PRESQUE ISLE — Mixed relays are always a nice change of pace in the sport of biathlon.
For some teams, it provides a chance to take a break from the pressure of accumulating World Cup points, while others are taking the next step toward a gold medal in the World Championships.
Germany showed that they’ll be the favorites in Siberia later this winter, as they claimed the gold easily at the World Cup Biathlon at the Nordic Heritage Center Saturday afternoon.
Biathlon is a sport which combines cross country skiing and rifle shooting.
For those unfamiliar with a mixed relay, each team — in this case 12 — selects two males and two females to ski a 7.5K loop for the men and a 6K loop for the women, with each competitor shooting twice, once prone and once standing.
Should a competitor misfire at the range, then he or she would have to re-load their rifle, which is loaded with five bullets for five targets, and should a competitor misfire more than three times, then they’d simply ski on.
No Cup points were up for grabs in Saturday’s relay event.
Germany’s Kathrin Hitzer, Magdalena Neuner, Alexander Wolf and Daniel Bohm combined to cover the 27 kilometers in 1 hour, 13 minutes, 31.6 seconds, while runner-up France was 28 seconds behind (1:13.59.5).
Rounding out the top five were Russia (1:14.33.0), Italy (1:14.33.6) and Slovenia (1:14.54.6).
The United States overcame some shaky shooting early to capture seventh place in 1:16.18.8.
Germany’s first two competitors, Hitzer and Neuner, ended the dramatics of this race early, with Hitzer covering her leg in 18:11.1 and Neuner in 17:57.4, the only female to crack 18 minutes on the afternoon.
Even though Hitzer missed two targets in the standing position, Neuner made up for that with her fast skiing.
“It’s good in a relay that you have three extra shots to use,” Hitzer said, “(but) you have to run very fast because one extra shot needs maybe 10 to 15 seconds, and you have to manage your shot track.”
Hitzer also enjoyed competing with her male teammates, something that doesn’t normally happen in biathlon.
“We travel all the time around the world together, so it’s cool to do a little competition together,” she said.
The splits that Hetzer and Neuner were able to ski set up Wolf and Bohm nicely, and the two male competitors cruised home despite missing seven targets between them.
Sara Studebaker got the U.S. off to a strong start, missing on just one shot from each position while covering the course in 18:50.9.
After Haley Johnson was a bit shaky on the range, missing six shots — three from each position — Jay Hakkinen only missed one target during his run, which was timed in 18:28.0 while Jeremy Teela finished in 19:16.9, missing three targets from the standing position.
“Relays are always fun, it’s fun for us to get to work with the guys as well,” said Studebaker.
Studebaker and all the other competitors started at the same time, so her main strategy for the first loop was to settle into a solid pace.
Action resumes Sunday with the pursuit races, starting at 10 a.m. for the men and noon for the women.