Sara Studebaker was the only woman the United States Biathlon Association had enough confidence in to pre-select for the first period of World Cups this year.
And after last weekend’s racing in Ostersund, Sweden, some people were wondering why: she finished 72nd in the individual race and 88th in the sprint.
But in Ostersund, Studebaker had water-borne parasites to contend with. When the World Cup moved to Hochfilzen, Austria this week, she was ready, and on Friday proved that she deserved that pre-qualified spot, finishing a career-best 26th in the sprint competition.
Studebaker shot clean, and said that her shooting gave her the confidence to go for it on skis, too.
“I felt much better than last week, and shooting well definitely gave me a boost,” she told FasterSkier in an e-mail. “Cleaning my shooting was very exciting. I had a lot of confidence and was very excited going into the last loop, so that definitely helped me ski well.”
As for her health, Studebaker was simply relieved that her stomach problems and corresponding lack of energy were behind her.
“It was great to feel good skiing again, and though I know I still have improvements to make, this was a step in the right direction. In the last lap I was catching up to an Italian skier, and was getting splits that I was one second from 20th place, so it was helpful to be able to chase her down… I had a great race and was really happy with the outcome.”
Just as the men had earlier in the morning, the women had to contend with heavy snowfall during their race. However, conditions were more or less equal throughout the course of the race, so nobody had much of an advantage, unlike in the men’s competition. Nevertheless, the effects of the snowstorm were obvious, with even the fastest women spending more than an minute in the range during each stage.
Anastasiya Kuzmina of Slovakia skied to the win, shooting clean and besting the field by almost twenty seconds. Kuzmina won the sprint at the Vancouver Olympics, but this year her season had not started off well. In Ostersund last weekend, she missed 10 of 20 shots in the individual competition.
“My only problem last week was on the shooting range, so I was not too concerned,” she told IBU News. And she was right to be confident: her ski time was the eleventh-fastest, but none of the women faster than her could manage to hit all the targets. Kuzmina is back on track and a force to be reckoned with again this year.
Darya Domracheva of Belarus finished second, collecting her tenth career World Cup podium.
Overall World Cup leader Kaisa Makarainen rounded out the podium four seconds behind Domracheva, and will maintain her position at the top of the standings. She told IBU News that given the pressure of wearing the yellow bib for the first time, she was surprised she skied so well.
“Last night, I was very nervous when I received this bib,” she said. “I was very concerned about how I would do today. But by this morning, I was calm again.”
However, the conditions suited her and she was able to ski to another podium finish.
“It was very tough on the course and the weather was difficult. I do not think I had the best skis, but they were obviously good enough to get me to the podium. My skiing is feeling quite good… I am usually good on hard courses and in tough conditions, when you have to work a lot; I am not too good in very fast conditions. My technique is not at its best in those conditions. So today was actually good for me. Still, it felt quite tough.”
Laura Spector was the only other American in the race, and tied for 55th place, qualifying her for Sunday’s pursuit. None of the Canadians were so lucky: Zina Kocher, Rosanna Crawford, and Megan Imrie finished 62nd, 70th, and 80th.
None of the women will be competing tomorrow. A relay is on the schedule, but with only two Americans and three Canadians present, neither country can field a whole team.
Studebaker told FasterSkier that while a relay would be fun, there was a silver lining to skipping it.
“I think it can work well for us, since when most of the other girls must go out and race hard again tomorrow, we will have an easy day of training and resting to get ready for the pursuit. I’m looking forward to the pursuit race; I’m in a good position, and with so many women so close I think it will be a very exciting race. It will be fun to get my first pursuit start of the year!”