Hochfilzen, Austria (AP) — Simon Schempp helped Germany win the mixed team relay gold in the opening event of the biathlon world championships on Thursday.
In his final 2.5-kilometer lap, Schempp held off a challenge by Martin Fourcade of France and Anton Shipulin of Russia, who were 17 seconds behind when leaving the shooting range but trailed the German at the finish by only 2.2 and 3.2 seconds, respectively.
“That was a very cool start to the championships for us,” Schempp said.
The German team of Vanessa Hinz, Laura Dahlmeier, Arnd Peiffer and Schempp missed seven targets in total but avoided penalty loops.
It was Germany’s third mixed relay world title but first since 2010, when Schempp was also part of the team.
The Russian team included Alexander Loginov, who was banned for two years in November 2014 after testing positive for the blood-booster EPO. Since returning two months ago, Loginov has won races on the lower-tier IBU Cup and earned three gold medals at the European Championships last month.
Because the International Biathlon Union is dealing with the aftermath of alleged state-sponsored doping in Russia around the time of the 2014 Sochi Olympics, Loginov’s inclusion in the Russian team was greeted with skepticism by other athletes and federations.
“We didn’t think it was possible so they did it …,” Fourcade wrote on Twitter. The Frenchman briefly left the flower ceremony after the race to demonstrate his disapproval.
And Germany men’s coach Mark Kirchner told German press agency dpa: “Loginov has sat out his suspension so you can’t say anything about it. But whether it’s sensible in the current situation is a different question.”
Lisa Vittozzi gave Italy an early lead ahead of France, but as soon as Hinz handed over to Dahlmeier, the competition turned in Germany’s favor.
Starting in sixth, Dahlmeier had to reload four times but the overall World Cup leader this season was so fast on the track that she still came first at the second exchange.
Germany never looked back from there. While Peiffer shot flawlessly, Quentin Fillon Maillet lost time for France by skiing a penalty loop. That allowed Schempp to start the final 7.5K with a 46-second lead over gold-medal favorites France and Russia. That advantage turned out to be just enough despite Fourcade’s and Shipulin’s furious comebacks on the final lap.
Italy was fourth, 28.7 seconds behind.