A false start always makes it that much more intense. But they’re off second try. You can hardly call him a leader, but the man in first is being chased down by a mass of the best of the best winter biathletes. The location, stunning. The athletes, top of their game. The race, excruciatingly intense.
The big mountains of South Tirol loom over perhaps the most unpredictable type of race on skis, the mass start. As they approach the first shooting position they, in the back of their minds, are shouting at themselves that “every shot counts!” The first shooting finished, the first true show of the unpredictability of the mass start biathlon, where every shot missed means a penalty lap where all those covering the extra meters are hitting themselves over missing the shots. First place before the shooting relegated to eleventh. Finally, the monstrous multitude is broken up, and the leaders emerge. But just as they’re settling in the rhythm of skiing, time to shoot, and again, the drama unfolds. The hectic trading of places, the frantic rising from the prone position, and back on the trail.
It’s warm in Antholz, and the sun radiates off the perfection of the snow. Approaching the third round of shooting, the leading pack is clear and well defined, but the shooting takes its toll on even the most accurate athletes. Oh yeah, that pack I spoke about? Both shaken and stirred. Formerly a group of maybe 8, the pack was ground down to a group of four, two of whom have not missed a single shot on the day.
The final shooting proves always to be the decisive one. The former leader, previously perfect, misses two agonizing shots. The winner becomes apparent, and at this point the race is for the bottom of the podium, where three athletes fight for the coveted medals. They bring the fight to each other until that final shady finish line. As the last athletes arrive, their skis scraping the coarse ice, the crowd starts to disperse, and, 40 minutes after the starting gun fired, it’s all over.