Anna Andexer emerged as the biggest star of the JOECH competition, securing an impressive trio of medals. Notably, Andexer's triumph in the individual race merits special recognition. Covering a challenging distance of 12.5 km, she demonstrated unparalleled shooting precision, maintaining a 100% accuracy rate and exhibiting exceptional course speed. This performance propelled her to victory with an extraordinary three-minute lead over her compatriot, Leonie Pitzer. Meanwhile, Heda Mikolasova of the Czech Republic secured the bronze medal. When Andexer performed less-than-ideal and secured "only" the bronze in the sprint event, the spotlight shifted to her teammate Lara Wagner, who successfully defended the championship title she had claimed a year prior in Madona. Sonja Leinamo from Finland claimed the silver medal in the sprint, showcasing her potential following a few promising World Cup performances.
The men's competition started with a historic moment as Enkhsaikhan Enkhabat secured a victory. The 21-year-old athlete hailing from Ulaanbaatar became the first athlete from Mongolia to stand on top of an IBU podium. Enkhabat showcased precision in the individual race, hitting all 20 shots and clinching a win with a mere one-second lead over Kalle Loukkanhuhta from Finland. Jakob Kulbin claimed the third spot, finishing 20 seconds behind the leader, a feat he replicated on Saturday in the sprint. Only two competitors outpaced his performance: gold medalist Arttu Heikkinen from Finland and Marcin Zawół from Poland. Zawół's second-place finish held a profoundly personal significance as Jakuszyce is his home venue, where he took his first steps on skis.
The culmination of the competition unfolded with Sunday's mass starts, a debut addition to the JOECH program, supplanting the pursuit races. In the women's event, once again, no formidable adversaries challenged the dominance of Austria's Anna Andexer, who stood atop the podium alongside Svatava Mikyskova from the Czech Republic and Ema Kapustova from Slovakia. The men's race was a riveting affair, with Matija Legovic from Croatia emerging victorious, demonstrating that his summer triumphs on roller skis were no fluke. Although Jakob Kulbin from Estonia initially crossed the finish line in second place, he faced disqualification for firing more than five rounds at the last shooting. Consequently, the silver medal was bestowed upon Vitalii Mandzyn from Ukraine, while Lukas Haslinger from Austria secured the bronze medal.
The organizers prevailed over the weather conditions with a score of 3:1, as the mixed relays were removed from the competition program due to heavy rain. Hopefully, the Youth/Junior World Championships hosts in Otepaa, Estonia, will have more luck with the weather. The event scheduled from February 21st to March 2nd will be the grand finale of this year's IBU Junior Cup.
Photos: IBU I Roman Koksarov