By this time last year, Finland’s Kaisa Makarainen had won two World Cups, podiumed in five more, and sat atop the rankings on the World Cup.
The 2011-12 season is shaping up differently, not just for Makarainen, but for the other women as well. On Wednesday Makarainen became the fifth athlete – each from a different country – to win a World Cup. The 22-second victory, which came despite having one more penalty than second-place finisher Helena Ekholm of Sweden, was her first of the season, although she’d been on the podium three times; she’s currently ranked third in the overall standings.
In an individual race, which features 15 kilometers of skiing and four shooting stages, each missed shot is penalized by a minute of added time. Makarainen was the second-fastest skier on the course, and covered the distance 54 seconds slower than Darya Domracheva of Belarus. But Domracheva missed four shots, adding up to four minutes of time penalties, and finished fifth, while Makarainen only missed twice.
The pacing was a deliberate move by Makarainen, and seems to have paid off.
“I knew that these were hard tracks, so I started slowly in the first couple of loops,” she explained in a press conference. “With all of the wet, soft snow, I thought it was a good idea not to use all of my energy in the beginning.”
At this point in the season, anything could happen at the top of rankings. The first four women, Magdalena Neuner of Germany, Domracheva, Makarainen, and Olga Zaitseva of Russia, are separated by less than 100 points. A victory counts for 60 points.
“Kaisa did not surprise me today,” Neuner said. “The competition is very difficult in each race this year. You have to fight to the finish in every competition to make the podium.”
Neuner had won both races in Oberhof, Germany last weekend, so it’s notable that she finished third, 32 seconds behind Makarainen, today.
Makarainen, who turned 29 on Wednesday, believed that she had been helped by a little bit of birthday magic.
“I was pretty relaxed today, maybe because it was my birthday,” she said in the press conference. “Two penalties are pretty good for me. Even though I was relaxed, I felt that it was not so easy shooting. but I handled it okay and the rest of the race was okay.”
All photos below are by NordicFocus and courtesy of Fischer USA. Click to enlarge.