Seven disciplines: Seven Gold medals
JT’s fourth Gold medal was the seventh and final missing link in his IBU WCH Gold medal chain. Having a Gold medal now in every IBU WCH discipline is special, “It is (special). I can’t believe winning one more race here in the World Champs. It is quite crazy. I am just enjoying every moment.”
“Wet, deep snow…made just for me”
As for his skiing that literally out buried the field, “I felt really good in the warm-up and this morning as well. With the wet, deep snow here in Oberhof, the course is really hard. I knew it was made just for me. Our wax team, the wax mafia are so strong in making the best material; I had the best chance before the start but you have to hit the targets. That was an issue with two penalties, but it was enough in the end.”
France’s Quentin Fillon Maillet, who saw his podium chances die with a last stage penalty, finished fourth, with one penalty, 1:31.9 back. The home team Germany’s Benedikt Doll finished fifth, with one penalty, 2:09.6 back. 22-year-old Niklas Hartweg, with two penalties, finished sixth, 2:31.8 back.
The weather was very spring-like for longest competition of the Championships with sunshine, +11C, the wind flags almost flat and soft deep snow on the tracks. Good shooting became more important than ever, with little time to be gained on the tracks, except for the Yellow Bib. JT set the stage early with a very efficient, perfect first prone stage, giving his rivals that followed a mark to shoot for. Rival number one Laegreid also cleaned. lagging by 19 seconds. Samuelsson, skiing very well closed his five targets, leaving 7 seconds back.
Laegreid, hatless in the winter heat, admitted the warm weather posed a challenge that he did his best to overcome. “I actually like it like this. It feels like I am on a summer vacation on a beach. Of course, the head gets boiled and you have to find the coldest parts of the forest to breathe when you are there and get some fresh air before you get into the hot stadium. It is difficult shooting in your mind when you are so tired from the heat. It is very demanding.”
Fillon Maillet, after a perfect prone stage did the same in the first standing as JT missed a shot. The Yellow Bib skied so fast that he was only 16.1 seconds behind Fillon Maillet. Laegreid took the lead by a few seconds, going to 10-for-10, quickly supplanted by Samuelsson.
JT regained the lead on the tracks before the second prone stage, but missed a shot, falling 41 seconds behind 15-for-15 Fillon Maillet. Laegreid moved into the lead with five more targets closed, ahead of Fillon Maillet of his French rival. Samuelsson missed his first shot of the day, dropping to fourth, behind the Yellow Bib.
Fillon Maillet’s perfect day ended with a one-minute penalty in the last standing stage, while JT recovered with a clean stage, retaking the lead by 49 seconds. Laegreid moved back into his familiar spot, second behind his teammate after he missed his first shot of the day. Samuelsson’s perfect last five shots vaulted him into third, .5 seconds ahead of Fillon Maillet, with 4 km to go.
“Five shots…quite fast”
The undefeated JT was well aware of what was needed in the final standing stage to stay perfect for 2023. “I knew I needed five shots and quite fast and them maybe I could take the Gold medal. I could not use too much time, because it would be really on the edge…”
JT continued to pull away from the field in the last loop, adding seconds despite the deep chopped-up soft snow. On the last uphill, passing Fillon Maillet and speeding into the finish with his first IBU WCHG Gold medal in the 20 km individual. The key to his last loop speed was simple, “Today was all about finding the right path in the tracks. I did not use too much energy…I felt good all the way, so I was never tired.” Laegreid battled on the last loop, but continued to fall further behind his teammate, crossing the line over a minute back.
Samuelsson moved away from Fillon Maillet as the last loop progressed. With 3.4 km to go, the Swede was up by 10+ seconds, adding a few more to finish third. “I knew on the last loop that I still had energy left, so I had to push because you never know who comes after you.” The podium mirrored Sunday’s pursuit: JT, Laegreid and Samuelsson.
“Lower my shoulders and enjoy it”
Unlike some others who dwelled on the tough conditions, Samuelsson focused on enjoying the competition. “I was quite relaxed today. I just enjoyed the race. After a struggling season when you get a good race, I felt I could lower my shoulders and just enjoy it. I was very happy before the race and looking forward. Then we got here and it was warm. You know it will be tough conditions…everyone was talking about how hard it would be. I knew I had to have the right mindset on the track to be offensive. I am very happy with a medal again.”
Photos: IBU/Christian Manzoni, Björn Reichert