Ruhpolding, Germany, February 1. The US Team of Leif Nordgren (Marine-on-St. Croix, MN), Russell Currier (Stockholm, ME), Wynn Roberts (Battle Lake, MN) and Mark Johnson (Grand Rapids, MN) finished 9th in the 4 X 7.5K Relay at the Youth/Junior Biathlon World Championships today.
The ninth place finish, 6:53 behind Russia’s Gold medal effort, is not indicative of the outstanding effort by Nordgren in the first leg. Nordgren, moving up from the Youth category for the relay, skied the first 2.5K comfortably in 12th position. In prone, he shot deliberately, using one spare round to clean. He left the range in 11th position, just 27 seconds behind Norway. As he skied through the second 2.5K, Coach Vladimir Cervenka commented, “Leif is skiing good and moving up.” By the time he reached the standing stage, Nordgren had moved to eighth position. As others were missing shots, he dropped the five targets rapidly, leaving in fifth position. The Bronze Pursuit medalist quickly passed the two teams in front of him, pulling away by the tag to Currier.
By that exchange, Nordgren had put 22.9 seconds on fourth place Bulgaria. The US was 48.1 seconds behind Germany at the exchange. As Nordgren approached the exchange, the stadium announcer called his effort the “surprise of the day so far.” Nordgren missed the comment, but was ecstatic about his leg, “It was awesome! I should have not missed that one shot in prone. Then, when I left the shooting range after standing, I saw the two teams in front of me. I did not know if I should pass them, but I went for it and pulled away. I was concerned that the Russian behind me was going to catch up.” (Russia was 46.1 seconds behind the US at the exchange).
Currier kept the US in contention through the prone stage, where he shot clean. He left prone in fourth and maintained that spot, just 47.6 seconds back before the standing stage. In standing, the magic started to disappear for the US Team. Currier used all three spare rounds, yet picked up two penalties. Suddenly, the US was 2:28.7 back, hanging on to fifth position as he tagged Roberts. Currier explained, “I was happy with the prone. However, I hurt my back yesterday. I did not do anything special, it just happens occasionally. I am OK, except for shooting standing. It was extremely hard to get into position and I was never comfortable.”
Roberts added to the woes for the US. He needed all three spare rounds in both prone and standing. Even with the spare rounds, he picked up four penalties as he tagged Johnson in tenth position, 5:19.7 back.
Nordgren to Currier
Johnson commented on his leg, “When I started, I knew my only goal was to keep us in the top 10, even though I slipped back to 11th before standing. I told myself that it was just like any other race in the US and did my best.” He used two spare rounds in prone and one in standing to clean. With the good standing shooting, Johnson left the range for the final 2.5K in ninth position, which he maintained to the finish.
After the second leg, the top three teams were determined, with Russia, Norway, and Germany in the top positions. It was just a matter of sorting out the final places over the latter legs. In the end, Russia with a solid leg by Victor Vasilyev took the Gold with no penalties and 11 spare rounds. Norway had one less spare round, but was 9.5 seconds back at the finish. The German Team with the best shooting of the day, no penalties, and only eight spare rounds was third, 52.1 seconds back.
“This is just for experience for these guys,” was how Coach Vladimir Cervenka summed up the US Team in the Youth Men 3 X 7.5K Relay before the morning competition. He continued, “We do not get many opportunities to do relays. This is the biggest field ever for a Youth Relay, 22 teams, so this is a great place for these three guys in their first World Championships to get some experience.”
The team of Ethan Dreissigacker (Morrisville, VT), Preston Butler (Marion, MA), and Raleigh Goessling (Duluth, MN) finished 19th, 10:01.2 behind Germany. The US Team started well, as Dreissigacker cleaned prone. He needed all three spare rounds in standing and picked up one penalty. He tagged Butler 2:15.1 back. Butler used all six spare rounds, ending up with two more penalties in standing, tagging Goessling 7:10.8 back. Goessling needed two spare rounds to clean prone. In standing, he added another penalty, giving the US four penalties for the day.
Although Germany eventually ran away with Gold medal, there was a battle for the top spots, especially in the early stages of the competition. A costly three penalties in the second leg by the Italian Lukas Hofer turned what had been a battle between Italy, Germany, and Norway into a runaway victory for Germany.
The German team of Benjamin Thym, Benedikt Doll, and Felix Schuster won the Gold medal in a time of 1:08:14.1.
Throughout the first leg and the first half the second leg, the three teams battled for the lead, with none gaining the advantage. Suddenly Italy’s fortunes turned sour, with Hofer left on the penalty loop as Germany and Norway skied off into the distance. By the exchange, Germany was comfortably in the lead with 1:08 over the Norwegians and 1:17 on Italy. From that point, even with one penalty, Germany’s Felix Schuster brought his team in the Gold Medal position a comfortable 49.1 seconds ahead of Norway.
With Germany comfortably ahead, a battle for the Silver developed between Norway, Italy, and Romania. In the final standing stage, the three teams lined up together on the range. The Norwegians responded the best, as Vegar Bergli downed the five targets in just six quick shots to leave in second position. Italy’s Dominik Windisch matched him but was 8.2 seconds back. Romania needed three spare rounds to clean, thus putting them out of the medals. Windisch tried in vain to catch Germany on the Wall, but failed and finished with the Bronze medal, 5.4 seconds behind Norway and 54.5 seconds behind Germany. Romania with no penalties, but 11 spare rounds finished fourth, 1:22 back.
The 2008 Youth/Junior Biathlon World Championships conclude on Saturday with relays in the Junior and Youth Women categories.
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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