunder and Erin Yungblut, missed ten and nine shots, respectively, to finish 47th and 55th.

In the men’s 20 k, Alexey Volkov of Russia came out on top with just two penalties. Sergey Semenov of Ukraine was the closest to touching him, with the fastest ski time of the day but four penalties; he finished 1:05 back. Vladimir Iliev of Bulgaria placed third +1:31.

Russell Currier led the United States in 55th with seven penalties, followed by Maine Winter Sports Center teammate Casey Smith in 61st with five penalties. Leif Nordgren did not finish the race, dropping out after the third shooting stage.

Macx Davies placed 45th for Canada, with eight penalties, and Scott Perras 54th with nine. Matt Neumann and Guillaume Bertrand rounded out the squad in 67th and 93rd with six and 12 penalties, respectively.

“Today wasn’t the best,” Davies posted on his facebook fan page. “Shooting 0,3,3,2 For a total of 8 misses out of 20. A poor performance when each miss adds a minute to my time. But I am happy with the skiing, my best 20km ski race I have done. Overall am OK day, considering the winds in the range, but looking for some big improvement going into the weekend races.”

Results: women / men

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Estonia's Rene Zahkna gave the home crowd something to cheer about when he finished second in the junior men's 15 k individual race at Open European Championships in Otepää. (Photo: otepaa.biathlon.ee)

Estonia’s Rene Zahkna gave the home crowd something to cheer about when he finished second in the junior men’s 15 k individual race at Open European Championships in Otepää. (Photo: otepaa.biathlon.ee)

Maddie Phaneuf had the top North American performance on the first day of biathlon’s Open European Championships in Otepää, Estonia, placing 20th in the 12.5 k junior women’s individual competition. Phaneuf had four penalties and finished 4:56.9 behind the winner, Victoria Slivko of Russia, who only accrued a single penalty. It was a close race: Dunja Zdouc of Austria, the runner up, had a time just 9.9 seconds slower than Slivko. But, as a later starter, Slivko was able to overcome a slight deficit after leaving the range for the final time and make it to the top of the podium.

Also for the United States, Mikaela Paluszek and Siena Ellingson placed 46th and 48th out of 53 finishers with seven and nine penalties, respectively. Canada’s Emily Dickson and Leilani Tam Von Byrg were just ahead of them in 43rd and 44th, with eight and nine penalties.

In the junior men’s 15 k, both the U.S. and Canadian racers also strugged to find their marks on the shooting range. Matthew Hudec and Arthur Roots represented Canada with five and six penalties, respectively, to place 33rd and 40th. France’s Aristide Begue, who is a World Junior Champion in the discipline, won by over a minute with Estonia’s Rene Zahkna placing second. Begue was one of only two men in the field to shoot clean for all 20 shots; the other was Heikki Laitinen of Finland, who placed tenth.

Brian Halligan, the sole U.S. entrant, missed six shots and finished 53rd.

Racing continues in Otepää through February 3rd.

Results: men / women

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In December, the Italian newspaper Gazetta Dello Sport reported that as part of the ongoing investigation into Italian doctor Michele Ferrari, who has aided doping athletes in multiple sports but most famously in cycling, police had recordings of wiretapped conversations between Ferrari and Gottlieb Taschler, the Vice President for Sport of the International Biathlon Union (IBU). Allegedly, Taschler set up a meeting between Ferrari and his son, Daniel Taschler, in 2010 to help Daniel obtain recombinant erythropoetin (EPO), a prohibited blood-doping drug.

Taschler temporarily stepped down from his post at the IBU, but did not comment extensively on the case at the time. He retained his role with the Organizing Committee of the Antholz World Cup. The biathlon World Cup competitions were held this weekend and while on site, the German broadcaster ZDF interviewed Taschler about the allegations.

Taschler claims that he has not seen the evidence from the wiretaps, and that his son did not obtain EPO from the doctor (or if he did, that he does not know about it).

However, Taschler did admit that he contacted Ferrari about his son: he says that he called about a thyroid problem.

“[I] brought him into contact, to be clear, not because of a doping thing,” Taschler said. It was at the time a health problem.”

He had consulted with several doctors in Germany and the thyroid issue was still unresolved, he said, so they turned to Ferrari.

Without seeing the evidence against himself, Taschler scoffs at requests that he resign permanently from his IBU position. ZDF reported that he seemed relaxed and certain that the allegations would be dismissed.

Daniel Taschler has only competed in a handful of World Cup competitions, with a top finish of 54th in the 20 k individual in Östersund, Sweden, in 2013.

