SEEFELD IN TIROL, Austria–
Every Nordic race director is well versed in Murphy’s Law. Today, Seefeld Stadium was more or less the Titanic—the unsinkable race venue. Temps were cold, the loops were covered with a meter and a half of perfectly groomed snow, thousands of cowbell clanging Tyroleans lined the course, and the IBU’s finest were on hand to supervise. The Women’s 7.5km Pursuit event at the Youth Olympic Games was to go off without the slightest hitch. But halfway through the event, things suddenly became quite hectic.
The women’s field competed four loops of a lightning fast, 1.8km loop, interspersed with four shooting stages—two prone and two standing. In pursuit format, the 47 top junior biathletes left the stadium based on their results from the previous day’s sprint. But fast lap times, combined with the fact that lapped racers weren’t pulled before they entered the range (as is traditionally done on the World Cup), meant that by the second and third shooting stages, some racers were already shooting standing while others were still shooting prone.
Piotr Bednarski, coach of the US Biathlon squad, elaborated, “Now you have athletes who are on different shooting stages coming in at the same time, and the officials obviously got confused. They were sending people to the wrong targets.”
Confusion broadened with so many athletes in the range at one time, and there were numerous reports of cross-firing. Coach Chris Lindsay of the Canadian squad told FasterSkier, “It [cross firing] happened to one of our skiers, Danielle Vrielink. She was lucky, in a way. One of her targets went down. Then, she missed her fourth target. She still had a black target to shoot at without having to alert the officials, reset the target, shoot a single round, and then be done with it then. It probably cost her a few seconds, but not enough to have a significant impact on the race. To their credit, the officials took care of it quite well.”
Despite the chaos, many of the top skiers were able to avoid the confusion. Avoiding absolutely any chaos whatsoever was Russia’s Uliana Kaysheva, who was one of three female skiers to clean all four shooting rounds. Starting in 3rd at 33 seconds back, Kaysheva powered her way to a substantial victory of nearly 28 seconds ahead of yesterday’s Sprint victor Franziska Preuss of Germany. Galina Vishnevskaya of Kazachstan, who was yesterday’s Silver medalist, ended up third, 1:43 off the lead.
American Anna Kubek of Duluth led the North American contingent on the day with a strong 10th place finish, besting 11th placed Canadian Danielle Vrielink by six seconds. Asked if the chaos on the range interfered with her concentration, Kubek succinctly told FasterSkier, “Nope. It didn’t affect me. I just focused on my race, and everything went pretty well.”
Canadian Sarah Beaudry had an excellent day, moving up from 22nd place to 14th. Aleksandra Zakrzewska, from South Burlington Vermont, struggled on the shooting, slipping to 41st place.
US Coach Piotr Bednarski was very impressed with the overall quality of the women’s field, particularly on the range.
“The women’s field is quite professional. You see the girls in the top 15 in the range and they’re shooting very smooth, very well—much better than the men. Of the top 15, I think 12 of them shot clean on the second prone. Lots of clean shooting today,” Bednarski told FasterSkier.
Bednarski also implied that such a stiff level of competition can put additional pressure on the young athletes, especially when the conditions so perfect and wind-free on the range. Yet again, the challenging level of competition did little to derail Kubek’s state of mind.
“I’ve been training hard, and my shooting has been getting better. I can compare myself, and I knew I could be up there with the top athletes as well,” said the Minnesota native. When asked if it was the tasty Wiener Schnitzel served in the Olympic Village that got her into the top ten, Kubek replied, “No. I’ve just been training really hard and it’s been paying off.”
All in all, 8 athletes were awarded time credits by the Race Jury, as per IBU Rule 8.7.4. The highest ranking finisher to receive a time credit was Austrian Julia Reisinger, whose credit of 33 seconds bumped her from 7th to 6th overall.
Action continues for the Biathletes in Seefeld on Thursday with the four person, mixed gender relay.