In its eighth edition, the Junior Open European Championships takes place in a new destination, the winter sports centre “Smeceres sils” located in the hilly terrain of Madona, Latvia. Totally eight sets of medals are at stake during the competition week, six of them being handed in individual and two in team competitions.
The Championships started with the longest distance for both Junior Men and Women athletes. Each of the 20 targets that got missed added an extra minute to their total time.
Hans Koellner of Germany started with bib #4 but remained in the lead all throughout the competition. He scored his career-best with a clear shooting score and the fourth-fastest ski time. Also with 20/20 Fabio Piller Cottrer of Italy claimed his first podium and wore the bronze medal around his neck.
The defending champion from last year, Blagoy Todev of Bulgaria finished second with one miss making a statement when coming to the podium with a Ukrainian flag. "The Ukrainians helped me several times during the year, most recently with my hamstring injury. Without them, I wouldn't be back on track," said the 21-year-old.
Both bronze and silver medals went to France in Junior Women Individual with Leannie Jeannier being faster on the skis despite missing one more target compared to her teammate Camille Coupe. Coupe, who won the Individual in Pokljuka last year, was content with her result given that she did not feel well before the start. Similarly to Koellner, Lea Rothschopf of Austria claimed her first-ever win with 19/20 at 41:36.3 at the finish.
While temperatures dropped down a little, the pace of the athletes on tracks increased, especially in the afternoon's Single Mixed Relay.
The morning started with Mixed Relays. Italy, Germany and Ukraine stayed on top from the start all throughout the course of the competition, but it was the last shooting that decided the final standings at the finish. Ukraine scored 0+8 with the fastest shooting time, but stayed behind in skiing and finished third. Both Germany (0+11) and Italy (0+9) gained more than one minute advantage on the tracks and took silver and gold at the finish.
The final shooting played a major role also in the second competition of the day. France was out of podium positions until the last leg, when Leonie Jeannier shot 10/10 and crossed the finish line in first, celebrating victory with her teammate Jacques Jefferies. Austria left the shooting range in fourth but took silver at the finish after a strong final lap. Germany added bronze to their medal collection.
Rain falling from the sky in the morning, which turned into snow showers as the day progressed, challenged the athletes on the tracks during Sprints.
A day after helping Italy to relay victory, Nicolo' Betemps dominated the Junior Men Sprint with the perfect shooting score and third fastest ski time, 2.1 seconds behind Czech Republic's Petr Hak, who won a silver medal with one miss in standing. Third place went to Konrad Badacz of Poland, who also shot 10/10, but explained why it wasn't enough for the top spot: "What is disappointing is that I'm feeling so bad on the track, but the shooting is the best for me. Medal is a medal and it's great," he says with a happy smile on his face.
The afternoon ceremony saw four medalists in total as France's Anaelle Bondoux (1+1) and Bulgaria's Lora Hristova (0+1) crossed the finish line at the exact same time both winning the bronze medal. Bondoux's team-mate Chloe Bened didn't miss a shot and finished second with a 3.2 seconds gap behind the gold medalist Lara Wagner of Austria (0+0), who claimed her first career win.
For the final day of competitions in Madona the weather conditions changed once again, this time coming with strong wind bursts accompanied by heavy snowfall in the afternoon.
While the tracks became hard again, the wind was another factor that the athletes had to deal with, especially on the final shooting. Sprint's winner Nicolo' Betemps gave his opponents no chance of catching him, slowly increasing his lead to 49.4 seconds at the finish. Jacques Jefferies of France ended second with two misses on the shooting range, but second fastest ski time. Christoph Pircher added another medal for Italy claiming the best Pursuit time, getting from the 34th position to bronze medal.
In the Women Pursuit, the bronze medalists of Saturday's Sprint took gold and silver, both making three mistakes on the shooting range. Anaelle Bondoux of France showed an impressive performance on skis with the best Pursuit time, crossing the finish line 49.6 seconds ahead of Bulgaria's Lora Hristova. Marlene Fichtner (0+2) completed the podium, achieving the first women's individual medal for Germany.
For the concluding stage of the 2022/2023 season, the Junior Cup will head to Shchuchinsk, Kazakhstan where the Youth Junior World Championships will take place from March 4th to 15th.