With snowy and windy conditions still blanketing the Arber venue, today's pursuits proved to be hard for everyone. Sverre Dahlen Aspenes had the most luck, with three penalties he claimed his second consecutive IBU OECH Gold medal, taking the men's 12.5 km title in 34:02.1. In the women’s pursuit, Alina Stremous of Moldova also turned the hard conditions in her favour, with four penalties. she won her first-ever Championship medal of any kind, taking the women's 10 km pursuit Gold medal in 30:39.2.
After Aspenes' win, the question was who would take Silver and Bronze. Petr Pashchenko of Russia with six penalties won the Silver medal, 38.1 seconds back Lucas Fratzscher of Germany also with six penalties won the Bronze medal,53 seconds back.
Second IBU OECH Gold for Aspenes
Snowfall and wind was present from the start of the first prone stage, so it was clear that the shooting range would turn into a tricky place. Most of the athletes immediately started collecting penalties but Erlend Bjoentegard had quite a good gap at the start, he could afford a miss. After a penalty, he still maintained the lead after the first shooting round. Haavard Gutuboe Bogetveit was second, 11.9 seconds back, with clean-shooting Emilien Claude third, 12.2 seconds back. Fratzscher, Pashchenko and Aspenes all missed once, putting them fourth, fifth and sixth.
The second prone stage saw Claude claim the lead after yet another clean shooting bout. Aspenes managed to clean as well, in second, 6.5 seconds back. Fratzscher added another penalty to his score dropping to seventh momentarily, 15.8 seconds behind. Pashchenko, however, managed to close only three targets in the second prone round putting him ninth.
The wind really picked up for the third shooting round; a change at the top was bound to happen. After quickly closing his first two targets, Aspenes had to stop shooting along with all the other contenders that had arrived at the shooting range. With the burst of wind making things tricky, only a few men pulled off a zero. Aspenes missed his last shot, but he was still kept the lead. Pashchenko, however, was one of the few who managed to close all five targets going to second, 9.1 seconds behind Aspenes. Fratzscher crumbled completely, with four penalties sending him down to ninth. Germany’s Justus Strelow rose to third.
Aspenes still in the lead upon the start of the last standing stage, needed to keep his focus on closing all the targets to ensure leaving the range in the lead. Pashchenko, who was 10 seconds behind Aspenes just before the last standing stage, threatened the Norwegian. Aspenes missed once giving the Russian a chance to catch up, but Pashchenko earned two penalties. Aspenes kept his lead making it clear that he would take the Gold and Pashchenko was left with the Silver. Fratzscher pulled off a complete recovery in the final shooting. He closed all five targets claiming the Bronze.
Aspnes was overwhelmed with his sprint/pursuit double. "Second gold, it is just amazing! Today the conditions were really hard. On the third shooting I had a little gap with not so much wind in the start so I had two really fast hits, but then I also had to stop like the rest. Then it calmed a little bit and then I thought that I need to use the opportunity to shoot and get out fast."
Norway’s Bjoentegaard finished 1:04.7 back, Johannes Dale 1:14.5 back and Haavard Gutuboe Bogetveit 1:17.9 back placing fourth, fifth and sixth respectively. Bjoentegaard and Dale earned both six penalties, Bogetveit five.
The weather conditions got even more hectic for the women’s competition. It was clear that the ability to shoot well in these tricky conditions would bring the success. Beyond Stremous' Gold medal, the Silver and Bronze medals were still up for grabs. Germany’s Janina Hettich after losing the lead in the final standing stage claimed the Silver, 17.7 seconds back. Norway’s Jenny Enodd completed the podium by claiming the Bronze, 26.8 seconds back.
First-ever IBU OECH Gold for Stremous
The first prone saw Ragnhild Femsteinevik, the first starter, collecting two penalties giving her rivals the opportunity to take the lead. Hettich was the fastest to close all five targets. That saw the German claiming an early lead, 2.2 seconds ahead also clean-shooting Stremous. Femsteinevik was third, Enodd was fourth.
While Hettich and Stremous arrived at the second prone side-by-side and earned a penalty, Hettich was faster to complete the extra loop leaving the range still in the lead. Enodd, however, had managed to close all her targets once again, leaving second only 1.1 seconds behind Hettich. Stremous, after completing the penalty loop, was third, 5.1 seconds back.
All three arrived at the first standing within 5 seconds, but as the wind had really picked up, it was clear that no one would leave the shooting range mistake-free. Now the question was, how many mistakes can the athletes afford? Hettich took her time, tried as hard as she could, but still missed once. Enodd and Stremous both missed twice, and the German was able to hold on to her lead. Enodd was still second, 36.7 seconds behind and Stremous third, 37.9 seconds behind Hettich.
Hettich’s advantage was big enough to arrive at the last standing stage with a solid 40.9 second lead allowing her a mistake or two. Unfortunately to the displeasure of the home venue spectators, Hettich missed three times. Enodd had two penalties, Stremous only one. Stremous, the fastest to complete the penalty loop left with a 26.5 second advantage over Enodd. Hettich was third, only 1.4 seconds behind the Norwegian. It was clear Stremous would be the one to go home with her first-ever podium and Championships Gold medal. Hettich, faster on skis, overtook Enodd by the 9.1 km split claiming the Silver.
Stremous was excited about her win: "It's unbelievable. I still haven't realized that I won today. I understood before the start that with successful shooting I could fight for prizes, but as in previous races I really wanted to win. Therefore, I focused myself on shooting more than working on the track. When I saw at the last standing that the German and the Norwegian women had many mistakes, I thought that “Ok, It's my chance." I accelerated the rhythm of shooting and it was worth it, because I was able to hit 4 out of 5 targets. I like this feeling when you come out of the last shooting with a big gap. And you finish first. I've never been in the situation like that, but I've imagined it in my head for many times. Unbelievable!"
Aita Gasparin of Switzerland finished fourth. Starting from 22nd position, she missed three times and finished 48.3 seconds behind the winner. Russia’s Larisa Kuklina had to overcome five penalties to finish fifth, 1:32.6 back. Norway had another top six finish with Juni Arnekleiv after five penalties finished sixth, 1:46.1 back.
Photos: Harald Deubert / IBU