Three things we learned at the IBU Open European Championships
The 2020 IBU Open European Championships taught us some important lessons about the biathlon family and perseverance while also revealing who won the first small Crystal Globes of the season.
1. The Home Team Belarus and the Biathlon Family
Once again at this edition of the IBU OECH, the home team rose to the occasion; they were highly competitive each day, taking medals in front of their adoring fans. Anton Smolski and Dzinara Alimbekava were the top qualifiers in the super sprints. Neither won a medal in the final but Sergey Bocharnikov grabbed Gold in the men’s super sprit final. The mixed relay team led at times and finished just off the podium in 4th place. Sprint day meant another medal as Iryna Kryuko electrified the packed stadium with her Bronze medal in the women’s sprint. However, Sunday was something special. Bocharnikov started by dominating the men’s pursuit for his second Gold medal. Two hours later, Elena Kruchinkina won the women’s pursuit Gold medal; her first-ever podium and only the second clean shooting day in her 10-year biathlon career. Bottom line: Belarus topped the medals table with three Gold medals and one Bronze medal.
Minsk-Raubichi was reassigned the IBU OECH at the last minute when Otepää with no snow was unable to host. Within days, the Minsk Organizing Committee that was already planning for the season’s last IBU Cup pulled together all the infrastructure, including housing, transport, volunteers, stadium and tracks to conduct four more competition days a full week earlier than planned. They added as much manmade snow as possible to their existing tracks, stadium and storage. Besides actually making the competition happen, the local fans packed the stadium each day, creating an exciting Championship-worthy atmosphere. Their efforts to pull off a successful IBU OECH are to be applauded and a true testament of how the biathlon family works together every day.
2. Perseverance Pays Off for Bocharnikov and Hoegberg
Two 33- year old biathlon veterans taught us a good lesson about perseverance.
Sergei Bocharnikov had never won an individual medal at the IBU OECH; his best BMW IBU World Cup result came two years ago, 17th place in the Oberhof pursuit. At last year’s Championships in Minsk, he just missed the podium with 5th in the sprint and 4th in the pursuit. Then after 17th in the super sprint qualifying, he shot clean and sprinted like never before in the last 100 meters of the super sprint final to claim his first Gold medal in his home stadium. Admitting he was not a great sprinter, he used tactics learned from watching the big names battle for medals in at the IBU WCH last week. “I tried to go left to get a better position, so that Adam (Vaclavik) could not make a move. I watched Johannes, Fourcade and Emilien Jacquelin in Antholz make this move. It is a good tactic to get first on the finish line.” Bocharnikov topped himself in the pursuit with another brilliant effort bringing him a second Gold medal. Handed a flag before the finish, “I had never done that before, but I have watched many times.” Figuring it out quickly, he celebrated in front of thousands of local fans, a dream-come-true in reality.
Then there is Elisabeth Hoegberg, two-time Swedish Olympian and five-time IBU WCH competitor with 175 BMW IBU World Cup starts on her resume, yet never an individual Championship medal. After a season with a few World Cup starts and some sickness in January, she came back to the IBU Cup in Martell, winning the sprint/pursuit double before coming to Minsk. After a disappointing 7th in the super sprint final, she opened the women’s sprint with a prone penalty. Suddenly, thinking about “a top 10 to get a good position for the pursuit.” However, fate intervened, the Swedish veteran cleaned standing when her closest rivals did not and won the IBU OECH Gold medal. In Sunday’s pursuit, she led much of the way until to last stage penalties pushed her to the Bronze medal. “Two medals are more than I ever expected here…It is awesome…I have been feeling better in the last weeks. I took some weeks off from the rifle and have been shooting well ever since…A coach told me I am aging like a fine French wine!”
3. First Crystal Globes Decided
The Minsk competitions wrapped up several of the battles for IBU Cup discipline titles: super sprint, mixed relay, individual and pursuit. This gave several athletes to get their small Crystal Globes in a big stadium, filled with fans.
The first Globe awarded of the season went to Norway’s Lars Helge Birkeland and Russia’s Said Karimulla Khalili who tied for the title in the Men’s IBU Cup Super Sprint Score. The Norwegian team after winning Gold and Bronze medals in Thursday’s single mix and mixed relays captured the IBU Cup Mixed Relay Score with 264 points. Norway picked up two more Globes when Endre Stroemsheim took the Men’s IBU Cup Individual Score as well as the Men’s IBU Cup Pursuit Score.
On the women’s side, two titles went to Sweden and one to Germany. The Women’s IBU Cup Super Sprint Score went Sweden’s Ingela Andersson. Stefanie Scherer of Germany took the Women’s IBU Cup Individual Score. IBU OECH Pursuit Bronze medalist Hoegberg added to her Minsk accolades with the Women’s IBU Cup Pursuit Score.
The remaining IBU Cup discipline and team titles will be decided in this week’s final IBU Cup, also in Minsk-Raubichi.
Photos: IBU/Christian Manzoni