Biathlon Canada: Canada's Nathan Smith Fires for Career Best World Cup Finish

These two articles were originally published on the Biathlon Canada website.

Article 1: Career Best 7th - 10 km Sprint

Nathan Smith cranked out a career-best seventh-place finish on the World Cup in Nove Mesto, Czech Republic on Saturday.

The Calgarian shot clean en route to clocking a time of 24 minutes, 47.6 seconds in the men’s 10-kilometre sprint competition on the challenging Czech course that featured steep climbs.

“January was a tough month of shooting and I felt like I was hitting my head against a brick wall trying to knock the targets down,” said Smith. “Even though I was trying hard it just wasn’t happening. After the last World Cup I decided to take a week off shooting, and thought of some key points to focus on – relaxing into the position and slowing things down a touch. My skiing felt strong but I can definitely give a little more. The difference was shooting 10 for 10 today and I will try and reflect on that in the future.” 

The 29-year-old Calgarian has been amongst a small group of Canadian biathletes turning heads around the world while quietly charging towards their first podium finish in one of Olympic sport’s most difficult medals to achieve.

“Rosanna (Crawford) had an amazing first trimester, and Brendan (Green) really came into his own in Ruhpolding and Antholz. All three of us have been very close to the podium the last couple of years, and it’s a bit of a friendly competition to see who will do it first,” said Smith. 

Feeding off three top-15 finishes at his first Olympics last year, Smith has five top-10 finishes over the last two years on the World Cup. He finished eighth twice last year, and kicked off the post-Olympic year with a ninth-place finish at the season-opening sprint race in Oestersund, Sweden in December. Smith alsorattled off three IBU Cup victories in 2012 when the feeder series made a stop to his home training centre in Canmore. He also has a bronze medal from the IBU Cup in Obertilliach, Austria. 

“Today the top men shot amazingly well which makes for a very tough day to medal when you aren’t within the top-five or 10 skiers,” added Smith. “A medal may have been possible if I’d also had the ski of my life today, however, the odds of perfect shooting and skiing coming together are pretty low. A more likely way to grab a first podium is to put yourself in a position where you can capitalize on a day when the favourites falter.” 

With all of the medal-winning athletes shooting clean in their two stops at the range, Smith finished just 12 seconds off the podium pace. Slovenia’s Jakov Fak won the race with a time of 24:09.9. Germany’s Simon Schempp skied to the silver at 24:22.7, while Jean Guillaume clocked-in at 24:35.9 to claim the bronze medal. 

Three other Canadian men hit the start line on Saturday. Brendan Green, of Hay River, N.W.T., finished in 22nd spot after missing one shot in his final round of shooting. Green posted a time of 25:22.7. Macx Davies, of Canmore, Alta., was 54th at 26:30.8 (1+0), while Calgary’s Scott Gow placed 63rd with a time of 26:45.6 (2+0). 

Quebec’s Audrey Vaillancourt was the lone Canadian to finish the women’s 7.5-kilometre sprint. Vaillancourt placed 66th at 24:43.1 (1+1). 

The Biathlon World Cup continues on Sunday the Czech Republic with the pursuit events. 

Article 2: Career Best 5th in Pursuit

The personal best finishes keep coming as Canada’s Nathan Smith keeps inching closer to his first career podium on the Biathlon World Cup.

The 29-year-old Smith completed the best weekend of his life, shooting clean for the second straight day to finish fifth in the men’s 12.5-kilometre pursuit competition. The laid-back Calgarian clocked a time of 37 minutes, 49.0 seconds on the steep course in Nove Mesto, Czech Republic on Sunday.

“These are my first back-to-back cleans of my career. I came close last year in Sochi (29/30), but today is extra special because it is the first 20/20 clean of my biathlon career,” said Smith, who was also perfect on the range in Saturday’s sprint. “It feels awesome to have that success. It makes skiing less of a chore, and you’re excited to get back to the range after the next lap.”

Starting time behind the leader in seventh spot based on Saturday’s career-best sprint finish, the 2014 Olympian took many of the greatest names in the sport head on, and did not back down, in the tactical pursuit race that pits man against man rather than primarily against the clock.

“Today was a little unlucky for me as the top-three men were basically the Overall World Cup leaders,” added Smith. “If a couple of them faltered I could have been there, but it is tough to beat the best when they are on 100 per cent. I know though if you’re only a couple of places off the podium enough times, one day it will happen.” 

Slovenia’s Jakov Fak held off all chasers to win the gold for the second straight day, clocking a time of 37:24.9 despite being forced to ski the 150-metre penalty loop for missing one shot in his final trip to the range. Germany’s Simon Schempp also missed one shot en route to winning the silver medal with a time of 37:29.3 (0+1+0+0). Martin Fourcade, of France, was clean in shooting, winning the bronze medal with a time of 37:38.2. 

Two other Canucks qualified for the pursuit race with the top-60 athletes. Brendan Green, of Hay River, N.W.T. was 30th at 40:37.9 (0+1+0+2), while 22-year-old World Cup rookie, Macx Davies of Canmore, Alta., had a tough day shooting to finish 54th at 46:26.4 (2+3+2+2). 

A program that struggles to find financial support, and often flies under the radar, has definitively been raising some eyebrows in the Canadian sport community over the last 24 months. 

The impressive finish by Smith makes him the third Canadian biathlete this year alone to post a fifth-place result. Just two weeks ago, Brendan Green sprinted to his career-best fifth place finish. Green’s girlfriend, Rosanna Crawford of Canmore, Alta., got her season off to a blistering start with a fourth and fifth-place result on the World Cup. Megan Heinicke, of Prince George, B.C., has also rattled of a number of personal bests during the post-Olympic year. 

“Coming into the season I knew us three were capable of these results,” said Smith. “Our younger guys are also posting strong results, and there is no doubt in a few years they'll be up there with us too.” 

Smith 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, Smith first turned heads on the IBU Cup development circuit where he celebrated three victories and a bronze medal. 

The Biathlon World Cup now travels to Oslo, Norway.