World Cup Stars Light Up the Summer Sky at Blinkfestivalen
Training for the 2019-20 BMW IBU World Cup season has been ongoing for three months; as the calendar turned over to August “testing season” officially began with some of the biggest World Cup circuit names going head-to-head at the Blinkfestivalen. The Sandnes, Norway competitions kick off weeks of national trials, show competitions and the summer highlight, the IBU SBWCH at Raubichi in Minsk, Belarus later this month, all opportunities to test the effectiveness of summer training against international biathlon rivals.
World Cup in Shorts
Blink has been a Norwegian tradition for 13 years, a showcase for the Norwegian team and regulars like the French squad. However this year, besides these two, the full Italian A team, the Swedish and Czech teams, and sterling individuals like Kaisa Mäkäräinen, Ekaterina Yurlova-Percht and Anastasiya Kuzmina made it seem like a winter World Cup in shorts and rollerskis.
Fourcade, “Have Fun and Win”
Johannes Thingnes Boe and Martin Fourcade were the biggest story line in their first match-up since the Norwegian took his first World Cup Total Score title, stopping Fourcade’s winning streak at seven. Before the first competitions, Fourcade told NRK TV, “I am here at Blinkfestivalen to have fun and win…I started the training slowly. I am improving my shape and looking forward to starting competing after so many months…I am totally focused on getting back to my highest level this winter…”
Mäkäräinen, “Feeling of Competition”
Yet before the two days of biathlon competitions kicked off, numerous biathletes tackled the vicious Lysebotn hill climb skating race (11K for men, 7.5K for women, going from sea level to 640 meters). Mäkäräinen, who spent much of the past two months in the mountains, considers this uphill challenge a summer tradition, knowing that, “No one goes to these competitions preparing just for them…Still, it is a race and we are athletes who want to compete; you get the feeling of competition when you put on a bib number.”
The 36-year-old passed her first competitions test with flying colors; she finished third, as the top biathlete in the uphill grind behind Norwegian superstar cross-country skier Theresa Johaug. In the men’s competition, just turned 31-year-old Tarjei Boe was the top biathlete, in 10th, just over 20 seconds ahead of World Cup rivals Jesper Nelin, Emilien Jacquelin, and Vetle Sjaastad Christiansen.
Quick-fire Artists: Doro and Tarjei
In true test style, speed shooting competitions kicked off the Friday program and unsurprisingly, two well-known quick-fire artists, Dorothea Wierer and Tarjei Boe showed their summer shooting program was on track. Wierer easily shot her way through the three rounds for a winner-take-all against the elder Boe brother. Cheered by the home crowd, Tarjei was a split second faster in the finale than the Italian, taking the crown. Immediately after the win, the two hugged and shared a laugh.
A couple of hours later, the 12-athlete mass starts revved up the action, spinning through the city streets, climbing steep man-made bridges with four shooting bouts. This fast-paced 13 minute competition with miniscule penalty loops looked like a Swedish time trial at the last standing; World and Olympic Champion Hanna Oeberg lining up with teammates Mona Brorsson and Linn Persson. Unsurprisingly, nerves-of-steel Oeberg quickly shot clean, with her teammates going to the loop. She skied home with a 7 second win over Brorsson and Røiseland. Oeberg called her win, “Fantastic, I tried to stay focused on the shooting (cleaning the standing stages) even after the three prone penalties.”
Johannes and Martin Delight
The featured rematch between Johannes and Fourcade was a delightful 17 minutes for fans and the two rivals. They lined up with Jacquelin for the final standing: the Norwegian and the young French star had penalties; Fourcade cleaned and left with a 1.5 second lead. The three battled over the next two minutes, with Johannes pulling out the win in the last 80 meters. Both crossed the line and collapsed, with big smiles on their faces. Fourcade tapped Johannes’ leg; he responded with a fist bump, later commenting, “For sure a big fight; after the last shoot when I missed one. He attacked from the start and I tried to catch him; then he gave me a little much respect. I was almost dead!”
“I was full bore from shoot two (after three prone penalties). I knew with his finish speed, it would be difficult. I tried…he was simply a bit faster at the end. In the spirit of these show competitions, Fourcade added, “When I left after the last shooting (in a duel with Johannes), I thought the Norwegian fans must be happy now, they got what they wanted!”
Home Team Wins for Røiseland, Birkeland
The Saturday supersprint competitions were just as exciting as those on Friday. Expectations were high for another Fourcade/Johannes face-off while Røiseland and Eckhoff hoped to stop Oeberg. The tribunes and sidewalks, packed with flag-waving fans were thrilled when the home team won both competitions.
Røiseland cleaning the final standing stage fulfilled the fan’s dreams when she took a half-second lead over Eckhoff and Oeberg who went to the penalty loop. The leader set the pace and pulled away for the win, waving to the fans as she crossed ahead of the mass start winner Oeberg and Eckhoff.
Everyone was prepared for the men’s Norway/France battle. That matchup did happen, not with Johannes, but Lars Helge Birkeland cleaning the last standing and flying away with an 11-second gap over Vetle Sjaastad Christiansen and Fourcade. The less heralded Norwegian fist-pumped and smiled broadly as he came down the home stretch as his teammate kept Fourcade in the third spot.
Test Over: Fourcade More Confident
The French star was satisfied with this first “test” weekend. “I expected to win today but when Lars Helge shot clean, I knew it was not possible anymore. I came here with no expectations, because I did not know about my preparations and how I would recover from yesterday. I was second in the shooting contest, second in the mass start and third today. I think I can go into my training with more confidence now.”
With a smile, he added, “I will get my revenge with Johannes in my race at the end of the month in Annecy!”
Photos: Axelar / Trine Nessler Wichmann, Arild Aarnes, Nanco, F.S Hoogstad, Rune Helliesen, Ǿyvind Andersen, Martin Riseth, Hans Lie, Martin Knutsson