Shining Stars, Stunning Location Highlight Martin Fourcade Nordic Festival
It would hard to pick a more stunning setting than Le Pȃquier, the site that French star chose for this first-ever major show competition in France. The huge green esplanade lays just steps from the city, alongside Lake Annecy’s crystal blue waters, with the French Alps dotting the horizon behind the shooting range. The lakeside 1.7K loop was packed three deep from start to finish, with a 3,000 fan strong tribune, enthusiastically cheering for every athlete and by the way, it was a cloudless sunny day for this first-time event.
Athlete/Organizer Fourcade Wins
After winning the men’s competition in typical Fourcade style, taking over from Benedikt Doll with a 5-for-5 first standing stage and pulling away from the field after that, the beaming Fourcade commented on the event he nurtured. “It was incredible and amazing; I could not ask for more except a little less warm! We, my ‘partner in crime’ Alexis Boeuf and two others started with a blank piece of paper six months ago. Everyone said we could not do it, put on this event in the center of Annecy; it would be impossible, and here we have created something special.”
Yurlova-Percht, “Happy and Excited’
The day before the event, very athlete in the elite group of eight men and eight women was excited and looking forward to this big Saturday in Annecy. Ekaterina Yurlova-Percht was a little surprised when she was invited. “I saw this unknown number on my phone and I did not answer. Then I got a text from Martin and said he wanted me to come to his festival. For sure I was really excited and happy since there are only eight women. My immediate answer was ‘yes;’ I was not going to say no, just yes!” Continuing, she added, “August is my test month. I did Blink, Wiesbaden, and now this. It is nice to get the feeling for competition in the summer. But it is also so nice to come to an event like this and compete in a relaxed atmosphere, because you do not get this chance in the winter."
Antonin Guigonnat admitted to being the local guy. “I am really to local athlete. I am from 50K from here; all of my family and friends will be here. It does add some pressure but I have learned how to enjoy that pressure to my advantage.”
Braisaz Surprises in Third
Justine Braisaz did not really what to expect. “I am very excited to see the filled tribunes and all of the people. This will be great promotion for our sport and French Biathlon.”
Inspired by the boisterous French crowds, Braisaz finished with a solid third place behind the unstoppable Italian duo of Lisa Vittozzi and Dorothea Wierer. At the finish, the local hero said, “I adored the experience today. I am truly honored to be a part of this event and am looking forward to coming back in the future.”
Vittozzi’s Standing: Difference Maker
Vittozzi outlasted Wierer on the hot afternoon with brilliant clean standing stages. “I trusted my standing shooting and it brought me the win. But it was incredibly hard; the loop is flat, you have to push all of the time and the temperature was very hot.” She continued, “The atmosphere was amazing; it was great fun.”
Doro: “Too Hot But Alive”
Wierer, second and smiling explained her struggles with the heat and on the shooting range. “It was not fun in the first standing shooting. I had a really bad position; then I realized I was just shaking, but it was good training because you have always to push. The atmosphere was really cool. I did not expect so many people; they were cheering for everybody which is nice.” Then with a big laugh, “But it was too hot for me. I am still alive and that is important!”
Johannes: “No Place to Hide”
Fourcade’s anticipated duel with Johannes Thingnes Boe never really happened. They chatted amiably for television before the start and embraced at the finish. Yet beyond that, Fourcade was moving up while Johannes battled the targets, twice using all his spare rounds and then ending up in the time-penalty box. Like Wierer, the fair-skinned Norwegian, who eventually finished fourth, wilted in the afternoon sun, eventually finishing fourth. “You could not slow down. There was no place to hide. There were people watching everywhere. Regarding his fitness, despite not making the podium, Johannes added, “The shape is coming; I am getting more fit.”
Doll and Hofer
Doll surprised even himself win second place. “I never expected it. There are a lot of good shooters here; my first standing was really bad and I was still in a podium spot.”
Lukas Hofer was third, giving half of the podium spots to the Italians. Drenched in sweat, he simply called his day, “Hard…but this was an amazing event. I had no idea it would be like this.”
Beautiful Event and Place
Fourth place Kaisa Mäkäräinen was full of praise. “This was super-fun. It is a really nice place here. This is just beautiful, the city and for us the tracks next to the lake was wonderful, a beautiful event.” Doll seconded the Finnish star, “Great event: beautiful environment, beautiful landscape and especially the fans that cheered for everybody. I really liked that.”
Something Special: "Dreams Come True"
Fourcade, who has spent many days and hours on this event was very pleased to hear this praise from his colleagues. “Inviting them to this event; I wanted to give them something special. We tried to make everything convenient, with the best accommodations and be kind with every answer we gave. Hearing this from them is very special to me. As a member of the IBU Athletes Commission, I need to take care of the athletes. Being an athlete and organizer at the same time, I wanted to be really fair. Do not ask too much of them and give them what they deserve…This was a lot of stress, but it is what I wanted. I am very glad about how it turned out. It was my dream comes true.”
Photos: La Chaine L’Équipe, IBU/Jerry Kokesh