Ruhpolding, Germany, January 26. Leif Nordgren (Marine-on-St. Croix MN) led the US Biathlon Team here today with sixth place in the Youth 7.5K Sprint at the Youth/Junior Biathlon World Championships.
Nordgren, who had one penalty in the prone stage, finished a mere 24 seconds behind the winner, Vladimir Alenishenko of Belarus, who won in 22:53.8. The sixth place is an outstanding achievement, based on how the prone stage went for Nordgren. He had trouble bolting the rifle; then ejected the first round which he later had to hand load, resulting in at least 20 seconds of extra range time and the penalty. Coming to the standing stage, nevertheless, he made up time in the next 2.5K. After handily cleaning the standing stage, he was close to the top six. As he approached the final climb on the tough Ruhpolding layout, Coach Vladimir Cervenka told Assistant Coach Gary Colliander, “It is all in your hands! Get him over that hill!” The urging of the staff pushed the 18 year old to a state of exhaustion by the finish, but his skiing gained valuable seconds that pushed him to the sixth place finish.
Well recovered about thirty minutes later, Nordgren was recovered and smiling as he accepted a bouquet of flowers and stood with his rivals in the flower ceremony.
He talked about his day after the flower ceremony, “Coming into the race, I did not know what to expect, because last year, I placed in the fifties (54th in the Sprint). After prone, I knew I was skiing well and still thought that I could have a good race. My standing shooting has been good all week here, so I had a lot of confidence.” As for the missed prone shot and the “what could have been,” he added, “Misses are a part of biathlon. They just happen.”
In a video interview below, Nordgren explains his shooting range experience and how he felt handled the Ruhpolding Wall:
Nordgren is the only US competitor in the Youth category to qualify for tomorrow’s 10K Pursuit competition. Coach Cervenka commented, as Nordgren left the flower ceremony, “Watch out for Leif in the Pursuit!” Preston Butler (Marion, MA) just missed the 60-man Pursuit field in 62nd place, with three penalties, 3:06.5 back. He was followed by Ethan Dreissigacker (Morrisville, VT) with four penalties, in 70th place, 3:57.9 back and Raleigh Goessling (Duluth, MN), with six penalties, in 80th place, 4:59.3 back.
Normally, biathlon in Europe starts at rather sane times of the day, late morning, or mid-afternoon, to reach the widest television audience. Additionally, there are usually only one or at the most two competitions per day. The Youth and Junior Biathlon World Championships are the exception. With four categories competing in one day, today’s Junior Men’s 10K Sprint started at the almost unheard-of hour of 8;50 AM, which meant very early breakfasts with ski preparation and testing beginning well before sunrise.
The US men responded well to the early start and cold minus 7-Celsius temperatures. Russell Currier (Stockholm, ME) recorded his best ever finish, 15th place in these Championships. Well known as a fast skier, Currier’s shooting has improved dramatically in recent weeks and today was no exception. He shot with authority in both prone and standing, recording single penalties in each stage. After the prone penalty, he was in the mid-twenties. Leaving standing, he was in 18th position. A fast last loop helped him grab the 15th place, 1:28.6 behind Anton Shipulin of Russia, who shot clean, winning in 24;47.7. Germans Florian Graf, one penalty, and Arnd Peiffer, two penalties finished 12 and 16.7 seconds back, respectively.
At the finish, Currier was on the ground, obviously spent from the effort. He talked about the course, “This course does not particularly suit my style. It was much harder than I thought and took a lot out of me on the last loop.” Finishing 25.1 seconds and seven places behind Currier was Wynn Roberts (Battle Lake, MN). Roberts also had two penalties, although both of his were in standing. Smiling, but disappointed with the two penalties, he said, “I came in a little too fast. Just a few heartbeats slower and I would have hit them.” Roberts 22nd place put him 1:53.7 behind the Russian. Mark Johnson (Grand Rapids, MN) struggled on the shooting range with two prone and three standing penalties to finish 77th, 5:01.6 back. The Ruhpolding crowds came out for the Junior Women’s 7.5K Sprint, as their new “biathlon queen” Magdalena Neuner was competing. After Neuner won three senior World Championships’ titles last year at Antholz, it was thought her days in junior level competitions were over. Nevertheless, she was on the start today, for what could be called a ‘tune-up” for the big dance in Ostersund in two weeks. The German star did not disappoint her fans, easily winning in 24:38.9, despite two standing penalties. Teammate Susan Konig had a single penalty to finish 41.8 seconds back, while clean-shooting Marine Dusser of France finished a distant third, 1:07.1 back.
Both Laura Spector (Lenox, MA) and Meagan Toussaint (Madawaska, ME) shot well, finishing 20th and 28th, respectively. Spector, 3:04.1 back had only one prone penalty while shooting clean in the standing stage, but took a fall in the final 500 meters that cost her some time and probably two or three places. She explained, “I was coming down the hill and went down face first. It was pretty icy. The girl right in front of me took a harder fall as she went completely off the course. I tried to be aggressive especially on the first loop today, to get a feel for the snow. I try not to be tentative when it is icy, but usually I am.”
Toussaint, in 28th place was all smiles at the finish, as she shot clean. “I knew I would have to shoot clean to get a good place. I am definitely cautious when the course is like this.” Toussaint caution is tempered by the fact that she took a serious fall last season at these same Championships in Martell, Italy.
Brynden Manbeck (Grand Rapids, MN) had three penalties, finishing 45th, 5:01.9 back. All three US Junior women qualified for tomorrow’s 10K Pursuit.
Today’s competitions ended with the Youth Women’s 6K Sprint, where Hilary McNamee (Fort Fairfield, ME) added another top 20 finish for the US Biathlon Team with 18th place. McNamee, with a single prone penalty and clean standing shooting finished 1:43.6 behind Maren Hammerschmidt of Germany, who shot clean in a 20:21.6 victory. Norwegian Elise Ringen in second, 2.2 seconds stopped a German 1-2 finish by Hammerschmidt and her twin sister Janien, who finished 9.7 seconds back.
As the tracks iced up in many places, the Youth Women had problems staying upright, with approximately 25 falls in the field of 92. McNamee, who did not fall commented, “It was icy in places, but on the big uphill (which was sunny most of the day), it was actually sugary and deep.”
Like the winner, Addie Byrne (Bovey, MN) shot clean, while finishing 35th, 2:37.6 back. Grace Boutot (Fort Kent, ME) finished 55th, 4:10.6 back, with one penalty in each stage. Boutot not as lucky as some others, fell twice on the same icy turn. Despite the falls, she qualified for the Pursuit field, as did McNamee and Byrne.
Today was one of the best days that the US Biathlon Team has experienced at these annual Championships, with two top fifteen finishes, highlighted by Nordgren’s sixth, and Currier’s 15th,as well as McNamee’s 18th and Spector’s 20th. Additionally, the shooting was world-class with two clean shooting performances and several athletes with only one or two penalties. Coach Colliander summed up the day, “We had a good day, especially on the shooting range.”
On Sunday, the Pursuit competitions start at 10 AM CET (4 AM EST) with the Youth Men, followed by the Junior Men at 11 AM, the Youth Women at 1:30 PM and the Junior Women at 2:30 PM.
Live streaming video coverage of all of the competitions at the Youth and Junior World Championships competitions as well as archived highlights of the World Cup season, is available by clicking the athlete photo at the top of the news column at www.usbiathlon.org.
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