For the first competitions in 2023, junior athletes headed north to the newly added biathlon venue in the wintery Haanja, Estonia. During the week over 200 biathletes from 24 nations took part in two sets of Sprints as well as Junior Women and Men Relays.
The first set of Sprints was scheduled for Wednesday with the same three nations - Austria, France and Germany - getting on the podium in both competitions.
20-years-old German Johanna Puff claimed her third podium spot this season, scoring in three different disciplines in three different venues (1st in Super Sprint in Martell, 2nd in Mass Start 60 in Obertilliach and 1st in Sprint in Haanja). With 319 points she stays in the third position of the overall score, 56 points behind the current leader Anna Andexer of Austria, who finished third. The second position went to Leonie Jeannier, who crowded the French success of five athletes in the Top 7.
Team France's celebrations continued in the afternoon when Theo Guiraud Poillot crossed the finish line in the fastest time with a clean shooting score. Two late starters - Benjamin Menz of Germany (bib 96) and Austria's Oliver Lienbacher (bib 93) - also closed all ten targets, taking place two and three at the finish.
The weather played an important part in Friday's competitions, mostly on the tracks. With gusts of wind in the forests blowing up the snow here and there, the athletes had to focus on every movement.
After struggling with her shooting in past competitions, Sara Scattolo of Italy regained confidence and managed to close all ten targets today, claiming victory by 5.6 seconds. France's Leone Jeannier repeated her second place from Wednesday, this time also with a clean shooting score. Ema Kapustova stayed 11 seconds behind Jeannier, getting the first individual medal for Slovakia this season.
In the men's competition, Christoph Pircher of Italy held off the lead at the finish all the way until the last starter Benjamin Menz of Germany pushed him to second position by almost 40 seconds. Both shot 10/10, but the German had a significant advantage both in ski and shooting time. Austria's Maximilian Prosser finished third with one miss, getting on the podium for the first time in his career.
The final day in Haanja was dedicated to relays. With some fresh snow on the tracks and changing wind conditions, the performance on the shooting range played a major role for success.
Selina Marie Kastl of Germany started strong, putting her team in a comfortable lead. With solid shooting (1+8 in total) her teammates stayed in the top position throughout the competition, claiming victory at 1:07:59. Following an unfortunate collision with Germany in the first loop, in which Camille Coupe broke her ski and pole, team France progressed in each leg, finishing second with 1+11. Ukraine held second position until the final shooting and completed the Relay in third place.
The Junior Men German Relay (0+17) followed the success of their teammates adding their second victory of the day, this time with some dramatic moments on the range due to the ever-changing wind. Ukraine (1+11) was in front positions all throughout the competition, but lose their lead in the final lap when Hans Koellner out-skied Vitalii Mandzyn. The third place was not decided until the last meters, but in the end it was France celebrating the podium spot.
The Junior athletes move to Madona, Latvia now where Junior Open European Championships kick off on Wednesday, February 15.
Photos: Greta Külvet & Taavi Nagel