HOCHFILZEN, Austria—Every women’s race of the World Championships so far, the question has been: where’s Laura Dahlmeier?
And in every race, the German has has turned in fantastic performances. Close to perfect on the range, fast on her skis, winning a medal each time.
The 15 k individual was no exception. A late starter, Dahlmeier had just one miss, in her first prone stage, and then all was clear as she raced to another gold medal. This time, it was by 24.7 seconds over Gabriela Koukalova of the Czech Republic, the winner of the sprint.
“I think Laura is in amazing shape, and it’s very difficult to beat her,” Koukalova said in a press conference. “Because, what can I say, she is unbelievable. Stronger, faster, better concentration, there is no chance.”
Dahlmeier herself was calm as she concluded something not so different
“It’s a special moment for me — the third gold medal, the fourth [overall] and I think the ninth medal since Oslo [World Championships 2016],” she said. “It’s amazing. One race after the other I can show my best performance, and it’s really great to be on the podium and on the first position.”
Most of the top women started in the last seed group, hoping for the shade to speed up the tracks in the late afternoon. Mari Laukkanen of Finland – who will represent her country at FIS Cross Country World Championships in a few weeks – set the early time to beat, with one missed shot and a blistering ski time.
Her time held up for 25 minutes, until Koukalova crossed the line with one penalty and a faster ski speed. Clean-shooting Alexia Runggaldier of Italy slotted in between them, and finally Dahlmeier’s time knocked everyone down a notch.
“I thought that it could be possible if I shoot clean,” first-time World Championships medalist Runggaldier said. “But then I thought, okay, there are the best people of the whole world that will be competing at this competition. So if I am lucky then I will be good, and if it’s not like this then nothing happens. But I am really happen that I shot four times clean… I think both [Dahlmeier and Koukalova] can shoot four times clean.”
Laukkenen ultimately ended up with the wooden medal, +1:56.8. Fifth place went to Ekaterina Avvakumova (+2:03.6), a Russian who transferred her citizenship to Korea, and sixth (+2:06.7) to Susan Dunklee of the United States.
Other North American results:
Julia Ransom, Canada, 18th Place
Ransom went into the individual with a brand-new attitude.
“I’ve been sort of frustrated the last couple weekends ,with sickness in Antholz and just having a hard time getting my groove, so I decided today to just leave nothing behind,” she said. “Shoot fast, ski fast, not worry about the consequences. It was just fun racing, so it was awesome.”
The strategy worked: Ransom missed just one shot, and raced to an 18th-place finish (+3:48.2), her best international result to date.
“I think I came in with too many expectations from last year and I forgot to just race because I love it and race for myself and not for carding or not for criteria not for anything, just because it’s super fun,” she said.
Clare Egan, USA, 22nd Place
Egan notched her second top-25 of the Championships, and is turning in some of her best racing ever at this event.
In the individual, she collected another personal best: with just two missed shots, she achieved 90% shooting in a four-stage race for the first time.
Furthermore, she did it by cleaning each of the first three stages. She was pleased that she didn’t completely falla part on the final shooting stage, given that she was in line for perhaps a top-six finish – which would have been a huge personal best – if she had cleaned.
“After I cleaned my first standing stage, I knew I would have three clean stages because I was so confident about the prone ,” she said. “I’m happy with my last standing, too, I’ve never cleaned three stages of a four-stage race before so I’ve never been in that position before. Of course I could have handled it better, but I’m pretty happy with two misses… I’m totally fine with that. I hit more than I missed. I was a little shaky for sure.”
Egan also had the 26th-fastest ski time. That netted her 22nd place, +3:55.0.
“She is really able to be up there, and I want to see her up there more often,” U.S. Biathlon Association Chief of Sport Bernd Eisenbichler said. “We will work for the next season to have her more constantly up there in the top 20, because I think she can be up there any given day. She is in a higher level for the skiing performance now. There is still too much up and down, but she took a step forward this year.”
Megan Tandy, Canada, 43rd Place
With two missed shots, Tandy ended up +5:14.0. While she was happy with 90% shooting, she wished the effort had netted a better result.
