HOCHFILZEN, Austria—For Germany’s Laura Dahlmeier in the 10 k pursuit today, it was another gold medal. One to match the mixed relay from this World Championships, a follow-up to her silver in the sprint, and a repeat of the pursuit gold from last year’s edition.
“I’m very happy about the three medals — it’s really like a dream, two gold medals and one silver,” Dahlmeier said in a press conference. “The next races I will try to give my best, especially with the team. We are really strong, and we have the possibility to be on the [relay] podium or to win the gold medal. I will fight.”
For Gabriela Koukalova, it was simply another medal. After winning the sprint, the Czech overcame some ammunition problems and three penalties to fight back for bronze in the pursuit.
“I was a little bit nervous, and I had some problems with ammunition,” she said. “It didn’t shoot, three times. So in this moment I said, goodbye, my medal.”
Not so fast: she earned the medal after all.
But perhaps the most joy on the pursuit podium came from the silver medalist, Darya Domracheva of Belarus.
Domracheva has won a fat handful of World Championships medals before, as well as three Olympic golds.
But success at this Championships was not guaranteed. Domracheva took the 2015-2016 season completely off, then some more time off to have her first child. She didn’t return to the World Cup until January of this year, and her best individual result since then was 13th place in the sprint in Ruhpolding.
Furthermore, Domracheva had finished 27th in the sprint here in Hochfilzen. That put her 1:25.6 behind Koukalova starting the pursuit.
Yet Domracheva wasn’t content to shoot for the teens or twenties. She cleaned target after target, quickly moving up in the standings. By the time she left the final standing shooting stage, she had hit all 20 targets and moved all the way into second place.
“I can say that some time ago, my name from journalists was ‘the comeback girl’,” she said in a press conference. “Today I think I earned this name again. It’s a really good day for me.”
Leaving the final shooting, Dahlmeier had an 8.6-second lead on Domracheva, who had another 4.9 seconds on Koukalova.
Dahlmeier tried to just hold her lead, despite not feeling “so strong on the tracks”. Domracheva and Koukalova set out to catch her. But it wasn’t easy.
“I tried to go maximum what I can — of course I tried also to catch Laura, but she was strong on the last loop,” Domracheva said. She ended up losing three more seconds to the German on the final 2.5 k.
But her second goal was to stay ahead of Koukalova, and that one she accomplished.
“I didn’t know what happened behind me,” said Koukalova, who was only sure she had secured a medal 500 meters from the finish line. “I saw only Darya. It was only three seconds [up to her], but in the moment, very far away. I didn’t have energy to catch her.”
And so Domracheva completed a comeback in impressive style, moving from 27th up to second place (+11.6) over the course of just ten kilometers. Koukalova was left with bronze (+16.6).
“I think the most difficult element was to combine all the elements of biathlon together,” she said of returning to top-level competition. “On some races for me it was good [skiing], on some races it was good shooting, and today I could say that I combined them together. The silver was the result from that.”
There was a tough fight for fourth place, with Irina Starykh of Russia – who returned this season from a three-year ban for blood doping – crossing the line first, +35.9.
After her it was Justine Braisaz of France in fifth (+36.1), teammate Marie Dorin Habert sixth (+36.3), and Finland’s Kaisa Makarainen seventh (+37.2).
Good But Not Perfect for American Trio
Susan Dunklee of the United States started two bibs and a few seconds behind Domracheva, and had begun her own ascent early in the race. Despite a penalty in the first prone, she moved from 29th up to 26th. Then with a clean second prone and a single miss in the first first standing, she was into the top 15.
“My start position today was not as high up as I wanted it to be, but it’s a great opportunity and the time [gap to better places] was not that big,” Dunklee said. “So if I shot well, I would just move up a few positions with each shooting, and just have a good race and keep moving… The first loop was a blast, tucking in behind Justine [Braisaz] and Darya [Domracheva], just trying to relax.”
In the last standing stage, though, things came apart, with two more misses. That knocked Dunklee back out of the top twenty. She tried to battle back on her skis, but by the finish was tiring. Dunklee landed 22nd, +1:44.7 after being so close to the top ten.
“Of course the race wasn’t like that,” she said of her initial plan.
She’s still looking for her best performance at the Championships, and has another chance in the 15 k individual and then, depending on how that goes, likely in the mass start.
“I came into these championships really nervous, and not dealing with that pressure as well as I wanted to,” Dunklee admitted. “And I think that affects me in a way. It’s hard to perform well when you are overly nervous, I think it’s good to have some nerves. But now I am finally feeling a bit more relaxed and more normal, more like my normal self, which is a good thing.“
On course, she passed teammate Clare Egan, who had started with bib 20. Egan shot better than Dunklee – just three misses – but wasn’t feeling the best on her skis.
“I think I’m just a little bit tired from doing the mixed relay and the sprint,” Egan said. “It’s just one of those days… I was starting 20th place. This was a much higher starting position than I’m used to, so the people around me are going faster and it’s just tough competition. I have a feeling with the altitude here, that the [15 k] individual could be a better pacing distance for me. I felt like the first lap for me [today] was like a 5 k pace, not a 10 k pace for me. I think I’ll be better in the 15 k.”
Egan landed 41st (+3:01.3), and still had things to be pleased about. Her three penalties matched her best shooting ever in a four-stage race.
“I shot 1-0-2-0 and I’m really especially happy about cleaning my last stage,” she said. “So my shooting, I’m happy with that. I hoped that I would not have moved back 21 places with solid shooting, but I think there must’ve been a lot of good shooting today. Mostly the issue was my skiing today. I didn’t have what it takes to move up. I would have needed to shoot perfectly to maintain my [top-20] spot.”
Egan was right: 16 women shot either clean or a single penalty. And that meant a lot of people moved up: Starykh from 24th to fourth, Braisaz from 28th to fifth, Italy’s Alexia Runggaldier from 43rd to 15th, Norway’s Marte Olsbu from 54th to 16th. The list went on. With three or four penalties, it was hard for the likes of Egan or Dunklee to do so well.
While Dunklee shot quickly – she tied for the third-fastest shooting time of the day – Egan and the third American starter, Joanne Reid, took the opposite approach.
“I was trying to clean prone, because when you are behind in prone you have a really hard time skiing and catching up with the group,” Reid explained. “So I was trying to take my time in prone. Maybe today I took a little bit too much time in prone, but I hit them, so nobody can complain too much about it.”
Egan, too, was steady and purposeful.
“I have a really active mind that’s easily distracted, so I have to be really deliberate about focusing on only my position and my trigger work,” she said. “And I did that on my last stage, so I’m happy with that.”
For Reid, the slow shooting paid off. She had only one penalty in the competition – a miss in the last stage.
“It’s been a little tricky for me, just because I am still learning wind,” said Reid, who finished 38th in just the second World Championships race of her career.
“And this range is really susceptible to wind. A little woosh and the wind flags… it’s just a lot of clicks. And I don’t even remember to always look at the wind flags. That’s something I’m working on. But I love it here, I love this course. It’s fun.”
For Canada, Rosanna Crawford finished 43rd with three penalties (+3:04.3).
A year ago, she didn’t have a single result worse than 29th in the whole World Championships. She has had a difficult 2017 season, like much of the Canadian team.
“I’m just so frustrated,” Crawford said at the finish. “The sprint felt like almost getting closer back to normal. Then today again, I just couldn’t move. I couldn’t stay with anyone around me. It’s hard. You want to know what you did wrong so you don’t do it again.”
-Harald Zimmer and Alex Kochon contributed