(ISN) – KHANTY-MANSIYSK, Rus.—Canada’s Nathan Smith did it!
The Calgarian is now a member of the Biathlon World Cup Champions club.
Breaking through two weeks ago, becoming the first Canadian male ever to win a medal at the Biathlon World Championships when he sprinted to his first career podium with a silver, Smith topped that performance by winning the men’s 12.5-kilometre pursuit race on Saturday in the heartland of the sport in Khanty-Mansiysk, Russia.
“It is amazing. The last few weeks have been such a great way to end the season,” said Smith. “It feels less surreal than last time. Winning the silver at World’s was overwhelming. But this is my first win. This is huge for me.”
Starting in fifth position based on Thursday’s sprint results, the 29-year-old took advantage of misses by the frontrunners in his first two prone rounds of shooting. Skiing with the leaders for two laps, Smith shot clean for the third straight time on the range in his first standing where he took the lead and never looked back.
Athletes are forced to ski 150-metre penalty loop for every missed target. Smith was first to cross the finish line with a time of 32:04.9 (0+0+0+1).
“I was really fatigued after the World Championships but with a few days off I recovered well. I was a little nervous heading into today because of my good start position,” added Smith. “I just had a feeling today. I felt like it was going to be a good day.”
Germany’s Benedikt Doll finished 24 seconds behind the Canuck with a time of 32:28.9 (0+0+1+1). Russia’s Anton Shipulin was third at 32:40.6 (1+1+0+2).
Brendan Green, of Hay River, N.W.T., climbed seven spots into 23rd with a time of 34:26.3 (0+1+0+0).
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. Two-time Olympic champion, Myriam Bedard, is the only other Canadian to medal at both the Biathlon World Championships and on the World Cup.
It has been a dream ending to a historic season for Smith who 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. He has regularly been in the top-10 and also celebrated a number of top-five finishes this year.
“There is definitely a mental barrier you have to cross to get onto the podium,” said Smith. “If you keep getting top-10s it is eventually going to happen, but until you realize that goal, you don’t believe it will.
“I think drawing on those experiences helps you get there. Earlier this year in Oestersund I was in this position for a podium and missed my last three standing. I thought about Oestersund all day today. I was more mentally prepared to deal with the situation this time.”
In the women’s race, Rosanna Crawford fought her way back into the top-15. The Canmore, Alta. resident skied to 13th spot with a time of 30:33.3 (0+0+1+0).
Darya Domracheva, of Belarus won the women’s race with a time of 28:14.4 (0+1+0+0). Germany’s Laura Dahlmeier shot clean to win the silver with a time of 28:30.1. Germany’s Franziska Preuss was also perfect in shooting en route to winning the bronze medal with a time of 28:30.3.
A program that struggles to find financial support, and often flies under the radar, has definitively been the bright spot in Canadian sport this year.
Smith along with Canadian teammates Brendan Green and Rosanna Crawford have all busted into the top-five this year. For most of the year the team had a game-within-the-game, taking bets as to who would strike through to their first podium. Megan Heinicke, of Prince George, B.C., has also rattled of a number of personal bests during the post-Olympic year.
“We have four athletes that are very close to the podium. Our funding partners look at World Championships for funding,” said Smith. “This reaffirms it is not a fluke. Our program has depth.
“The biathletes from around the world are really excited for Canada and that is kind of cool!”
The final World Cup race of the season takes place Sunday with the mass start events.
Top-Five Men’s and Canadian Results:
1. Nathan Smith, Calgary, CAN, 32:04.9 (0+0+0+1); 2. Benedikt Doll, GER, (0+0+1+1), 32:28.9; 3. Anton Shipulin, RUS, (1+1+0+2), 32:40.6; 4. Martin Fourcade, FRA, (1+0+1+2), 32:45.2; 5. Daniel Boehm, GER, (1+0+0+1), 32:54.1
Other Canadian Results:
23. Brendan Green, Hay River, N.W.T., (0+1+0+0), 34:26.3
Top-Five Women’s and Canadian Result:
1. Darya Domracheva, BLR, (0+1+0+0), 28:14.4; 2. Laura Dahlmeier, GER, (0+0+0+0), 28:30.1; 3. Franziska Preuss, GER, (0+0+0+0), 28:30.3; 4. Kaisa Makarainen, FIN, (0+0+2+1), 29:16.2; 5. Veronika Vitkova, CZE, (1+1+0+1), 29:30.7
13. Rosanna Crawford, Canmore, Alta., (0+0+1+0), 30:33.3