On Friday, Julia Ransom came thisclose to picking up Canada’s second medal of the week at biathlon World Youth and Junior Championships in Kontiolahti, Finland.
Thisclose, it turns out, means four and a half seconds over six kilometers and two shooting stages. That’s the margin that separated Ransom, who wound up fifth in the youth women’s sprint, from third-place Lisa Theresa Hauser of Austria.
If she had any regrets about missing the podium, Ransom kept them under wraps. In an e-mail interview after the race, the Kelowna, British Columbia native conveyed only glee.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better day!” Ransom told FasterSkier.
The fifth-place finish is the best of Ransom’s career, eclipsing the eighth-place effort she turned in for the individual race on Monday. After that result and the third-fastest time for her leg of the youth relay, she couldn’t help but feel a little pressure, and told FasterSkier that she was “nervous” going into the sprint.
But coach Richard Boruta handed her a war plan and sent her off to battle – and Ransom simply went to work, forgetting about her nerves.
“[Boruta] really helped me focus in on strategic racing,” Ransom said. “I went into today just looking for a good placing for the pursuit, which I have found to be my strongest race. Top five made it all the better! I am going into Sunday hungry for hardware.”
The highlight of Ransom’s race was perfect shooting, which she achieved for the first time in three years of World Junior Championships racing. Out of the 79-woman field, Ransom was one of only eight athletes to knock down all ten targets, and of that select few only second-place Niya Dimitrova of Bulgaria was able to match Ransom’s ski speed.
“This was the first time that I have cleaned a race and I am so happy that it happened at World Juniors,” Ransom wrote.
Her shooting enabled Ransom to be competing in a very tight race for the podium; while Hilde Fenning of Norway was in a league of her own, racing to a 20-second victory, and Dimitrova was similarly untouchable, the next eight skiers all finished within 20 seconds of each other, and the race for third was particularly close. Hauser was 53.1 seconds behind Fenning, fourth-place Galina Vishnevskaya of Russia 57.5 seconds back, and Ransom 57.6 seconds back.
“On my last lap, I heard that I was fifth out of the range,” said Ransom, who with bib 24 started before the women who eventually beat her. “Once I reached the top of the hill, Martin [Tremblay, a coach], told me I was two seconds off first! I was in a large pack of girls at that time, and had to push through them to make up some ground.”
By the time she crossed the finish line, Ransom had made up the time, and was the leader for about five minutes before Fenning and Dimitrova bumped her down.
The feeling of winning – even if it only lasted a few minutes – was something special.
“When I finished, I was ranked first,” Ransom said. “I was so happy because I knew my parents had stayed up and were watching the live results back at home. Mom and Dad have supported me so much over the years; they are truly amazing! I was slowly edged out of the medals, but am still thrilled with my performance today.”
Boruta was impressed with how well their plan – which involved focusing on specifics instead of worrying about results – had worked.
“[Ransom] stayed focused during the race and was able to post quite a strong finish loop,” he told FasterSkier. “Her early start number gave her a chance to enter the race without too much of second thoughts, but it was also a chance for the other competitors to get a good splits and try to sneak ahead. Still, it is only 4.5 seconds to third place, which is a very good result.”
Sarah Beaudry was the next Canadian in the women’s race, finishing 26th with two penalties. Like Ransom, she will start the pursuit as part of a tight pack, and is just over one penalty-loop’s-worth of time from the top 20.
“Sarah has been struggling with her shooting and race tactics this winter, but she was given clear tactical goals and she followed them as much as she could,” Boruta said. “Her two penalties were very, very close shots, and there is also still potential for improvement in the pursuit.”
Rose-Marie Cotê placed 50th with one penalty and Erin Oliver-Beebe 74th to round out the results.
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While their finishes may not have matched Ransom’s – or their expectations – Stuart Harden and Christian Gow are definitely not out of the picture for Sunday’s pursuit.
The pair, close friends who Harden said have spent most of their time together since arriving in Finland, placed 25th and 26th, separated by just two tenths of a second. They sit 2:17 behind winner Johannes Thingnes Bø, and roughly a minute and twenty thirty seconds off the podium.
“I’m not ecstatic with my result but I’m not really upset about it either,” Gow wrote in an e-mail after the race. “I felt good on the skis, but in a sprint two penalties is not good enough. I like to look at each race as an opportunity to learn new things – tonight I will better analyze my race with my coaches in order to try to improve on it for the future.”
While Gow missed a shot in each stage and paced a very even race, Harden’s effort had more ups and downs. Harden cleaned his prone stage, which left him sitting in tenth place. While his ski splits were fairly even over the three 7.5 k loops, his ranking took a tumble after he missed two shots in standing.
“Though it’s nice to finally clean a shooting bout, [my shooting] is still not where I need it to be to reach a top ten finish,” Harden said.
But he wasn’t discouraged.
“I’ve got a really positive feeling after this race,” he said. “My ski times are faster than most of the guys I’m aiming to beat, and at this point in the season, that’s a good feeling.”
Gow thought that “nerves played a factor in my misses,” and Boruta agreed.
“Christian has clearly got a few more expectations, maybe perhaps putting little too much pressure on himself,” the coach explained. “His zeroing was quite good and everything worked well until the start, but even his ski performance was probably not as strong as he would like to see.”
After identifying the problem, Gow now has an additional goal for the pursuit: he not only wants to move up the results sheet, but also ditch the nerves.
“For the pursuit I’m going to try to not over-think the shooting and just focus on gaining places wherever I can,” he said.
They will be joined in the pursuit by Albert Bouchard, who finished 48th with three penalties; Carsen Campbell, who is a first-time World Juniors competitor, missed the cutoff with his 78th-place effort.