The expected duel between the visiting French team and the home team Norway at the Blink Festivalen in Sandnes, Norway turned into an almost all-Norwegian show. Vetle Sjaastad Christiansen hat tricked, sweeping the three men’s biathlon competitions, while Tiril Eckhoff mastered the mass start, with French rollerski star Julia Simon taking the women’s super sprint for the visitor’s only win.
Wins and losses in summer competitions at this time of year are basically checkpoints, giving everyone an idea of where they are and what needs more work. Still, it was fun to see the long-time rivals line up and battle.
Fillon Maillet Happy after Lysebotn Opp
As usual, the first competition of this big Norwegian Nordic weekend was the Lysebotn Opp, 7.5 km of grueling uphill at a 10% grade and 27 hairpin turns with 640 meters of climbing. Just a few biathletes went to the starting line with two days of biathlon coming up on Friday and Saturday. Quentin Fillon Maillet crossed the finish line in ninth place, just 1:53.1 behind Norway’s Gaute Kvale, while Philipp Horn just missed the top 15 in 16th place. After the hard effort, Fillon Maillet called the effort, “simply happiness.” On the women’s side, Tiril Eckhoff did nothing to tarnish her reputation, grabbing 11th place as the first biathlete, 5:14.7 behind winner Therese Johaug, with the next biathlete spot going to Baiba Bendika in 12th place.
Simon and Christiansen in Friday Super Sprints
The much anticipated Norway/France duel went on as scheduled for the women in this first taste of summer biathlon competition of summer 2021, but when the men hit the rollerski track, it was an all-Norway affair. The 22 degree windy evening made clean shooting an impossibility; just ask the two IBU Total Score winners Johannes Thingnes Boe and Tiril Eckhoff, both started with penalty loops and finished with seven and six penalties, respectively.
“Good battle between us”
On the other hand, Julia Simon missed one shot in the first and second prone, while Marte Olsbu Roeiseland went zero, two. Simon was totally in control once her first five standing shots hit the mark, while her rival missed once. She cleaned the second stage with ease as did her rival, but the ten second gap was too much even for the Norwegian last loop specialist, leaving Simon to cross in first. Standing next to Olsbu Roeiseland, Simon said, “It was a nice fight. It is nice to be here.” Regarding the French win over the home team, she added, “Maybe we should wait until tomorrow. It is always a good battle between us; it was a pleasure. Today was our day but tomorrow is a new day.”
The men’s super sprint was a Norwegian sweep with Vetle Sjastad Christiansen and Tarjei Boe going 1-2 for the second consecutive year. Endre Stroemsheim and Johannes followed with Vebjoern Soerum fifth and Aleksander Fjeld Andersen in sixth before the first French finisher Antonin Guigonnat crossed in seventh place. Christiansen and Tarjei cleaned the first prone to go into the top two spots. That pretty much set up the final places, with Christiansen’s four penalties to Tarjei’s five keying the win. Despite his seven penalties, Johannes was strong on the tracks, skiing himself back into contention, before finishing 9.3 seconds back.
24 hours after dominating the super sprint, Christiansen picked up right where he left off, lining up for the shooting duel finale with the Boe brothers, Johannes Dale, Filip Fjeld Andersen and just Guigonnat and Fabien Claude representing the French squad. It ended quickly with Christiansen going through the men’s final round in 16.8 seconds, enough time to watch Johannes fire his last shots and come to the line second. The women’s shooting duel saw a surprise winner when 22-year-old Marthe Krakstaad Johansen outshot all of the big names to secure the women’s title. In the super finale, Johansen who shot 90% on the IBU Cup circuit last season lined up against Christiansen. After three shots, it was over…Two competitions down, two wins for Vetle.
Tiril Bounces Back
The women’s mass start was up first, with Eckhoff looking to show the home fans her dominating form of last season. She immediately jumped to the front of the pack, controlling the pace. She dug herself a big hole with two penalties in the first prone, almost 30 seconds back while her young teammate Karoline Offigstad Knotten left in the lead after shooting clean. Knotten cleaned the second prone to stay in front, but the indominable Eckhoff matched very quickly, moving to ninth from sixteenth. By the 5.4 km split just before the first standing, Eckhoff was up to fourth, 13.8 seconds back. Knotten cleaned again, but Eckhoff was on fire, again blowing through her five targets, moving to second, 10.6 seconds back. The IBU World Cup Total Score winner shot side-by-side with Knotten in the last standing. Eckhoff again cleaned with confidence while her teammate missed a shot. Game over…three consecutive fast clean stages and a 22.8 second margin of victory, with Olsbu Roeiseland and Simon in third and fourth, 42.1 and 59.5 seconds back, respectively; a classic Tiril performance.
Vetle’s Hat Trick
By the time the men started it was drizzling. Unsurprisingly, Johannes went to the front right from the outset. Yet Christiansen cleaned while the three-time IBU World Cup Total Score winner had a penalty. Second prone was a repeat for the super sprint winner, but he left in a pack of three other teammates including Tarjei, Sivert Bakken and Soerum. The bubble burst in the first standing when Christiansen picked up a penalty while the others were perfect. Yet by the final standing, Christiansen had wiped away the penalty, turning the lead trio back into a quartet. Only Tarjei missed a shot, with Christiansen and Soerum going out together and Bakken just behind. The duo were never separated by more than a meter over the last loop. Coming into the final 400 meters, Christiansen grabbed a slight lead on the last curve; a wild sprint ensued and Christiansen prevailed in a photo-finish over Soerum by .1 seconds for a Blink Hat Trick.
Christiansen summed up the weekend in an Instagram post, saying, “Sandnes, we are out of here. One week of digging deep, tight duels and a lot of fun.”
Photos: Blinkfestivalen/ Asgeir Ravndal, Hans Lie, Atle Mork, Media Madlamark Skolkorps/ Andersen Ǿyvind