Wind and Joanne Firesteel Reid — a dangerous combo that worked to the American’s favor on Wednesday.
In her fourth-ever individual World Cup race (as in, not counting relays), US Biathlon’s fastest-rising up-and-comer finished 29th for a career best in the first individual race of the 2016/2017 International Biathlon Union (IBU) World Cup season: the women’s 15-kilometer individual in Östersund, Sweden.
Considering that Reid, 24, picked up the sport a little over a year ago, it’s even more impressive that she recorded her first World Cup top 30 in the longest-format (four-stage) biathlon race on one of the windiest race days in recent memory.
“This was definitely my best result, probably more due to luck than anything else,” Reid wrote in an email on Wednesday night.
Of 99 finishers, only one woman hit all 20 targets: third-place finisher Darya Yurkevich of Belarus. Four racers hit 19 of 20, and Reid was among 10 with three penalties or less.
A member of US Biathlon’s X-team, she ended up leading the U.S. women on Wednesday.
“Had I been the top American because I cleaned the whole race, and skied unbelievably fast, that would be a much different feeling than being the top American because I happened to wander into the range when the wind wasn’t quite as crazy,” Reid wrote. “You are no more your best race than you are your worst race, really. But an individual is a very strange race to ski, and I actively chose to not go out and ski like the ground was on fire, because I watched so many misses happening with all the early starters — a minute penalty per miss is a LOT, and a lot of skiing leeway time.”
Reid started 72nd, at the opposite end of the field of Germany’s Laura Dahlmeier, who wore bib 3 and won in 46:14 minutes. About 30 minutes into the individual-start race, the wind noticeably picked up.
“It was a relatively difficult race today,” Dahlmeier said in a post-race interview with German broadcaster ARD. “I had an early bib, and I didn’t get right into it from the start. My feeling was that I was a bit on the slower side, but apparently that feeling was deceiving.”
She ended up winning by 15.8 seconds over France’s Anais Bescond, who cleaned three-straight stages until missing on the final standing.
“I believe it was a difficult race for everyone,” Dahlmeier continued. “It was very icy, a lot of grainy snow. No easy conditions, and in addition there was the wind on the shooting range. During the last shooting, I stood there forever together with Doro [Wierer]. I think I’ve never experience a shooting stage where Doro stood that long on the range. I had to really fight, but in the end it now looks very very good. I would not have expected that.”
Known for her fast and accurate shooting, Wierer, of Italy, ended up 31st on the day, 5:11.5 minutes out of first with seven penalties (0+2+2+3). Reid was about 10 seconds faster in 29th (+5:01.8) with three misses (0+1+0+2).
“An individual is a very strange race to ski, and I actively chose to not go out and ski like the ground was on fire, because I watched so many misses happening with all the early starters.” — Joanne Reid, (US Biathlon) 29th for a career best on Wednesday
After the first three stages, Reid, whose previous best was 57th in a sprint last season, was skiing in 11th at one point. But she didn’t know it.
“I believe the whole staff was under strict instructions not to tell me [what place I was in],” Reid wrote. “It’s not always wise to tell a shooter something that will make them feel more pressure, especially one that’s as new as myself. So, I had absolutely no idea.”
Two more penalties on her final prone stage put her in 26th, but she held on for a top 30 — despite dropping a pole while leaving the range for the last time.
“Oh yeah, I dropped my pole. Not because the pole was defective, but mostly because I’m defective,” Reid wrote. “If you’re fast and skilled at it, you can slide the loop of the Leki strap right into the pole as you push off, but those are brand new poles (two days ago) and the system is just a touch different than my old pair, so I didn’t click in correctly, and I also didn’t realize. It was completely my fault, I shouldn’t have tried that with a brand new pole at speed mid-race. But hey, maybe I skied faster because I knew I had to make up seconds after I picked it up, who can really say?
“I did pause for a split second trying to figure out if I actually had to pick it up, or if I should keep skiing, or if the range rules require that I pick it up,” she added. “In the end, it’s my pole and I wanted it, so I went back for it. No pole left behind!”
Overall, her range and shooting times ranked in the middle of the pack in 64th and 54th, respectively. And she pointed out that her prone stages brought that shooting time down, with both of those range times ranking 84th or slower.
“Since I have very little experience shooting in wind, but I do a lot of shooting slow, I decided to take my time in the range and really focus,” she explained.
Reid described making slight adjustments with her sights to compensate for the wind during both prone stages.
“When I arrived for the second prone stage the wind was blowing the other direction, so I moved three back to center and then three left, only when I looked up again it had died down, so I moved three back right (to center), and this ended up being so distracting to me (I’m still learning wind) that I forgot to actually load my next magazine into my rifle,” she recalled. “So I had to come back up, unhook the sling, load the magazine, and shoot. Pretty sure THAT helped the range time….”
Comparably, Dahlmeier took her time to shoot more accurately than most, with her overall range and shooting times ranking 60th and 69th. She skied her way to first place with the fastest overall course time.
“I never would have expected that my course time would be so good,” Dahlmeier said. “I was pretty satisfied in terms of skiing technique, but I had pretty heavy legs, so I thought I wasn’t quite as fast and that surely there would be faster ones. But I said to myself‚ ‘It’s all right,’ and to just focus on my shooting. The individual race has a strong emphasis on the shooting, so that’s what matters…”
The fastest shooter of the top three and the only competitor to clean, Yurkevich was the 22nd fastest on the range and the 29th fastest shooting overall. She ended up 1:17.3 behind Dahlmeier at the finish for third place.
Germany had three in the top 10 with Franziska Preuss in fourth (+1:37.9, three misses) and Vanessa Hinz in 10th (+3:32.0, three misses).
“I am really satisfied with [the race] today. That’s the best individual race performance I’ve had here [in Östersund],” Preuss told ARD. “Normally I remember this course as very tough, but today it went all right, and on the shooting range I am pretty satisfied with the three misses considering the difficult conditions.
“There were changing winds, and then you start to think, then the legs start shaking from standing around for so long,” she added.
Germany’s women’s coach Gerald Hönig was impressed with Dahlmeier and the women’s team in general.
“This is a great debut for Laura, she just picked up where she left off last year, and that is very successful,” German women’s coach Hönig told ARD afterward. “As a team, one can only wish for a debut like this. … And that shows the last weeks in training went very well, since we didn’t specifically prepare for the start of the season in Östersund because it is a long season, but we are already in pretty good shape. And that lets us look confidently into the future.”
Clare Egan finished 40th (+6:19.3) for the U.S. with five penalties (1+4+0+0), and Canada’s Julia Ransom was 42nd (+6:23.4), also with five misses (0+2+2+1).
Canada’s Megan Tandy placed 53rd (+7:33.0) with five penalties (1+1+0+3), American Susan Dunklee was 73rd (+8:53.6) with nine minutes worth of penalties (4+2+0+3), and Canada’s Rosanna Crawford was 80th (+10:06.2) with eight penalties (2+3+2+1).
“I had the misfortune of shooting during some big gusts for three of my four stages,” said Dunklee, who started 32nd, according to a US Biathlon press release. “The wind was consistent and manageable for my second prone. Four minutes is a disheartening amount of time to lose in the first stage. All I could focus on then was just putting one foot in front of the other.”
She described the snow as “sugary and deep with some ice patches beneath.”
” ‘Wallowing’ might be the right word to describe the uphill skiing,” Dunklee added. “We had two women in the World Cup points today, which is a great achievement. We lost two of our top women to retirement last spring, Hannah (Dreissigacker) and Annelies (Cook), so it is very hopeful to see Joanne and Clare performing so well.”
— Harald Zimmer contributed reporting