By Harald Zimmer
It would be understandable if this week, Russia’s Anastasia Zagoruiko experienced the type of nightmare where you are trying to run away from someone, but your legs seem to idle and you just cannot gain any ground. The figure chasing her in her dreams might be a young woman in the bright red spandex race suit of the Norwegian ski team.
Saturday was the windiest day of the competition week at the International Biathlon Union’s (IBU) 2016 Open European Championships in Tyumen, Russia. Nadezda Skardino of Belarus managed to cope best with the difficult conditions, shooting clean in the women’s 10-kilometer pursuit until the final standing stage, when she incurred two penalties narrowly missing her first and last shot (0+0+0+2).
Regardless, she came out of the penalty lap and back on the course with a small lead to Germany’s Karolin Horchler who had shot clean in her last shooting, and defended it into the finish in a time of 30:01.7 minutes.
“Today I felt much better than during the sprint [where she placed fifth],” Skardino told reporters, according to an IBU press release. “Unfortunately before the sprint I had a long trip. But during the last few days I got some sleep and rest. So today, I felt good and confident, and glad to win.”
Behind Skardino, Horchler held her position from the sprint to repeat her silver medal, finishing 7.4 seconds back, also with two penalties (1+0+1+0).
“Silver medal number 2,” Horchler later posted on her Facebook page. “I am extremely happy about my competition today, which was exciting until the finish. With this atmosphere and in this brilliant stadium it is just fun. Thanks to the whole team and to everyone for keeping your fingers crossed.”
Third place went to 19-year-old Norwegian Ingrid Landmark Tandrevold, also a gold medalist in pursuit at the 2015 Youth/Junior World Championships in Minsk, Belarus, who, by her own account was racing in her international debut against “senior” athletes this week in Tyumen.
In an exciting finish, she still caught up to Russia’s 27-year-old Zagoruiko, who had left the range after the final shooting five seconds ahead and held a lead until the last split time. But on the final downhill Tandrevold got into the draft of the Russian, and sprinted past Zagoruiko on the finish stretch without even using her poles. Tandrevold raised her arms and screamed in excitement as she crossed the line 0.3 seconds ahead to secure the bronze medal (+14.1, with three penalties).
“My first sprint win ever, just at the right time!” Tandrevold posted on Instagram, according to a translation.
After the noise level in the “Pearl of Siberia” arena in Tyumen initially dropped in a bit of a shock, the fair Russian audience quickly returned to cheering for the remaining athletes as they came into the finish. Sprint winner Nadine Horchler, Karolin’s older sister, finished the pursuit in sixth place (+37.8) with four penalties.
While the race with 60 starters wrapped up, the narrowly beaten Zagoruiko was crying in the finish pen, and had to be consoled by teammates and coaches. The spectators tried to cheer her up by giving her the biggest round of applause during the flower ceremony immediately following the race, though they also celebrated Tandrevold when she jumped for joy on the podium.
Kummer Takes Gold in Women’s Mass Start
On Sunday in the women’s 12.5 k mass start, almost the same scene as in the pursuit a day before repeated itself: five athletes enter the last loop within about 30 seconds of each other, and in the finish a certain Norwegian junior athlete had sprinted her way from fifth to third place.
In strong snowfall, Germany’s Luise Kummer was able to defend a lead after the final shooting to win gold in a time of 36:05.1 with two penalties in the four shooting stages (1+0+0+1). She crossed the line 8 seconds ahead of Slovakia’s Paulina Fialkova, who had three penalties yet reduced the gap to Kummer by 10.5 seconds, but could not quite catch up to her.
“It was both [wind and nervousness], and the third thing was that my legs were shaking so much, so I just had to take more seconds than normally,” Kummer said of her final stage in the press conference. “I think at the third shooting stage I was luckier than everyone, I just took that chance and hit all the targets. Today in the morning I felt really tired, but from the third leg I felt better and more confident, and in the end I was quite happy that I could win.”
A few seconds behind Kummer and Fialkova, Norway’s Tandrevold again managed to close a gap of 5 and 10 seconds on the final loop to Russians Zagoruiko and Olga Iakushova, respectively, as she had done in the pursuit the day before. She made use of her fast skis and technique for the best finish out of the final downhill to win the sprint to the line, and again claimed the bronze medal (+11.3, with four penalties).
Iakushova finished fourth (+11.8, with three penalties), and Zagoruiko was fifth (+12.8, also with three penalties), with the Russians once again losing their lead and the chance at a medal to the young Norwegian on the final meters.
It was the second medal for Kummer at the European Championships after a silver medal in the single mixed relay with her partner Matthias Dorfer, and also the second for Fialkova after a silver medal in the mixed relay for Slovakia. Both Kummer and Fialkova competed on the IBU World Cup this season, with a 14th place in the sprint in Canmore, Alberta, the best result for Kummer and a sixth place in the pursuit in Ruhpolding, Germany, the best one for Fialkova.
