Russian biathlon slid on an upbeat note into the World Championships that began on February 5 in Slovenia. The World Cup stage in Antholz-Anterselva, Italy, brought the Russian team two golds and a bronze. In the meantime, the Russian skiers won only one medal in Lahti but twice got into a scandalous situation.
On January 22, Alexander Loginov won the individual 20-km race. He shot extremely well. There was no miss. After the fourth shooting stage he broke his stick. For some time, Loginov walked with one stick until coaches gave him the second one. Notably, he managed to beat his main rival Sturla Lægreid, a Norwegian biathlete, by 58.5 (!) seconds.
“Falling at the finish line has put me out of my stride,” said Loginov in an interview on the air of the Match TV channel. “I walked 200m with one stick.”
Unfortunately, he failed to get a gold medal in the mass start. Loginov got only the 19th place. Probably, he was too tired after three races in a row in the mountains. Johannes Bø from Norway became the winner.
Loginov’s performance was also unsuccessful in the men's 4x7.5 km relay race. By his second shooting stage he took the lead. Then he missed four times and ran a penalty lap. Eduard Latypov was the third one but then took the fourth place. However, at the finish line, he spectacularly beat Benedikt Doll from Germany by as much as 4 seconds. Russia won a bronze medal. Anton Babikov and Matvey Eliseev also took part in the relay.
The Russian ladies performed more successful than the men. Russians Evgeniya Pavlova, Tatiana Akimova, Svetlana Mironova, and Uliana Kaisheva won the 4x6 relay. At the final shooting, Kaisheva came simultaneously with Franziska Prois of Germany. Kaisheva used two additional bullets while Prois spent three. It gave Russia an 8-second advantage. Kaisheva not only kept the advantage but beat Prois by 3 seconds more before the finish line.
Even Alexander Tikhonov, the four-time Olympic champion who is always skeptical was pleasantly surprised by the success of the women's relay. “The girls gave the new lease of life to Russian biathlon,” said Tikhonov. “After so many defeats, let's be happy with these achievements. I hope that our team will get enough confidence so we keep winning.”
Unfortunately, Alexander Bolshunov, our hero of the recent Tour de Ski, cast a shadow over the success of the Russian biathletes. Moreover, not just once but twice. On Saturday, he bumped into Hans Honlund of Norway and lost his chances to win. On Sunday, during the last stage of the relay San Sanych – as Bolshunov is respectfully nicknamed by his teammates – took the law into his own hands to Finnish Jonny Mäki who blocked his trajectory at the finish. Mäki simply cut off Bolshunov who tried to pass of him. In return, Bolshunov tried to hit him with a stick but didn’t get him. After the finish line he drove at speed into Mäki who was standing back and receiving congratulations from his teammates. After this accident Mäki was holding his right hand.
Mäki did a low trick at the finish line. He would probably have been disqualified if he had protested. As a result, Bolshunov was disqualified and the Russian team lost their bronze medal. Fortunately the scandal was immediately smoothed up. The Russian team including Bolshunov rushed to the Finns to shake hands. He offered his hand to Mäki and the latter shook it.
The good thing is that the disqualification applies to only one race. Namely, this relay.
The public, however, condemned Bolshunov’s actions. There were calls to strike back by expelling him from the team. His behavior was called shameful. In the meantime, others supported him saying that he should have punched Mäki after the finish. The truth, as always, is somewhere in the middle. Bolshunov is right in content but not in the form of the protest.
On the photo: Russian biathletes, winners of women's 4*6 km relay.