Despite the presence of several former champions in the field, a new gold medalist rose to the top at biathlon’s World Youth and Junior Championships in Kontiolahti, Finland on Saturday: Elena Ankudinova.
The diminutive Russian was perfect on the range and collected an eight-second victory in the junior women’s 7.5 k sprint. She bested, among others, Tuesday’s individual champion, Chardine Sloof of the Netherlands; last year’s youth individual champion, Thekla Brun-Lie of Norway; and teammates Elena Badanina, who won both the youth sprint and pursuit in 2010, and Olga Galich, that year’s youth individual champion, who also tied for the youth sprint title in 2009.
It may not have had quite the story of Sloof’s first-ever Dutch victory earlier this week, but Ankudinova’s dominance was definitely a surprise. This is her first trip to the Championships, and after finishing 17th in the individual race she hadn’t even been selected for Russia’s relay team on Thursday.
Ankudinova told the IBU that her win was a relief to the whole team. The Russian women had previously received only one medal in these Championships, a third-place finish by Badanina in the individual, and both their youth and women’s teams placed fourth in the relays.
The team tripled their medal count on Saturday, with Margarita Phillipova taking home bronze 16 seconds behind Ankudinova. The teammates were separated by Anais Chevalier of France, who told the IBU after the race that she has gold in her sights on Sunday’s pursuit.
And looking back? Perhaps the Russians wish they’d put Ankodinova on the relay team, after all.
Vaillancourt 16th for Canada
For the second time this week, Audrey Vaillancourt led the Canadian contingent with a result in the mid-teens. After finishing 15th in the individual race, the Quebec City native almost repeated her performance in the sprint, placing one spot down the ladder in 16th. Vaillancourt had a single penalty and finished a minute and a half behind Ankudinova.
“I indeed had a very good race today,” Vaillancourt wrote in an e-mail. “My plan was to have a strong start and try to keep that pace all the way through the race, so I had a very fast first lap. Unfortunately in my last lap I couldn’t push the pace any faster, so I just made my way to the finish line with the very little energy I had left! It was worth going as fast as possible from the beginning though; every second counts in a sprint.”
Vaillancourt’s penalty came in her prone stage, but she said the error did not affect her confidence, and that she was pleased with only a single penalty.
Emma Lunder and Keely MacCulloch placed 39th and 40th, just over three minutes out of the win. Canadian coach Richard Boruta said that “the current ski speed is not quite where it needs to be for this level of competition.”
But the result was actually a strong showing for MacCulloch, for whom this is the first international race trip.
“It has been such an exciting experience,” MacCulloch told FasterSkier. “Honestly I didn’t have a clear goal set up for World Juniors because I was just thrilled that I even made the team. Finishing in 40th place today was exhilarating especially since I wasn’t able to race the relay, not to mention I moved up ten places from the individual.”
After the individual race, where she placed 50th, MacCulloch did have a tiny bit of experience to draw on, and used it to stay focused. Like Vaillancourt, she ran out of gas on the last loop.
“I left the penalty loop ahead of several of my competitors and tried to ski as fast as I could for the last lap… I think most of those I’d left in the range caught up to me on the downhill,” MacCulloch said. “The course has one long, steep hill that competitors must go down and then back up. Going up that hill the final lap as fast as I could was extremely tiring, and I do wish I could have pushed myself a bit harder.
“However it was still a terrific experience and I’m so glad it went as well as it did.”
Emma Lodge will join the team in the pursuit after placing 56th.
Tough Day for U.S. Women
The Americans were dismayed that, Kelly Kjorlien, who had placed 39th in the individual race, encountered major equipment problems and had to drop out of the sprint.
“Our top athlete Kelly Kjorlien’s rifle started malfunctioning for prone shooting, and then stopped firing during standing,” said U.S. coach Algis Shalna. “Kelly had to stop the race. The biggest disappointment for Kelly and us was that she is not in the pursuit now, and competition is over for our top junior woman.”
The other U.S. entrants were Alaskan twins Kimberly and Amanda Del Frate, who missed four and five shots to place 55th and 60th.
“We do not consider it a big success to just to make pursuit, but for them being their first time at Worlds, it’s a respectable performance,” Shalna said.
Kimberly Del Frate told FasterSkier that her experience so far had been “eye-opening.”
“I guess for today’s race you could say I’m not unhappy with my shooting because it could have been worse, but it also could have been better,” she said. “I try to take each race as it comes and not stress the small things too much. Biathlon being what it is, you can’t really focus too much on what has happened or what you want to happen. You just have to trust your training, be confident, and focus only on what you can control. That’s really all you can do.”