The speedy Tandrevold posted the second-best course time behind Russia’s Svetlana Mirova (who finished 11th due to five penalties), wrapping up a great week with her third bronze medal (single mixed, pursuit, and mass start) at the European Championships, where she competed against senior athletes for the first time.
Babikov Outsprints Teammate Garanichev to Win Men’s Pursuit
At least on the men’s side, the Russian fans in Tyumen had plenty to cheer for, as Russia’s Evgeniy Garanichev and his younger teammate Anton Babikov dominated the men’s 12.5 k pursuit race on Saturday evening, skiing fast and shooting clean until both missed a shot in the last standing shooting.
The race was decided only on the last meters, after Garanichev had gone on the final loop with a 0.8 second lead and Babikov right behind him. Down the final stretch both athletes raced next to each other, with Babikov winning the lunge into the finish by 0.1 seconds despite Garanichev’s best efforts falling to the ground as he crossed the line.
“On the final lap I understood that both of us had enough power, so there was no reason to try to run away from him,” Babikov commented on his race against Garanichev, according to an IBU press release. “So I thought we could have a good battle in the finish sprint. I knew how he can finish fast, I saw it from the previous competitions. At the same time I knew my strengths and I took advantage of it.”
“Yes, I noticed that Evgeniy made a mistake and unfortunately I cannot completely ignore those moments,” Babikov added when questioned about the last shooting. “But luckily I missed only one target as well. This miss will be a stimulus to work on that.”
It was the first time that Garanichev got beaten during a race in Tyumen this week, after winning gold in the mixed relay in a similarly close sprint against Slovakia’s Martin Otcenas and then also winning the individual start 10-kilometer sprint on Thursday.
Coming into the finish with a significant gap 46 seconds later, the bronze medal went to Germany’s Florian Graf, celebrating across the line after he had narrowly missed a medal coming in fourth place in the sprint and mixed relay before.
“Yeeees there she is!! The first medal of the season and then even at the European Championships,” Graf later commented on his Facebook page, according to a translation. “The bronze medal means a lot to me and I am enormously happy!!!“
Graf Wins Men’s Mass Start
On the next day following his bronze medal, things went even better for Graf in the 15 k mass start, winning gold in a time of 38:20.5 with only one penalty (0+1+0+0).
In easier wind conditions than during the women’s race, half the field stayed clean initially, and a fairly large group of eight biathletes remained close together until the third shooting. In the last stage, the leaders Germany’s Matthias Bischl (who finished sixth) and Austria’s Tobias Eberhard (who finished eighth) fell out of the top group with two penalties, while three athletes at the top remained clean and Russia’s Babikov only incurred one miss to return to the course in third place
On the final loop, Graf was caught by 33-years-old biathlon veteran Jaroslav Soukup of the Czech Republic making up a six second difference. But Soukup could not create a gap on the climbs, and with fast skis Graf was able to take the lead again out of the last downhill into the arena.
Seeing that he was unable to close the gap once more, Soukup stopped pushing hard and slid into the finish 4.1 seconds behind Graf to win silver.
Similar to Tandrevold in the women’s race, Bulgaria’s Vladimir Iliev managed to catch up to and ultimately overtake Babikov by skiing the fastest course time on the final loop (and third-fastest overall) to claim the bronze medal, 8.5 seconds behind Graf. After overcoming a 14.0 second gap from the last shooting stage, Iliev did not have to get into a sprint against the winner of the pursuit race on Saturday, who finished fourth (+14.3, with one penalty).
Graf crossed the line with a severely bleeding nose, though it was unclear what had caused the injury, and he did not elaborate on this in his first statements.
“I am very happy to be here today,” Graf said, according to an IBU press release. “It was a great battle with Jaroslav. I had only one mistake, so I am very glad about how I did my race. I did not feel so good, but was very happy about my shooting and skis.”
Asked about his experience in Tyumen, Graf added: “It is great place here, I really like it. I like the crowds, the public is very crazy, but in a good way, so I enjoyed staying and competing here.”
“Good things come to those who wait! I am so incredibly happy about the title European Champion in the mass start,” Graf later wrote on his Facebook page.
Garanichev skipped the mass start that he would have been qualified for, likely in order to get some additional rest ahead of the upcoming World Championships.
While the European Championships were the season highlight for many of the athletes competing in Tyumen, some will also make the trip to the World Championships in Oslo, Norway, beginning Thursday, March 3 with the mixed relay.
For Russia, Garanichev is sure to be on the team, but head coach Ricco Gross insinuated that he might add a few more of the young athletes, such as Babikov, who had very strong results during the last week of competitions in Tyumen.