In Saturday’s 10-kilometer pursuit in PyeongChang, South Korea, Laura Dahlmeier achieved a level of perfection that made biathlon almost seem unexciting.
The German biathlon star started in bib number one after winning Thursday’s 10 k sprint on the 2018 Olympic course, then shot a perfect 20-for-20 and skied away from the field to a 1:12.6 victory.
As she hit the last target with more than a minute of time in hand over her competitors, Dahlmeier raised her arms in the air and gave a brief celebration for her coaches and the crowd.
“Today I had enough time for that,” she told the IBU in an interview.
“It’s just crazy when you know, ‘Okay, there are only two kilometers left and nothing can go wrong anymore’,” she later told German broadcaster ARD. “It’s cool when you can high-five the others and say thanks to the coaches on the course. You don’t often get that opportunity to enjoy the final loop.”
It was the 13th World Cup win of the season for the German, who is likely (though not guaranteed) to win the Total Score. She is also now within one win of tying the record for most wins in a single season by a woman, set by Magdalena Forsberg of Sweden in 2001 and tied by Tora Berger of Norway in 2013.
“It was incredibly beautiful today,” she told ARD. “This was really the perfect race. It’s crazy, it’s a dream, and this is exactly what I trained for all year. You make so many shots in the summer, and it’s just beautiful when you can draw on that in competition. Gigantic. This was really a huge race.”
While Dahlmeier was relaxing around the last loop, the race for the podium was still playing out behind her.
After slowly climbing her way up from an eight-place starting position, Anais Bescond of France cleaned the last stage and went into second place. A podium finisher on the World Cup in previous seasons, she hadn’t yet had a top finish and had only been offered one start at World Championships.
She was chased by Finland’s Kaisa Makarainen. One of the fastest skiers on the World Cup, it was no surprise that she quickly caught Bescond.
But the French athlete hung on and crossed the finish line just 6.3 seconds behind Makarainen to claim third place.
“It’s my goal during this season to try to catch the podium,” Bescond told the IBU. “I was not able to compete in all the competitions at World Championships, as I was sick, so I am really happy about this third place.”
Germany’s Franziska Hildebrand left the range in fourth place, but was caught by American Susan Dunklee and Norway’s Tiril Eckhoff. Dunklee had been in position to maybe grab a podium, but missed her last shot.
“I missed that last shot; that was a bummer, the last standing,” she said.
But back on the trail, she gapped Hildebrand and Eckhoff going up the course’s major climb, and thought she had fourth place in the bag.
“Honestly, that last hill on the steep section, that’s the best I’ve felt all season, attacking on the last loop,” Dunklee said in a phone interview. “I was able to dig into that sprint or jump-skate mode for that last pitch. That was a good feeling, I’ve missed that.”
But Eckhoff came roaring back, catching up on the downhill – which led straight into the finishing stretch. Coming out of Dunklee’s draft she had a bit more momentum to the finish line and snagged fourth place, half a second ahead of Dunklee in fifth, exactly where Dunklee had started the day.
“In the sprint… my strategy was to push the downhills all the way into the stadium, and I made up huge amounts of time on people, especially the last loop,” Dunklee said. “So going into today, I expected the downhill to be my strength. Today it wasn’t there in the downhill, which surprised me. I pushed,and pushed, and Tiril caught up. When she caught me on that last straightaway, she had a little more speed, coming out of the draft, and there was nothing I could do at that point.”
With three misses, Dunklee was pleased that she could appear in her second flower ceremony of the weekend – and keep a string of good results going. She was sixth and second in the final individual races of World Championships in Hochfilzen, Austria, two weeks ago, and now was fifth twice in PyeongChang on the future Olympic course.
“It wasn’t a bad performance, but it didn’t feel like a good performance, either,” she said. “I’ve got to be really happy to get a top five with three misses. I’ll take that.”
Crawford 18th in Last Individual Race of Season
Coming off of a disappointing World Championships, Rosanna Crawford had almost called it a season.
“I had some long talks with my coach about continuing on the season,” Crawford admitted. “I really wanted to go home right away, but we decided it would be good to see the Olympic venue and that we needed a fourth women to take part in the relay. So I was feeling really drained and frustrated by the end of World Championships. But a bit of time away from the team, where I got to enjoy just skiing and seeing a new part of world, really helped bring my mood around.”
She and partner Brendan Green actually went to France to visit Bescond – and like Bescond, came to PyeongChang and turned in their best results of the season.
Crawford finished 30th in the sprint and then had strong standing shooting in the pursuit to move up even more. After a miss in each prone, she cleaned both standing stages to climb to 24th and then the top 20.
“These past two races I have felt the best I have all season,” Crawford wrote in an email.
She left the shooting range in 19th, and was engulfed in a back-and-forth with several women who passed her and who she passed on the final loop. In the end, she did finish 19th (+2:49.1).
“I was quickly caught by four women at the base of the climb,” Crawford wrote. “I knew that if I made it to the top with them that I could most likely beat them. Justine Braisaz [of France] started going hard halfway up the hill and I had to take the long way around a Ukrainian girl, but at the top I just tucked in behind her and started my ‘sprint.’ On the last downhill before the finish [Russia’s Irina] Starykh passed me and I tucked in behind her and we had a fun sprint to the finish!”
Despite the improved results – Crawford explained that she thought time she had taken off from competition in the beginning of the season was finally beginning to give her some benefit – she is still planning to return to Canada after the weekend rather than finishing off the World Cup season in Finland and Norway.
“Time to go home, rest and recover and get ready to start again for next year,” she wrote.
All four Canadian women had made the pursuit, and Megan Tandy was the next across the line in 30th (+3:26.2); she had moved up from 39th with two penalties.
Julia Ransom finished 44th (+4:18.4) with four missed shots and Emma Lunder 49th (+4:49.6) with two missed shots.
Egan Flirts With Top 20, Finishes 36th
For the U.S., halfway through the race it was looking like Dunklee could have company near the top of the results sheet. With two clean prone stages, Clare Egan had moved from 33rd up to 16th.
But in her first standing bout, she missed three shots.
“I have some work to do on staying calm and focused on the shooting process, rather than the potential outcome when the race is going well for me,” Egan wrote in an email. “That distraction certainly played a role in my misses today, as I was in sight of the top 10 when I came into shooting three.”
Her penalty loops dropped her back to the 40’s, but Egan bounced back to clean the final standing stage and ended up 36th (+3:41.9).
“I am happy with my shooting, especially my clean last stage,” she wrote. “Going 0-0-3-0 is more frustrating than some other arrangements of three misses, but when it comes down to it, I shot 85% and I’m satisfied.”
That rebound came partly thanks to a 30th-ranked ski time (tied with Canada’s Tandy).
“I have to say that I’m surprised by my ski time, because I have a cold,” Egan wrote. “Both physically and mentally I’m relying on autopilot right now, and I’m thankful that my body is handling it so well. Our skis were great again, everyone is suffering from the same jet lag and race schedule, and I’m clearly in good shape even if I don’t feel good. I’ll be looking to get healthy and fully refocused for our last two World Cups.”
Joanne Reid finished 52nd (+4:53.4) with five penalties.
— Harald Zimmer and Jake Ellis contributed