By Evan Girard
OSRBLIE, Slovakia — The 27th Winter University Games officially began on Saturday, welcoming the top university athletes from around the world to compete in five biathlon events; individual, sprint, pusuit, mixed relay, and mass start. Osrblie, Slovakia will be home for the biathletes for the 10 days of the games. Sunday began the competition with the individual race format, men racing 20k and women racing 15k.
Despite having no natural snow, staff at Osrblie made enough snow to cover the 4 k men’s loop, though above zero temperatures made skiing on the artificial snow very difficult.
The men were the first to race in front of the ecstatic crowd, skiing the 4 k course five times and entering the range four times to shoot between each loop. Racers alternated shooting in the prone and standing positions, and incurred a minute penalty to their time for each missed shot – a format unique to the individual race.
Dmytro Rusinov of Ukraine proved to be the best man of the day. Rusinov was only second racer of the day to complete his race and he would remain in the top position, as the remaining 52 racers came in behind him. Collecting only one miss during the day and completing his race in 49:52.8, he collected Ukraine’s first medal of the games.
Russia proved to have a strong team, claiming the next three finishing positions and the top three isolated ski times. Vadim Filimonov claimed the silver medal with two shooting errors, 22.6 seconds back. Bronze went to Yuri Shopin, who finished 1:25.2 behind with three misses. Oleg Kolodiichuk skied to fourth place, only making one mistake finishing 1:29.5 behind Rusinov.
Vincent Mathieu of France took fifth position, 1:32.9 behind and Maksim Ramanouski of Belarus, who shot a perfect twenty-for-twenty to claim the sixth position.
Among 54 men in the field, two Canadians Evan Girard of the University of Saskatchewan and Sasha Eccleston of the University of Alberta Augustana Campus completed the 20k individual.
Girard, top Canadian of the day, made six errors, shooting to finish 14:58.0 off the pace in 46th position. Eccleston took 52nd after missing 10 shots and finishing 20:58.8 back.
The 47 women saw even more challenging ski conditions in their 15 k individual, having followed the men’s race.
Kazakhstan claimed their first gold of the games on the opening day of competition with Alina Raikova only making one shooting mistake and narrowly claiming the winning time of 47:29.4 over Russia’s Ekaterina Avvakumova.
Avvakumova shot perfectly, hitting each of her twenty targets, but missed the top step of the podium by just 9.0 seconds.
“I’m satisfied with the results of a race. I haven’t hoped of so good results before start of the competition. At first race I obtained golden medal, and that’s why I hope that I will succeed in another races.” Raikova said to the Slovak press following her race.
Racing in her home country, Paulina Fialkova gave the fans what they came for, claiming the bronze medal for Slovakia. Fialkova dominated on the skis, setting the fastest course time by over a minute. Despite four minutes of added time due to missed shooting, she finished 41.7 seconds off the winning time.
56.9 second back, Galina Vishnevskaya of Kazakhstan clawed back into the race with a jump from 17th to fourth. Evgenila Pavlova and Kristina Smirnova, both of Russia finished fifth and sixth, 1:30.5 and 2:47.8 behind respectively.
Keely Macculloch from the University of Alberta Augustana Campus and Jessica Paterson of the University of Alberta represented Canada in the women’s race. Macculloch and Paterson skied nearly identical lap times but Macculloch only made four shooting mistakes to finish 37th, 10:56.8 back. Paterson, who missed five, was 12:25.1 behind in 39th.
Paterson told FasterSkier after her race, “Things went okay for me. It was really tough out there, the corners were so soft and the climbs weren’t much better.”