Evgeny Ustyugov claimed the first World Cup victory of his career in capturing the Men’s 12.5k Pursuit in 34:50.98 this afternoon at the Pokljuka World Cup. He was followed by 31-year-old Roland Lessing. 9.2 seconds back, with the first podium result of his career. The winner had two penalties, while Lessing shot clean, while Austria’s Simon Eder, with two penalties finished third, 10.8 seconds back.
This afternoon’s Pursuit was significantly more exciting than the women’s version this morning, when Svetlana Sleptsova cruised to an unopposed victory. It would be hard to determine how many lead changes occurred before Ustyugov took it for the final time. Among those in the lead at one point on the tracks or in the shooting range were Sprint winner Ivan Tcherezov, who finished eighth today, Lessing, and fourth place Dominik Landertinger.
As is typical of most Pursuit competitions, the shooting was fast and furious, as typified by Landertinger, who missed two shots in three stages, but still managed to finish just 12.5 seconds from the top position. Landertinger was shooting fast, but was skiing amazingly faster than almost anyone in the field, thus staying so close to the winner.
Ustyugov and Lessing
In the final standing stage, it was Lessing versus Ustyugov. The Estonian shot clean first and was out of the stadium in first position. However, Ustyugov also shot clean and took off in pursuit, catching Lessing and taking the win. He commented, “I was satisfied with my performance because the tracks are difficult. The key for me was the last shooting stage, when I shot clean. I was very good on the tracks on the last loop, and that was the final difference.”
He was not surprised to come from start position seven to first today. “Anything can happen in biathlon, so I am not surprised that I won.”
First Podium for Estonia
Besides the first World Cup win for the two-time World Junior Champion Ustyugov, one of the two biggest stories of the day was Lessing. The 31-year-old Estonian has competed at the World Cup level since December of 1998 and the closest he has ever been to the podium previously was 10th place in the Trondheim Sprint last March. His third place was the first-ever podium result also for Estonia. He placed 51st in the Pursuit in the 2006 Torino Olympic Winter Games.
Eder, who was starter number ten, but finished in third place in this Pursuit, liked today much better than the windy, snowy conditions yesterday, stating, “The conditions were cold but fair today with no wind. I like that so then I can do my normal fast shooting.”
He gained a minute on the tracks over the fast Landertinger, who started second, as the two finished just 1.7 seconds apart. Landertinger’s skiing did not surprise him, “He is so fast that I am not surprised he was so close.”
Behind the top three was Landertinger who took fourth in a photo-finish with Arnd Peiffer of Germany. The German had a single penalty. Burke took sixth, followed by Slovenian Klemen Bauer with three penalties, 40.3 seconds back and Tcherezov, 41.2 seconds back. The seventh place for Bauer was his best-ever World cup finish, although he did win the second Sprint at the Idre, Sweden IBU Cup this year.
Yellow Bib to Burke of the USA
Although Lessing’s podium was a barrier shattering result for him, Tim Burke of the USA made an even bigger step for his country. Burke, who finished sixth today, with three penalties, 37.3 seconds behind Ustyugov, accepted the yellow bib at today’s flower ceremony. This is the first time a biathlete from the USA has ever donned the yellow bib as Overall World Cup leader. In an interview yesterday, he commented, “My goal for the first part of this season was to be in the top fifteen. I never expected to be in this position now. Before the 2006-07 season, I had never scored a World Cup point; last year I finished 25th and now I am vying for the yellow bib. It is pretty amazing.”
Burke and Helena Jonsson of Sweden will have the yellow bib when competition resumes in Oberhof in of January, 2010.