At just 18 years old, Chloe Levins has the wisdom of a seasoned veteran when it comes to biathlon. She accepts the inevitable ups and down of her sport, works hard to focus on herself and no one else, and treats every race as a learning experience.
All of the above are often easier said than done. But Levins seems to have her head in the right place and the results are following. In three individual races over the past week at Youth World Championships in Osrblie, Slovakia, she’s finished in the top 15. On Sunday in the youth women’s 7.5-kilometer pursuit, she rocketed to fourth — tying her career-best result in an international race.
“In my mind, I’m still a baby in this sport,” Levins wrote in an email on Sunday. “As we saw last week, Lowell [Bailey] prepared for two decades before winning a World Championship title. Today’s race was simply more preparation for the future. Every race is a learning experience, and every race that you’re in contention is an even better learning experience. So for now, I’ll keep learning.”
A Middlebury freshman who plays collegiate golf in the spring and fall, Levins had previously finished fourth at last year’s Youth Olympic Games in Lillehammer, Norway. There, she started the pursuit in 22nd and rocketed to fourth, one spot off the podium. On Sunday, she started 11th, based on her sprint result on Friday, and shot 18-for-20 to finish fourth, 1:55.5 minutes out of first and 47 seconds out of third.
Levins started the race by skiing around 11th for the first loop, then missed her first and last shots in the first shooting stage. That put her back in 17th heading out on her second loop, and she proceeded to clean the next three stages to work her way up to seventh before her final loop. There, she passed three more competitors to end up fourth.
“After missing two, I got out of my own way and went back to basics,” Levins recalled. “My coach, Algis Shalna, always says, ‘Do what you normally do.’ The trick is believing that what you normally do will be good enough. Today, it was really close.”
“There’s a fine line between being too cautious and perfectly aware in shooting,” she added. “That was the difference between my first shooting and the last three today.”
She attributed her fast skiing (with the 11th-fastest course time) to “lightning” skis.
“The wax guys have been making fantastic skis all week, and I can’t thank them enough,” she said of US Biathlon’s staff. “The team staff gave me some information on the last loop, but I didn’t hear them. I was in a different world, fighting for a medal in my mind’s eye. Honestly, I’m not quite sure when I passed the three girls who left the range in front of me. The track was really crowded with competitors that were on their fourth loop. If I were to guess, I passed one girl on the first hill out of the stadium and the other two on a flat .25k before the finish.”
Ahead of her, Italy’s Irene Lardschneider secured her second-straight gold medal after winning Friday’s sprint and starting 1 minute and 7 seconds ahead of anyone else in the pursuit. She had four penalties, which came in the last two standing stages (0+0+2+2), but held onto first in 26:57.1. France’s Lou Jeanmonnot-Laurent finished 24.4 seconds later after skiing up from fourth at the start to second place, with a single miss (0+0+1+0). For the second-straight race, Italy’s Samuela Comola claimed bronze (+1:08.5) after starting third and shooting two penalties (1+0+1+0).
Then there was Levins, who started 1:40 out of first and was one of six women to shoot 90 percent or better.
“It kills me to come short of medal for the second year in a row, but it also makes me that much more hungry for next opportunity to compete,” Levins wrote. “Even though there’s no medal around my neck, shooting 90% and having the fastest ski time on the last loop are things to smile about.”
Before the championships began, Levins told FasterSkier that the best advice anyone ever gave her about skiing or racing was to smile. And that’s been the running theme of her week.
“I smile about the fact that I set three consecutive personal bests this week at Jr World Champs,” she wrote on Sunday. “It’s the ‘what ifs’ that give me motivation for the next. I’m leaving Slovakia with more drive than ever. There are many areas in shooting and skiing I can improve upon for next season. I’m really looking forward to getting down to work.”
Levins led four North Americans in the youth women’s pursuit, with her U.S. teammates Amanda Kautzer and Grace Gilliland finishing 42nd and 53rd, respectively. Kautzer started 59th and picked off 17 places despite missing four targets (1+0+2+1) and finished 6:16.2 back. Gilliland started 55th and improved two places with six penalties (2+3+1+0), finishing 8:32.1 out of first in 53rd. Canada’s Shilo Rousseau followed in 54th (+9:02.1) with eight misses (3+1+2+2) after starting 45th.
The youth women end the championships with the 3 x 6 k relay on Monday. Canada is entering Frédérique Pérusse, Rousseau, and Anna Sellers, while the U.S. team is Levins, Kautzer and Gilliland.
Also on Monday, the youth men will race a 3 x 7.5 k relay. Thomas Hulsman, Adam Runnalls and Leo Grandbois are listed to start for Canada, and Vasek Cervenka, Jacob Pearson and Alex Kilby are listed for the U.S.
