Ruhpolding, Germany, January 10. The US Women finished 16th today, 9:55.1 back in the Women’s 4 X6K Relay won by the Russian team that is almost unbeatable this season, winning three of four relay competitions this season.
A new week brings a change in venue for World Cup Biathlon from bleak Oberhof to for today at least, sunny Ruhpolding. Unseasonably warm and wet weather has dominated central Europe for weeks, thus, a break in the clouds is welcome relief. This almost spring-like weather lifted the spirits of the athletes, especially the women who benefit the most competing in the today’s relay.
Unlike Oberhof, there is good snow cover on the tracks. Ruhpolding was able to make large amounts of snow numerous times. Also had a couple of decent natural snowfalls that has resulted in a good base. Unfortunately, other than on the tracks, Ruhpolding looks eerily similar to most World Cup venues this season; a ribbon of snow through green pine forests and brown fields, bereft of any snow.
Despite finishing one place below their 15th last week in Oberhof, the US continues to show small improvements. Today was the first time all season that the US women did not have nay penalties. They also recorded the least number of extra shots today, with nine compared to the sixteen last Thursday. These small steps will eventually improve their relay results.
As the women bolted from the starting line today, Coach Per Nilsson commented, “It looks like Lanny (Barnes) had a much better start.” No sooner than he had spoken these words, Barnes lay in a tangle of skis and poles in front of the grandstand. She and the Chinese woman, Yingchao Kong had somehow tripped each other. This put Barnes at a disadvantage from that point on. Still, she avoided any further mishaps and used three extra rounds to clean her ten targets. She tagged off to Denise Teela (Anchorage, AK). Teela had a clean prone stage; also hitting the first four standing shots, before needing two extras to drop the final target.
Tracy Barnes (Durango, CO) had both the fastest split for the team today and her first clean shooting race of the year. On both prone and standing, she dropped the five targets rapidly. She had the tenth fastest split of the day for her leg.
Erin Graham (Jericho, VT) anchored for the US, needing two extra shots on both prone and standing to avoid the penalty loop.
Today, the Russian team was deadly accurate on the shooting range, as they needed only one extra round on their way to their 1:20:18.1 victory. The German women, with a valiant effort by Kati Wilhelm, fell 7.9 seconds short of satisfying the 15,000 fans crowding the Ruhpolding stadium and tracks. Wilhelm, who left the stadium after the final standing shooting stage over 26 seconds behind the Russian team, ran out of time as she closed the gap until her final stride. The nine extra rounds the German women needed cost them the victory, as each round takes about 8-9 seconds to load and fire. Third went to France, well off the pace at 2:14.4 back.
The US men will be looking to improve on their 9th place finish of last week in the 4 X 7.5K Relay tomorrow. The order remains the same with Hakkinen, Burke, Bailey, and Teela, respectively.
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