From 1981 to 1983, Ferrari was the head doctor for the Italian national biathlon team. That coincided with the beginning of the senior Taschler’s career; he later made three Olympic teams in 1984, 1988, and 1992. In 1988 he was part of Italy’s bronze-medal relay team, as well as earning bronze in the World Championships relay in Oslo in 1986. He also had individual top-10’s at 1985 and 1986 World Championships.

“He did a great job then,” Taschler said of Ferrari’s involvement with the biathlon team. “How he screwed up later, that is his own problem. “As a man I’ve always had a good impression of him.”

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Brendan Green had a career-best day in the World Cup sprint in Antholz, Italy, on Thursday, placing fifth. That made a dilemma for the Canadian biathlete: how to approach Saturday’s 13.5 k pursuit?

“I had anticipated that I would likely have to red line it to catch and then ski with [Jakov] Fak and [Benjamin] Weger on the first loop,” Green explained in an email.

In a five-loop biathlon race, that was a risky maneuver. The fast pace so early ended up catching up with Green, who couldn’t maintain the speed or his string of perfect shooting.

“The pace absolutely crushed me,” he wrote of the first loop, where he hung onto the two skiers ahead of him. “I still managed to shoot clean that first bout and leave the range in 3rd, but I knew the pace was one I wasn’t going to be able to handle. The second loop was hard and I was starting to feel blown up, but by the third loop I felt like I was able to settle a bit and finally relax.”

Green missed two shots in each of the middle shooting stages, but by relaxing later in the race he was able to bring things back together. He cleaned the final shooting stage and moved from the mid-20’s up to 18th, a position he maintained until the finish.

“From then on I felt like I recovered a bit and felt stronger as the race went on,” Green wrote. “It was a great experience to be in contention for the podium for part of the race and it was a learning opportunity for sure. I’m happy to have had that opportunity and hopefully next time I can stay in contention for more of the race.”

And as for the end of the shooting streak? By cleaning the first stage, he brought his tally to 55 straight hits on the World Cup. After that, well, it was natural that there’s be some error sometime, and Green says he still thinks he has what it takes to turn in more good performances.

“I knew my clean shooting streak would have to come to an end eventually,” he wrote. “It would have been amazing to keep it going for one more race, especially for today, but it was great that it lasted so long and hopefully I can continue to have strong shooting throughout the season. In talking with my coach Matthias after the race the misses sounded like they were very close with no big errors.”

Competition continues with relays on Sunday: “It’s been a really fun last couple weeks of racing so far and I’m looking forward to the relay tomorrow!” Green wrote.

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Dunklee Antholz flowers

American biathlete Susan Dunklee (right) celebrating after finishing sixth in the 10 k pursuit in Antholz, Italy, today. Franziska Hildebrand of Germany and Marie Dorin Habert of France (left, center) finished fourth and fifth.

Susan Dunklee took Friday’s eighth-place finish in the 7.5 k sprint and turned it into a flower ceremony on Saturday. In the 10 k pursuit, she had just a single penalty in four shooting stages and skied the fifth-fastest isolated pursuit time to move up to sixth place. It’s a season-best for the American biathlete.

Darya Domracheva of Belarus started with bib one after winning the sprint and was never challenged, also missing just a single shot and skiing to a one minute, 21 second victory over Daria Virolaynen of Russia. Virolaynen started in bib 11. The battle for third place was an intense one: Dunklee, Kaisa Makarainen of Finland, and Marie Dorin Habert of France left the range together, fighting for fourth place. The pack stayed together for most of the 2 k loop, but Makarainen pushed hard at the end and caught Franziska Hildebrand of Germany, who had been skiing in third place. The Finn bumped her off the podium by just 0.3 seconds.

Hannah Dreissigacker, the other U.S. starter, moved from 60th – the final woman to make the pursuit cutoff – up to 42nd despite four penalties.

The two Canadian women, Rosanna Crawford and Megan Heinicke, finished 26th and 29th.

Results

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The Biathlon Federation of Ukraine President, Vladimir Brynzak, has decided that athletes convicted of doping offenses will be permanently banned from the national team. The decision reportedly comes after consulting with the International Biathlon Union (IBU). Ukraine’s biathlon team has had two major doping offenses in the last five years: the first when Oksana Khvostenko ingested the banned stimulant ephedrine in her cold medicine and the women’s team lost their 2011 World Championships silver medal in the relay; and the second last week when it was announced that Sergui Sednev had tested positive for EPO nearly two years before. His formal suspension has not yet been decided and his case is waiting to appear before the IBU’s Anti-Doping Hearing Panel.