Sprint Top 20 for Bankes, Ellingson; Bankes 16th in Pursuit
In the junior women’s 10 k pursuit, Canada’s 19-year-old Megan Bankes capped off her gold-medal week with her third top 20. Bankes previously won the 12.5 k individual last Thursday, then finished 13th in Saturday’s 7.5 k sprint.
Going into Sunday’s pursuit, she made a goal to stay calm and focused and “overall just have a fun time racing the pursuit, and see how much I can move up!”
She started 1:25 minutes behind the leader, Italy’s Michela Carrara, the winner of the sprint who left the pursuit starting gate with a 15-second head start. After cleaning the first prone stage, Bankes was up to ninth and 54 seconds out of first.
Over the next three stages, Bankes missed four targets and had to ski four penalty laps as a result. The first miss on the second prone stage put her in 11th, then she slipped to 19th with two misses in the first standing. On the final standing stage, Bankes missed one more to leave the range in 20th. Before the finish, she picked off four skiers to take 16th place across the line. She finished 2:15.8 minutes behind Russia’s Valeriia Vasnetcova, who won the race with clean shooting. Vasnetcova was the only woman in the field to do so; in fact, she was the only racer — woman or man — that hit all 20 targets between four races on Sunday.
Vasnetcova had started the pursuit in 24th, 1:52 out of first, and taken the lead by after cleaning the last stage. She posted the fastest course time as well and notched a 10-second victory, finishing in 31:49.5 minutes for her first medal of these championships (she also won gold in the relay last year with her Russian team at Youth Worlds in Romania).
Carrara ended up second after missing three (1+1+1+0), and Norway’s Ingrid Tandrevold also picked up her second-straight medal, after starting second and finishing third (+10.8), with two penalties (0+0+1+1).
While Bankes could not be reached for comment after Sunday’s race, she was pleased with her 13th place on Saturday.
“My skiing felt pretty solid, and only 2 misses is pretty good for a sprint for me,” she wrote of her s8-for-10 shooting (1+1). “13th place is still pretty stellar…”
Asked what it’s been like coming off a world-championship win, Bankes, who hails from Calgary and trains with the Biathlon Alberta Training Centre in Canmore, Alberta, explained she’s received a fair amount of media attention, “especially from back home, or at least way more than I’m used to!” she wrote on Saturday. “I’ve just been trying to focus on the next races, it’s still fairly surreal for me to be Junior World Champ for the individual, so I’m still fairly excited about that, but i’m trying not to get caught up in that and look forward to the next races as well.”
The second North American in the top 20 of Saturday’s sprint, Siena Ellingson of the U.S. posted the first individual top 20 of her career in her fourth Youth/Junior Worlds. She finished 18th, 1:38.7 out of first, with a single standing penalty (0+1).
In an email on Saturday, the 20-year-old Ellingson, of Minnetonka, Minn., explained that she had a tricky zero, which is the standard pre-race target practice.
“The wind was switching back and forth so it was hard to get a good confirmation, I had to leave it where it was and start the race,” she wrote. “Having confidence in shooting is hard after a zero like that, but you just can’t worry about it.”
She was pleased to find her first prone stage had wind similar to what she experienced zeroing, and she was able to hit all of her targets without making any adjustments.
“Standing there was a bit of wind, but the miss was just a miss, not a problem with the wind,” Ellingson wrote. “I crossed the line in 6th, but I had only started bib 19, so there were quite a few fast girls still to finish. It’s always hard to guess where you’ll end up, but I was hoping to stay top 30.
“I’m pretty happy with the race today, but there’s a lot I need to work on in the training season coming up,” she added.
“An impressive result for Siena in a very competitive junior field,” US Biathlon assistant coach Erik Lewish wrote in an email. “Great skiing and shooting even with a crash during the race before her last shooting stage didn’t deter her. I was really proud that she could make her best result ever (and hopefully improve upon it tomorrow) here at her last junior worlds.”
For the pursuit, she wanted to shoot well and enjoy the race. On Sunday, Ellingson started out with a miss in her first prone, then missed six more on the next three stages to end up 41st (+5:24.7), just outside the points, with seven penalties (1+2+1+3).
Two other Canadians qualified for the pursuit, with Nadia Moser starting 31st and Emily Dickson 47th based on their sprint results. In the pursuit, Moser raced to her best result of the week in 30th (+3:43.5) with three penalties (0+1+0+2). Dickson repeated in 47th (+6:29.9) with four penalties (1+0+1+2).
The junior women will race a 3 x 6 k relay on Tuesday, along with the junior men in the 4 x 7.5 k, to conclude the 2017 Youth/Junior World Championships. Start lists were not yet posted.