In Kontiolahti, Finland on Sunday, the youth women’s 7.5 k pursuit was the only one of four races to crown a totally new champion at biathlon’s World Youth and Junior Championships.
Hilde Fenne of Norway, the leader after Friday’s sprint, choked on the range, missing a total of eight shots including three in the final stage, which dropped her out of medal contention.With Niya Dimitrova, the sprint runner-up, sitting out the pursuit, there was opportunity for someone to step up.
That someone was Grete Gaim of Estonia, who at 18 years old has already received a number of World Cup starts. As one of the youngest competitors on the World Cup (Dimitrova is another), she hasn’t found much success. But in Kontiolahti, competing against her peers, Gaim had a breakthrough.
Before this season, her best World Juniors finish had been 18th in the 2011 pursuit. In this year’s individual race, she placed ninth. In the sprint, tenth. And today, she moved all the way up to first.
“After the flawless last shooting I screamed because I knew I would win,” Gaim told the IBU.
Her victory came at the expense of Canada’s Julia Ransom, who had placed fifth in the sprint and led most of the pursuit. But in the final shooting stage, Ransom missed her only two shots of the race, and Gaim, who had hit all five targets, left the range two seconds ahead of her. Exhausted, Ransom could not close the gap, and finished six seconds back for silver.
Ransom couldn’t be reached in the bustle of her departure from Kontiolahti, but she told the IBU that “I got excited after hitting 15…after I missed 2 I decided to just ski, put on a smile and have fun.”
Annika Knoll of Germany finished third, and received the first medal of her career.
Junior Women: Another Dutch Record
While the junior women’s 10 k pursuit didn’t see a new champion, things didn’t go as predictably as one might have thought. All three podium finishers from the sprint slipped out of contention, and instead it was eighth-place Chardine Sloof of the Netherlands, who had won the individual race on Tuesday, who climbed to the top.
Sloof once again used strong shooting to beat out her competitors. On Tuesday, she had earned the Netherlands its first gold medal in international competition; today, she doubled that haul.
“I am surprised that I won, but my goal was a medal,” Sloof told the IBU. “I was really calm at the shooting range, took my time and went for the zero.”
She got it, hitting every single one of the twenty targets she faced. Before this week, the Dutch hadn’t ever stood on the World Juniors podium; their expectations are clearly raised, thanks to a 19-year-old who lives and trains in Torsby, Sweden.
Sloof still has one more year as a junior, and at next year’s championships in Obertilliach, Austria, she could further increase her country’s visibility in the biathlon world. For now, though, she’s toiling away in the senior ranks; her best World Cup finish to date is 71st. Sloof will travel, with a bit of a confidence boost, to Ruhpolding, Germany to compete in senior World Championships this week.
Olga Galich, a youth world champion from 2010, moved up from 12th to claim the silver medal despite having three penalties. Iryna Kryuko of Belarus matched her performance on the range to jump from 20th place to third.
“Today was probably the only competition before which I didn’t think of a medal,” Kryuko said. “When I went on the last loop with three [women] ahead of me for the medal, I just thought, ‘I have to let loose and run.’”
Her closing loop was the third-fastest of the day, and gave her a nearly ten-second gap to fourth-place Monika Hojnisz of Poland.