FORT KENT — With NBA Hall of Famer Scottie Pippen at the 10th Mountain Center Saturday, Emil Svendsen and Martin Fourcade dueled in arguably the most dramatic race the Biathlon World Cup has seen since arriving in Aroostook County last weekend.
Norway’s Svendsen posted his second win in as many races in the men’s 12.5-kilometer pursuit, nipping Fourcade of France in a dramatic photo-finish.
Both racers were timed in 35 minutes, 46.0 seconds while Tarjei Boe, the world’s top-ranked biathlete, rounded out the top three in 37:03.5.
Lowell Bailey of Lake Placid was the top U.S. finisher in 25th place.
Andrea Henkel of Germany claimed her second straight Cup victory in the women’s race, finishing the 10K event in 31:09.1.
Fellow German Magdalena Neuner was second in 31:33.9, followed by France’s Marie Dorin in 32:02.7.
Competitors ranked in the top 20 worldwide after Saturday’s results qualify for Sunday’s mass start, while those who finished in the top five overall also get in.
The men’s competitors skied five 2.5K loops and the women four loops at the same distance, shooting twice from the prone position and twice more standing.
In the men’s competition, Svendsen had a 20-second lead on Fourcade heading into the last of the four shooting stages, but Svendsen misfired on one shot while Fourcade was perfect, allowing the French racer to close the gap.
“When I finished the penalty loop and saw Martin was clean, I just thought oh my God, it’s going to be tough,” said Svendsen. “I have a lot of respect for him.”
The two racers thrilled another chilly but enthusiastic throng of fans with a final kick to the finish line.
“It came to a sprint in the last meters. I managed to pull it off,” said Svendsen.
Svendsen also managed to pull off his second Cup victory in as many races, as he also won the sprint race here Thursday.
Fourcade certainly kept fighting after falling behind in the third stage, missing one target while Svendsen was perfect.
“I saw that he missed one and my first four targets were OK,” Fourcade said. “On the last shoot I said, ‘Do you want to fight with Emil or do you want to finish alone?'”
Boe maintained his yellow jersey by cruising home in third place, saving some energy after realizing Michal Slesinger of the Checz Republic and Seeden’s Carl Johan Bergman weren’t going to catch him.
“I knew I had a big gap behind me so I took it too easily,” Boe admitted.
Svendsen was humbled after getting a chance to meet Pippen.
“He as a nice guy, a big guy. I never felt so small in my life,” said Svendsen. “It was a great experience. It’s always fun to meet people like that who have had success in a big sport.”
In the women’s race, Henkel, who continued her hot skiing and shooting, was never given a history lesson on Pippen’s legacy.
“I didn’t know who he was,” Henkel admitted.
All that aside, Henkel is enjoying a breakout season.
“My last best season was in 2007. That was a long time ago,” Henkel said.
Henkel was actually slightly behind Neuner heading into the third shooting stage, but Neuner wound up missing a target while Henkel was perfect, allowing Henkel to regain momentum.
“It was a big moment and then I shot a mistake,” said Neuner.
Neuner certainly has some momentum heading into today’s mass start after finishing third in the sprint Friday and second Saturday.
“I think it’ll be a tough race tomorrow, but I think my chances are very good,” she said.
Pippen, a six-time NBA champion with the Chicago Bulls, said he was visiting Fort Kent with Sergei Kushchenko, the Russian first vice-president of the International Biathlon Union and an athletic adviser to New Jersey Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov.
After taking questions from reporters, Pippen headed out to the range to try his hand at some shooting, and he said he plans on doing some snowmobiling Sunday.