By Erin Yungblut
DUSZNIKI-ZDROJ, Poland — After a rough start for North America in the 15/20-kilometer individual races last Wednesday, Jan. 25, the Open European Championships continued in Poland with extremely high-calibre racing and tight fields for the sprint, pursuit, and mixed relays over the weekend.
With many World Cup biathletes donning bibs, the sprint fields were tight and fast with little room for error. For North America, Paul Schommer and Alex Howe squeaked into Saturday’s pursuit, placing 58th and 59th, respectively, in Friday’s 10 k sprint. The North American women were undone by shooting woes and none qualified for the pursuit — the downhill range approach made for good shooting overall in the field, but a few bouts in all the races over the weekend seemed to be affected by shaky legs in a number of athletes.
After some tough prone shooting, both Schommer and Howe shot well standing and moved up to to 48th and 51st in the men’s 12.5 k pursuit on Saturday.
Meanwhile, Eastern Europe dominated the the results in both the men’s and women’s sprint and pursuit, with World Cup stars or athletes returning from doping bans topping the podiums.
The Russian teams were a formidable force for the relays on Sunday, winning both the regular mixed and the single-mixed formats. The highlight of the day was a bronze in the single mixed relay for the home nation by Polish couple Krystnya and Grezgorz Guzik, as well as the very loud crowd cheering for the Czech and Polish teams in the range.
With two women at the championships, the U.S. did not field a team in the single mixed relay, while the Canadian sprinting duo of Sarah Beaudry and Aidan Millar sharing seven spare rounds to tie for the second-best shooting in the field. The pair skied to 13th place (+1:56.1).
In the regular mixed relay, the American quartet of Emily Dreissigacker, Hallie Grossman, Max Durtschi, and Jakob Ellingson all skied solid legs and avoided the penalty lap, finishing in 14th with nine spare rounds (+4:47.4). The Canadians (Erin Yungblut, Leilani Tam von Burg, Matt Neumann, and Carsen Campbell) had an exciting day, narrowly avoiding being lapped by the Russians; they tied the best-ever Canadian shooting in a relay with only three spare rounds total. With other nations and coaches joining in on the cheering and back-splits, they ended up 16th on the day (+6:39.9).
Most of the teams at now head to either to Osrblie, Slovakia, for the next IBU Cup, or on to Hochfilzen, Austria, for World Championships.