(ISN) – KONTIOLAHTI, Fin.—Nathan Smith has skied where no other Canadian man has ever gone before – on the Biathlon World Championship podium.
Smith fired and skied his way to his first podium at the elite level, winning the silver medal on Saturday in the men’s World Championship sprint race after clocking a time of 24:24.9 on the 10-kilometre track.
“It is just surreal,” said the 29-year-old Calgarian. “I had a strong relay earlier in the week so I had good feelings about today, but never expected to do this at all.”
Clean prone shooting was at a premium on a blustery day in Finland. However among the early starters, Tarjei Boe, Smith, Evgeniy Garanichev and Martin Fourcade all managed to drop all five targets. Smith and Garanichev came to standing within seconds of each other. The Canadian had a single penalty and the Russian two. Boe had a single standing penalty. Smith finished first taking the lead for a few minutes until Boe, who had been widening his lead ever since he left the penalty loop with fast skis, turned the corner to take top spot. In the meantime, Fourcade lost the battle with the wind gods and missed three shots in standing, taking away any chance for the podium.
“It was windy so I knew good shooting could be the difference today,” added Smith. “The snow conditions were much better than earlier in the week. To get on the podium is a combination of a fast time and a bit of luck. It felt hard skiing today, but I just kept fighting. I did ski well and it is just amazing.”
Smith shared the podium with two Norwegians. Johannes Thinges won the men’s sprint title with a time of 24:12.8 (0+1), while Tarjei Boe shot clean to post a bronze-medal time of 24:38.1.
Two-time Olympic champion, Myriam Bedard, is the only other Canadian to medal at the Biathlon World Championships. Bedard won the gold in a sprint race and silver in the individual in 1993. Jean-Philippe Le Guellec is the only other Canadian male to reach the World Cup podium. Le Guellec kicked off the 2012-13 season winning a World Cup sprint in Oestersund, Sweden.
It was only a matter of time until Smith followed in his 2014 Olympic teammate’s path to the podium. Smith has been a model of progression over the last two years, steadily working his way up the elite international biathlon standings. He made his Olympic debut in 2014 where he chalked up three top-15 finishes, and first turned heads on the IBU Cup development circuit where he celebrated three victories and a bronze medal.
“When I came into the sport Jean-Philippe was the star guy in our program that was the first to do everything at the juniors and World Cup. It is clear her showed us that Canadians can be with the best on the world stage. Brendan (Green), Rosanna (Crawford) and myself have been close this year and we’ve been keeping this in mind and following his path.”
The laid-back Canuck has regularly mixed it up with the greatest names in the sport this year, regularly finishing in the top-10. Smith celebrated a career-best fifth place finish in a pursuit race nearly one month ago to the day in Nove Mesto, Czech Republic.
“May of these top guys are regularly on the podium, but I realized over the last little while they are not gods. They are super talented people, but I knew I can be there with them,” added Smith. “It is awesome to be on the podium. I definitely felt it was a matter of time, but I didn’t expect to do it at World Championships.”
A program that struggles to find financial support, and often flies under the radar, has definitively been raising some eyebrows in the Canadian sport community over the last 24 months.
Smith along with Canadian teammates Brendan Green and Rosanna Crawford have all busted into the top-five this year waiting for one of them to finally breakthrough for their first career medal. Brendan Green sprinted to his career-best fifth place finish six weeks ago. Crawford had a fifth, and fourth-place finish to start the season. Megan Heinicke, of Prince George, B.C., has also rattled of a number of personal bests during the post-Olympic year.
“These results are the natural progression in our plan,” said Chris Lindsay, high-performance director, Biathlon Canada. “These are 100 per cent Canadian made results from our coaches, to wax techs, to administrative leaders. We have depth. Our entire program believes we can be on the podium, and Nathan proved that today.”
Other Canadian results included: Brendan Green, of Hay River, N.W.T. in a tie for 21st at 25:27.1 (0+1); Calgarians Scott Gow in 50th at 26:19.0 (1+1), and Christian Gow in 73rd at 27:23.8 (1+2).
The women’s race is still in progress.
The World Championships continue on Sunday with the pursuit races.