According to a press release on the Biathlon Federation of Ukraine’s website, Brynzak writes:

I would like to inform the fans and all biathlon community about the initiative of our Federation regarding the incident with Sergey Sednev. We decided to unilaterally dismiss the athletes who were caught using prohibited medicine from the Ukrainian national team. It means that the athletes, in addition to the standard two-year disqualification by IBU, will no longer be able to become a part of the Ukrainian national team. We hope that such decision will influence those who will try to act dishonestly and discredit our federation. With this initiative we would like to emphasize the fact that we always support only honest competition, and encourage other national federations to support us.

It is unclear whether lifetime bans will stand up should an athlete appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). The WADA Code does not stipulate that athletes can be banned for life after a single doping offense. U.S. sprinter LaShawn Merritt successfully appealed an International Olympic Committee policy that any athlete banned for more than six months for a doping violation could not take part in the next Olympic Games. CAS also ruled that the British Olympic Committee’s policy that athletes with a doping offense would never be able to represent Great Britain at any future Olympics was invalid.

Nevertheless, Brynzak hopes to move forward with the ban and hopes other federations will as well.

“This initiative was fully supported by IBU President Anders Besseberg and regards the unilateral decision to exclude for life from the Ukrainian national team all athletes who have tested positive for banned substances and were disqualified for a period of at least 2 years,” he wrote, according to the Italian website SnowAlps.com. “In other words, even once the disqualification of two years imposed by international bodies has ended, the doors of the Ukrainian national team will forever be closed. We hope that this choice will lead to reflection by those who attempted to pursue dishonest behavior and thus discredit on our federation. It is a gesture of good will and an act to emphasize that the Ukrainian federation to takes very seriously the fight against doping. We hope that other national federations will follow our example.”

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After a sample collected at an out-of-competition test in September 2014 tested positive for norandrolone, a prohibited steroid, Latvian biathlete Edgar Piksons was handed a two-year ban from the sport by the International Biathlon Union’s Anti-Doping Hearing Panel, the IBU announced on January 15.

Piksons, a 31-year-old career athlete, had about six times the concentration of noandrolone in his sample as is allowed by anti-doping rules. According to the panel’s minutes, he declined to have the “B” sample opened, stating that “there was a very small possibility that the results could differ.” Piksons subsequently retired, and did not attend the hearing panel because of financial constraints.

The Latvian two-time-Olympian’s written statements to the panel are more humble and apologetic than in most cases. Though Piksons does contend that he did not knowingly take the steroid – as does nearly every athlete accused of doping, whether it’s true or not – he wrote that even if it had entered his body accidentally through vitamins or supplements “my blind trust and unprofessionalism are not reasons to escape the liability.” He concludes by apologizing to Latvia and the world.

In the panel’s minutes, the investigators note that Piksons wrote the names of two supplements, Riboksin and Meditropin, on his doping-control forms. Both are anabolic drugs. Piksons wrote in his statement that he was prescribed the drugs by a foreign sport doctor he met at the Summer Biathlon World Championships in Tyumen, Russia. He does not name the doctor, but said that he found the person trustworthy.

Concluding that Piksons was irresponsible, the panel banned him from competition for two years.

Over the course of a long career, Piksons had two top-20’s to his name: 8th and 20th place finishes at 2011 World Championships in Khanty-Mansiysk, Russia.

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The International Biathlon Union (IBU) was interested in life on the road for U.S. biathletes, so it spent some time traveling with the U.S. IBU Cup team, with the cameras on.

US Biathlon Development Team member Kelsey Dickinson and Casey Smith (USBA B-team), both of the Maine Winter Sports Center, narrate the 2 1/2 minute video, “IBU Cup 5: Team USA Life on the Road,” which was published with a press release about this weekend’s IBU Cup 5 being relocated to Ridnaun, Italy, because of a lack of snow in Langdorf, Germany.

“We usually have a lot of fun when we’re traveling,” Dickinson said. “Everyone’s pretty happy; no one complains. We’re used to long travel days and so we just try to make the most of it. Play some fun music and talk and enjoy Europe because it’s so beautiful here.”

The IBU Cup 5 races begin Friday, with the men’s and women’s sprints at 10:00 CET and 13:00 CET, respectively.

Saturday includes the men’s and women’s pursuits (also at 10:00 CET and 13:00 CET), and the mixed relay goes off Sunday at 10:00 CET.

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This weekend International Biathlon Union (IBU) President Anders Besseberg told Norway’s NRK news service that multiple positive doping tests would be announced in the coming week, with athletes from multiple countries. It has been revealed that one of the athletes is Ukraine’s Sergui Sednev. This was initially reported by Norway’s TV2 news channel.

