Christiansen’s Olympic déjà vu
Christiansen admitted it was a bit of Olympic déjà vu, cleaning the last stage. “It was an exciting one. It was almost the Olympics all over again; four teams fighting for the podium in the last shooting and one of us unfortunately had to be number four. Again, I tried to not think too much about the podium and this unlucky fourth place. I head Sebbe shot a pretty early shot and he missed, so I thought, ‘just take your time and just clean,’ just do the same as in the Olympics. It is always difficult to copy what you did before but…Again as a team, our fifth victory of this year and without the brothers from Stryn. Amazing experience for our two young guys who were training very hard in the Olympics, being there as the reserve guys. I am very happy.”
Andersen’s first-time nerves
Second leg Andersen getting a victory in his first-ever World Cup relay was a bit nervous, but held up well. “It was really cool. I was nervous before the race, but as soon as I started the nerves completely vanished and I really had fun. The body was great and the shooting was great, except for one standing shot.”
Germany, with eight spares finished fourth, 13.8 seconds back. Austria, with the day’s best shooting, five spares finished in a season-best fifth place, 1:44.7 back. Switzerland with ten spares, finished sixth, 1:56.8 back.
Norway’s victory gave them the World Cup Relay Score Crystal Globe, with wins in four of the five competitions.
Sunshine, -4C and light winds greeted the twenty teams for the final relay of the season. Twelve of the top 13 teams shot clean in the first prone, with Slovenia, Canada and Norway in front, all within 11 seconds. Out of the standing stage, Erik Lesser after going 10-for-10 led the pack with now only three teams perfect; besides Lesser, it was Slovakia and Lithuania. The about-to-retire German had a substantial lead going into the first exchange.
Roman Rees took the tag with an 8.9 second lead over Simon Eder and Jesper Nelin, whose first-leg teammates had very fast last loops, bringing them into contention. At 14 and 17 seconds back, Andersen took over for Norway and Jacquelin for France. By the top of the wall, Jacquelin had closed the gap down to 3.5 seconds on Rees and by the prone stage, they were together. Jacquelin was fast, clean and gone with Eder out next but ten seconds back. The German used two spares, going out third, with the clean-shooting Norwegian next, but still 17 seconds back. The French star put the hammer down on the next loop, powering to a 27-second advantage over Andersen 700 meters before the standing stage. Jacquelin again was fast and efficient in cleaning in six shots. Eder shot just as fast spare-free but remained in second, trailing by 27 seconds with Rees next at 32 seconds back. Andersen added two spares, falling to sixth, 46 seconds back. He continued to bury the field with the chase pack of four led by Rees over 3o seconds back before the exchange.
Simon Desthieux had a 25-second margin as he left for the third leg, with Benedikt Doll, Laegreid and Martin Ponsiluoma all trying to come back from 25, 28 and 37-second deficits, respectively. The leader lost time with two spares but still got away 13 seconds ahead of Laegreid, Felix Leitner and Doll, all of whom used a single spare round. The Norwegian was on Desthieux’s shoulder by the top of the Wall with three more teams within 11 seconds. The leaders matched shots until Laegreid missed his final one while Desthieux cleaned, retaining the lead, with Laegreid now 7 seconds back, just a step ahead of the 5-for-5 Leitner and Ponsiluoma.
Quentin Fillon Maillet left the final exchange in traffic with Samuelsson, Christiansen and Philipp Nawrath surrounding within two seconds, setting up a battle royale anchor leg. Christiansen set the pace for the four until the Swede moved in front, coming into the prone stage. Samuelsson and his Norwegian foe both needed just five shots to clean, going out 1-2. Fillon Maillet shot carefully but clean seven seconds back, with Nawrath at 9.5 back. The leaders put a half-dozen seconds between them and the two chasers before what would surely be the deciding standing stage. Christiansen cleaned in five steady shots, while Samuelsson fumbled with his two spare rounds. Fillon Maillet used a spare, 9 seconds back, with Samuelsson at 17.5 and Nawrath at 18.2 seconds back.
Christiansen pulled away from Fillon Maillet, with Samuelsson and Nawrath closing in. The Swede moved into second at the top of the Wall with 700 meters to go, with the Norwegian pulling away for the victory. Samuelsson held on for second with Fillon Maillet bringing France third place.
Ponsiluoma felt his team finally put it together in a relay with their first podium after a frustrating season. “It was a really nice relay today. We had to fight a lot in the season and finally we made a good team performance…The snow is much easier than Beijing and I felt good today.”
Jacquelin took a big break after the Olympics, looking like his old self and returning with a spectacular leg today. “It was an exciting relay…For me, it was quite fun. I wanted to have fun in this race on the skis and the shooting range. I am happy how I managed it. I just needed some relaxation and fresh air to come back at my best level…I made a lot of cycling and was in the south of France with friends and family. It was the best thing for me to digest the Olympics and January. All of it was too fast and I did not manage it in the best way…I am happy to come back and take pleasure on the track.
Photos: IBU/Christian Manzoni