“Actually it was a good race,” she said. “But I have been feeling actually awful this season. I haven’t had a good ski feeling since November… I am starting every race maybe feeling good for 800 meters, and then I am not racing, I am just surviving. Today I had some fight, and I hit 18 so I should be happy. But I am just watching the results list, because for me to qualify for funding [Spot Canada funding] next season I need one more top 30.”
That didn’t happen. But Tandy thought that the tools she had developed to get her through this race, and this season, would continue to serve her well in the future.
“I kind of came into the race prepared to not think about anything but the process,” she said of the pressure for results. “I had really specific keywords for the shooting, both prone and standing, as well as really key tactical goals for the course. When I am standing on the shooting mat I am thinking about trigger pressure and black targets, and those are the only two things in my head.”
Joanne Reid, USA, 56th Place
Reid split a bullet on the last shot of her first stage, but rather than be frustrated, she took responsibility.
“It was way off from the rest of my group, so that was all me,” she laughed.
After starting the season with a sensational performance in the 15 k individual in Österund, Sweden, Reid’s four misses today seemed imperfect. But she refused to let any one shooting stage get to her.
“I come into the range each time ready to focus on that bout,” she said.
That helped her clean the last stage, something she was particularly proud of. She finished +6:36.7, and also had a faster last standing stage than usual, clocking in at 27 seconds.
“I actually do have the speed capability, but I can’t always put all the pieces together yet,” she wrote in an email. “I’ve been working really, really hard at improving the speed over the course of the season, but it never seems like the time to implement it in a race. There’s always teammates counting on me, or an individual in which you have a minute penalty per miss, or the sprint in which you must make the pursuit, or the pursuit in which you aren’t supposed to miss the prone targets, or…. or…. or. This stage today was quite fast, and was all in the prone ring, and so was my fast standing stage in the pursuit (all in the prone ring). I think I have to trust myself.”
Rosanna Crawford, Canada, 62nd Place
Crawford had a rough start to her race: three missed shots in prone, right off the bat.
“That was so strange!” she said. “Usually my prone goes well, and this was just all over the place. I don’t know what happened. But actually, I find that when I miss early, it’s easy to get it turned around because the pressure is totally off.”
She did turn her shooting around, cleaning each of the next three stages. But her skiing time was not enough to make up for the missed shots and Crawford finished +7:01.5.
“15 k is really hard for me, and when it’s hot – I just can’t handle the heat,” she said. “So it was tough.”
Emma Lunder, Canada, 64th Place
Lunder had one more missed shot than her teammate, and finished +7:17.9.
“It had good and bad parts,” she said. “I missed two in my first shooting, so that was a little bit tough, trying not to think about that while I was skiing. And then the rest of my shooting I was a lot happier with, but then to miss one in the last bout – I was just so tired… it was such a hot race, and everyone was out there just dying. It was a good effort for sure.”
Maddie Phaneuf, USA, 87th Place
It was the second competition of World Championships for Phaneuf, a first-year-senior who had made the Championships a major goal.
“I felt like coming into it I was going to feel so overwhelmed, but it just kind of feels normal, like another World Cup,” Phaneuf said. “In the beginning of the season, I haven’t had that many World Cup starts, it was just so overwhelming and I wasn’t quite ready to experience it. But now that I’ve done a handful of them this season, it feels much more comfortable and I feel like I deserve to be here, which is exciting.”
Normally a strong shooter, Phaneuf missed two shots in each of her standing stages. That left her with 87th place overall, 9:38.3 behind the pace set by Dahlmeier.
“Recently I’ve just been struggling with my standing,” she said. “I’ve been hitting the targets in training but in the races I keep missing two every time. It’s really annoying. I think I shoot clean in prone and then I come into the range [for standing] and I try not to think about the result, but I need to figure out how to push that out of my head because it keeps messing me up.”
Eisenbichler saw this as a learning experience for the youngest member of the U.S. women’s team.
“Maddie is here to learn, more or less,” he said. “For sure we want to have great results for her as well, but it’s her first World Championships in the senior category. We must work on the [skiing] shape. She’s a strong shooter, she can shoot clean on any given day in an individual race, but the shape needs some work, this was obvious today again. We will make sure that we approach this with the right tactics for the next season.”
-Harald Zimmer and Alex Kochon contributed