“The TV2 learned from a source central to biathlon,” TV2 reports. “A Ukrainian coach – who does not want to come forward with their name – confirms the information.”

The Biathlon Federation of Ukraine has since issued a press release:

“The International Biathlon Union (IBU) reported about the positive analysis of doping test A of the former Ukrainian biathlete Sergei Sednev. The positive sample was taken on January 22, 2013 in Antholz. After the initial inspection in 2013 Serguei had not been informed about the positive sample and only after being reviewed in December 2014 the discovery of an indefinite prohibited substance was reported.

“The Biathlon Federation of Ukraine, in accordance with Art. 6.5 Anti-Doping Rules IBU, conducted an internal investigation, in which the athlete was not able to explain or refute the use of illegal substances. The positive results of doping tests were unexpected because the Biathlon Federation of Ukraine is constantly working with athletes, coaches, doctors, and rehabilitators regarding the inadmissibility of the prohibited drugs use.

“The athlete was given the opportunity of opening the B sample, which would have cost 2,500 euros. But as Sednev had finished his carreer after the poor results over the past seasons, he decided not to conduct the further analysis.

“The Biathlon Federation of Ukraine supports the work of IBU and WADA and supports the measures that are aimed at ensuring the integrity of sports. We hope for objective decision of the IBU Anti-Doping Commission regarding this case in accordance with the Anti-Doping Rules.”

Sednev did compete in one World Cup race this season, the 20 k individual in Östersund, Sweden, where he finished 83rd.

Sednev is a 2010 and 2014 Olympian – his top Vancouver finish was 10th in the pursuit, and in Sochi he finished 44th in the sprint – and won a World Cup individual race in Antholz, Italy, in 2009. His presence this World Cup season was not particularly missed: he ranked 93rd in the World Cup in the 2014 season, and scored just nine World Cup points. It was very believable that his absence in the last World Cup races was due to performance, not a drug ban.

Sednev has been competing internationally since 2001. The biggest impact a disqualification of his last season of racing would have would likely be through relays and their effect on Nations Cup points. He was part of a 10th-place relay team in Annency, France, and an 11th-place team in Ruhpolding, Germany, in the 2013-2014 season.

The IBU has already suspended one athlete, Russia’s Alexander Loginov, based on the re-analysis of old samples using new analytical techniques. An additional provisional suspension was put into place on December 15, but the IBU did not initially release the name of the athlete, nor did any national governing bodies announce it. It appears that Sednev is the athlete in question.

On Saturday, Besseberg warned that more positive tests were coming.

“Because of new technology, we have developed new test methods that we can now test retest, and because of these tests, we found positive doping tests,” Besseberg told NRK. “I can not go into details on this here now. But we have positive samples and there is talk of athletes from several nations.”

It’s unclear whether he meant the suspensions of Loginov and Sednev – after all, Loginov’s suspension has been known for some time, but the two could be moving from provisional to final suspensions – or to additional, new positive tests.

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Trials for the U.S. team to World Youth and Junior Championships are underway in Mount Itasca, Minnesota. Originally scheduled to be held in Anchorage, the event had to be moved due to a lack of snow.

The first sprint competitions of the three-race trials series was held on Sunday. In the junior men’s 10 k sprint, Brian Halligan of the Maine Winter Sports Center (MWSC) won by well over a minute. He had two penalties to runner of Jakob Ellingson of Mount Itasca’s five. Jordan McElroy of National Guard Biathlon was another minute behind with six penalties.

In the youth men’s 10 k sprint, Paul Everett of Methow Valley took a 45-second win over Alexander Kilby of Skiku Biathlon, despite two penalties to Kilby’s clean shooting. Toby Quinn of Lake Superior Biathlon placed third with three penalties. The youth men’s field was the biggest of the day, with 23 competitors toeing the line for a chance to represent the United States in Minsk, Belarus, later this season.

By contrast, only a single racer showed for the junior women’s 7.5 k sprint. That was Mikaela Paluszek of MWSC, who racked up five penalties in her effort.

In the youth women’s 7.5 k sprint, Chloe Levins of Mountain Top Nordic Ski Club used excellent shooting – she had a single penalty – to win the day. Siena Ellingson of Mount Itasca finished second, 54 seconds back, with three penalties. That tally was matched by third-place Amanda Kautzer of Loppet Nordic Racing.

Racing continues Monday and Tuesday, although delays are expected due to cold weather. Updates can be found on the Minnesota Biathlon website.

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