PRESQUE ISLE – One of biathlon’s rarest events cruised through the sun-swathed Nordic Heritage Center on Saturday for Day 2 of the World Cup: the mixed relay.

That’s men and women racing together — teammates by nation, competing together only two or three times a year.

As if on cue, the Germans ran away with the win, beating their closest challengers by 27.9 seconds as the event aired live during prime time on German television for the first time.

The mixed relay is in the running to be added to the schedule for the 2014 Olympics. A decision by the International Olympic Committee is expected later this spring.

“It’s becoming more and more popular in Europe and for me it’s just a great race with the guys,” said Kathrin Hitzer, who skied Germany’s first leg. “It’s another feeling. We travel around the world together so it’s cool to race side by side. Mixed up, it’s really cool.”

Hitzer was joined by teammates Magdalena Neuner, Alexander Wolf and anchor Daniel Bohm, who crossed the finish line and threw his arms to the sky. Their total time was 1 hour, 13.31 seconds.

France took second place in 1:13.59, and Russia edged Italy for third in 1:14.33, prevailing in a sprint across the last straightaway in the stadium.

The Americans had hoped to break the top six, but finished seventh in 1:16.18.

The event began at 2:30 p.m., as women from 12 nations lined up at the start and raced out of the stadium to take on the 7.5 kilometer trail.

Each competitor had two stops in the shooting range: one prone, one standing.

The catch in the mixed relay is each shooter is allowed an extra round of shots before penalty laps are added.

When their three laps are finished, they circle back in front of the stadium, where — like in a track relay — they tag their teammate for the second leg. Two women are followed by two men.

“Relays are always fun because it’s not just about you,” said American starter Sara Studebaker. “If you don’t have the best leg, you have three teammates who have a chance.”

Studebaker skied the first leg in 18 minutes, 50.9 seconds. She shot 4 of 5 both prone and standing and hit the fifth target on her first try with extra rounds both times.

Jay Hakkinen, who skied the third leg for Team USA, shot clean twice to put the Americans within reach of a top-six finish. Anchor Jeremy Teela shot clean prone, revving up the crowd, but was assessed a penalty lap during the standing shooting.

“That’s biathlon. It’s exciting up until the end,” said Hakkinen who then joked he would tease Teela. “We’re roommates. So yeah, he’ll get a hard time.”

Still, Teela smiled and bowed as he crossed the finish line to a cheering stadium.

“They’re out cheering us on no matter what,” said Teela. “It’s better when the story is a happy one. But we had a pretty good relay … it takes four athletes on that day.”

The event was first run just five years ago — in 2006 — and now is placed on the World Cup schedule only twice a year.

The International Olympic Committee is expected to make a decision later this spring whether it will accept the mixed relay for the next Olympic Games, said U.S. Biathlon Director Max Cobb.

“I think it’s got great potential,” said Cobb. “It’s the only coed event and I think that’s a really cool thing. The IOC has indicated they are interested, but they want to see how it goes at the world championships. So we’ll see how it goes.”

The event poses some scheduling issues. Teams can only allocate two men and two women to the event, and since most countries travel with six male and six female competitors, that means eight have to sit out for a day.

Depending on how a team views the relay, they might put their weaker skiers in that event to save their stronger races for individual events.

This mixed relay was supposed to lead off the Presque Isle World Cup but was moved to Saturday to accommodate the German television network ARD.

That’s a big deal, said Cobb, noting that sports don’t usually fill prime-time television slots in Germany.

Producer Jana Passkonig said the event filled the 8 to 10 p.m. slot. She was hoping viewer totals would exceed 5 million.

Hitzer said she can only imagine the pressure her teammate felt as he anchored the winning relay.

“He can shoot very good and ski fast but that’s a lot of pressure being prime-time in Germany,” she said. “It was very cool.”

Staff Writer Jenn Menendez can be contacted at 791-6426 or at:

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