—Canada wins first ever international relay medal, second straight year Canadians reach World Championship podium—
OSLO, Nor.—The Canadian men’s biathlon squad lived did what was once the unthinkable on Saturday – winning the nation’s first ever World Championship relay medal in the heartland of the sport in Oslo, Norway.
The Canadian squad made of up two young Calgary-based brothers – Christian and Scott Gow – along with Olympic veterans Nathan Smith (Calgary) and Brendan Green (Hay River, N.W.T.) shocked the world to win the bronze in the 4×7.5-kilometre relay with a time of 1:13:40.2.
“This is a race we would dream about, and the dream came true today,” said Christian Gow. “The whole thing is just incredible.”
The relay consists of each athlete skiing 7.5 kilometres with two bouts of shooting. The first starter of each team begins in a simultaneous mass start with other participants. Once completing their leg, athletes tag off to the next teammate. Competitors in the relay each carry three spare rounds. If all five targets are not knocked down with the first five rounds, the spares may be used, which takes more time because they are loaded by hand. The Canadians used five spares on the day.
The same four Canadians posted a career-best World Cup relay result for the program on the same course one year ago at the birthplace of the Nordic sports in Oslo when they were fifth.
The younger Gow brother who is just shy of his 23rd birthday set the tone for the Canucks, skiing a personal best opening leg. Gow shot clean and finished just 14 seconds behind the leaders in front of thousands of screaming Norwegian fans – many who camped out along the trails overnight.
“That was the best performance in my life,” added Gow. “All I wanted to do was to put the team in a good position. I took some risks and really went for it. I almost zoned out in my shooting and just let it happen.”
Gow handed off to the leader of the men’s team, Nathan Smith, in seventh spot. In some of the best shape of his life, the determined 30-year-old put down the fastest ski time in the second leg to catapult the Canadians into medal contention, and they never looked back.
“We knew we could pull off a good result, but we never thought we’d win a medal,” said Smith, who became the first Canadian male to step onto the World Championship biathlon podium when he won a silver medal in the sprint race one year ago.
“It is not easy to compare last year with this medal. With the entire team involved, I think this is a bigger accomplishment for our small sport. And to do it in front of these large crowds in the heartland of biathlon, is an amazing feeling.”
Taking the hand off from Smith, Scott Gow was well aware he was skiing in uncharted territory with the world-leaders from Norway and Germany. But the 25 year old never shied away, matching strides and shots with the legends of the sports to hold the Canadian spot in third.
“It is incredible to get on the podium. My skiing and shooting was solid and I just wanted to stay as close to the top guys as I could,” said Scott Gow, who had a career-best 18th-place finish two days ago in the individual race. “I have never raced alongside the top guys. I got a nice draft from the Norwegian and made it work. This is such a big confidence boost for me to know what is possible.”
Gow handed off to the sharp-shooting rock of the Canadian relay team, Brendan Green. One of the top shooters on the circuit, consistently putting up clean results on the range, the two-time Olympic veteran shook off any jitters, and delivered a medal-worthy performance – skiing fast and shooting clean.
“I’m at a loss for words,” said the 29-year-old anchorman. “I watched the whole race and saw we were in contention. I was super nervous prior to the start I almost lost my lunch. Once Scott tagged me I was able to relax a bit and focus on having a good race. The rest of the guys were strong in shooting and I knew I had to be clean.
“What an incredible day. It is the culmination of a lot of work. We are a small, tight community and I think this result allows us to realize our potential and what is possible.”
The Norwegians won the men’s relay with a time of 1:13:16.8. Germany was second at 1:13:28.3.
The medal should come as no major shock to those in the biathlon world who have been watching the entire Canadians quietly making headway up the international rankings in all race disciplines.
Success breeds success and that definitely is the case with the Canadian program, which often flies under the radar.
The Gow brothers, along with Macx Davies of Canmore, Alta., have been steadily progressing with personal best results on the world’s largest biathlon stages, while Smith and Green have been knocking on the door of the World cup podium over the last four years. Smith finally broke through one year ago by winning a World Championship silver medal. He backed that performance up one week later by winning a World Cup pursuit race in Russia.
“I think this shows we are doing the right things for a small sport,” said Smith, who also won a silver medal with Rosanna Crawford in the individual mixed relay at the World Cup opener this year in Sweden. “We receive little funding, but I believe our program puts the money we have where it counts in order to maximize our potential.”
Green, who went on an unprecedented shooting streak last year knocking down 50 consecutive targets, has had a handful of top-10 finishes including a fifth place finish one year ago in Italy.
“Hopefully this medal today shows people that we are strong team. We have depth and we do the right things. We are going to continue to work hard, and I’d say ‘look out!’ There will be more to come.”
The Biathlon World Championships wrap up on Sunday in Oslo with the mass start races. Rosanna Crawford, who has been lightening quick all week, will be the lone Canadian on the start line.
Top-Five Men’s Relay Results:
1. Norway, 1:13:16.8; 2. Germany, 1;13:28.3; 3. Canada, 1:13:40.2; 4. Austria, 1:14:10.3; 5. Czech Republic, 1:14:11.2