Oberhof, Germany, January 3. The US Women’s Relay team finished 15th in tonight’s 4 X 6K Relay, won by the French team that never relinquished the lead after moving into first during the second leg.
The French took the lead after Ann Kristin Flatland of Norway took a hard fall in the second leg. The fall was the only serious mishap on a night when the tracks were extremely icy in many places. France’s quartet had 3 penalties and 15 extra rounds on their way to the victory, in 1:20:58.4. Germany, also with 3 penalties, but 17 extra rounds was 6.8 seconds back. China, with only 1 penalty and 11 extra rounds was 20.4 seconds back.
Since the end of the first portion of the biathlon season on December 17, not much has changed weather-wise in central Europe. The Rocky Mountain region of the US boasts abundant snow cover, while the ski regions of Europe are snow-starved and warm. Oberhof, billed as the “winter sports center,” received its first snow cover of the year yesterday. For weeks, temperatures here hovered well above freezing, leaving this first Biathlon World Cup of 2007 in jeopardy. The organizers and local community faced a potential loss of approximately 15 Million Euros if the event was cancelled, as the almost 90,000 tickets have been sold out since last June.
Accordingly, desperate measures were necessary to get “snow” to this area. The Oberhof Organizing Committee brought in truckload after truckload of crushed ice from a fish packing company’s ice plant in Bremerhaven, nearly six hours away. They covered 2.5K of tracks with this ice over recent days. On Monday, volunteer crews began grooming, to create a snow-like base. With a few inches of natural snow yesterday mixed in, the tracks look normal. This less-than-perfect solution saved this week’s competitions, but left the tracks with an icy base that glazed as the competition progressed.
Head US Wax Technician Bernd Eisenbichler described the condition of the tracks prior to the competition. “Actually, it is better than we expected. The organizers did a remarkable job. There is a small very dry snow base on top of this ice base. Below the top layer, the base is icy very granular, different than we have ever seen. It is very interesting to prepare for.”
Fans in the packed the Oberhof Rennsteig Arena saw 16 teams lined up for the 5:15 PM start. Sisters Lanny and Tracy Barnes (Durango, CO) handled legs one and two for the US team. Lanny used one extra round to clean prone and an additional two rounds to clear the standing stage. Tracy had one penalty in prone, but just one extra round in standing. Half way through the competition, the US women were in 15th and remained there to the finish. Jill Krause (St. Cloud, MN) took over from Tracy Barnes. As the competition progressed, the wind continued to pick up, which affected all of the competitors. Krause needed all six extra rounds to clear the targets. Erin Graham (Jericho, VT), in her first World Cup start anchored the US team. Like Lanny Barnes, she needed only three extra rounds to clear her targets, bringing the US women home 10:10.2 behind France.
On Thursday, the men take center stage here in Oberhof. With many of the top German men, including Olympic champion Sven Fischer coming from Oberhof, the fans are expected to turn out in even bigger numbers than today. The US men will be trying to improve on their 12th place finish in the relay last month at Hochfilzen. Tim Burke (Paul Smiths, NY), who had an amazing leadoff leg in Hochfilzen (fifth position at the handoff) will relinquish scrambling duties to Jay Hakkinen (Kasilof, AK). Burke will go second on Thursday, with Lowell Bailey (Lake Placid, NY), third. Jeremy Teela (Anchorage, AK) moves back to his normal anchor position.
The Men’s 4 X 7.5K relay will conducted under the lights like the women’s event today. These dinnertime starts, with live coverage across Europe, are extremely popular, always drawing huge television audiences.
Live streaming video coverage of Biathlon World Cup competitions for the remainder of the season is available by clicking the Biathlon World Cup logo at the top right of the page at www.usbiathlon.org.
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