With Canada’s Kurtis Wenzel winning gold in the junior men’s 15 k individual, it was easy to overlook the other North American performances at biathlon World Junior Championships on Tuesday. But there were several other notable finishes in Kontiolahti, Finland, including top-20’s from Wenzel’s teammates Aaron Gillmor and Audrey Vaillancourt.
Biathlon Canada, it appears, is on its way up.
“It was certainly a welcome surprise to hear that Kurtis was in the lead after his third shooting,” Gillmor told FasterSkier. “The whole team is extremely happy for Kurtis and we will all continue to push each other to find similar results; however it is business as usual and all the athletes are staying very focused on improving and repeating. The reason I think Canada is improving across the board on all levels of biathlon is we are getting more experience at the IBU Cup, World Cup and the Youth and Junior World Championships.”
Vaillancourt was the best of the rest of the North Americans, placing 15th in the junior women’s 12.5 k individual with four penalties. Her effort put her 4:50 behind winner Chardine Sloof of the Netherlands; the time gaps were large due to the format, where each missed shot is penalized by a minute of added time. Fourth place was already over a minute behind Sloof.
“Today I had four misses, which was actually among the best shooting scores of the day,” Vaillancourt said, noting the strong and shifting winds at the venue. “In Kontiolahti not only the wind is difficult, but the course is very hard as well! Skiing today didn’t feel as good as I would have wanted to, but since shooting is the most important part in an individual, I’m still very satisfied with my performance.”
Vaillancourt, who won a bronze medal at 2009 World Junior Championships, was actually hoping for a top-ten finish, but came up short. A stronger shooter than skier, she sees the individual as one of her best disciplines.
“I hope to get back in better physical shape before the sprint and the pursuit next week-end,” Vaillancourt said.
Gillmor almost matched her performance, placing 19th in the junior men’s 15 k individual. This is Gillmor’s third trip to the championships, and today he produced his best result ever.
“I think better races this year have come mainly from being consistently dedicated over the years and always trying my best to get faster,” Gillmor said of his performance in the individual.
“Honestly, this season I have been sick for most of the competition season and was unable to race during my first IBU Cup tour,” he continued. “I am focusing on making these races the best I can with the health I have at the moment. So the most definitive thing that I can say has helped my year is keeping myself honest and just stay focused on having good races and not worry about what place I might come.”
Like Vaillancourt, Gillmor had four penalties; his 22nd-fastest ski time of the day plus the four added minutes of time put him 4:43 behind Wenzel.
“I was able to focus on my shooting for the most part,” Gillmor explained. “The shooting is very interesting here as it really depends on when you arrive in the range, as sometimes are near your zero and other times it is a full blown gust. I am more confident that with this race under my belt I will be able to ski harder coming up and I will also be able to trust my shooting more in the races to come.”
For Canada, Macx Davies and Jasper Mackenzie placed 72nd and 75th in the men’s race while Emma Lodge finished 30th, Emma Lunder 47th, and Keeley Macculloch 50th in the women’s race.
The Americans didn’t have such strong results, and universally struggled on the range. Casey Smith led the men in 31st with six penalties. Smith is actually the least experienced of the American junior men, but after competing in the junior races at Under-26 Open European Championships in January he was ready for this competition.
“I think that the field here is a little bit stronger than at U26’s,” Smith wrote in an e-mail. “There are more nations and that always brings better competition. But I think that already having international racing this year helped me out – I feel like I have a better idea of what I have to do in order to place well.”
Half of Smith’s penalties came in the last stage, and until then he was well within the top thirty. Still, he wasn’t disappointed.
“I felt good about my race today,” he told FasterSkier. “Of course I could have always placed better, but I felt like I was skiing well and the shooting was also going well until the last stage where I missed three shots. But thats biathlon and what makes it so exciting.”
Raleigh Goessling and Ethan Dreissigacker, each in their fifth and final year of World Junior competition, placed 53rd and 74th.
Kelly Kjorlien was the top U.S. woman, placing 39th with six penalties.
“I think my misses were not due to the wind, they were just bad shots,” she lamented. “I was hoping for some better shooting in the individual, but I’m looking forward to the rest of the week.”
Kjorlien, like Smith, is in her first year as a junior competitor after representing the U.S. in years past as a youth. She’s also now a college student, which she said made her biathlon career less predictable.
“Being a full time student at Montana State University has made training more difficult than I expected,” she said. “I came into the season knowing that I hadn’t put in nearly enough hours to get any sort of results. Now that I’ve experienced being a student, I have huge amounts of respect for successful student athletes!”
The final two Americans, sisters Kimberly and Amanda Del Frate, placed 54th and 55th with ten and eleven penalties.