It has been a busy season on the World Cup so far with very little rest in the first three weeks, but in Pokljuka, Slovenia, the Canadian and U.S. women shined under snowy skies. Two Canadians and three American women scored in the points in the 7.5 k sprint on Friday, led by Rosanna Crawford’s (CAN) career-best twelfth-place finish and Susan Dunklee’s (USA) fourteenth.
“I am really excited about today’s results,” Crawford wrote in an email. “It’s always nice to shoot clean, but to also place a personal best in the top 15 is fantastic!”
Crawford finished 52.1 seconds behind winner Gabriela Soukalova (CZE). The result is her second PR in two weekends; in Hochfilzen, Austria, last week she broke into the top-30 for the first time in the sprint and then again in the pursuit.
“I made a big mental switch this year from focusing on results to focusing on the process of skiing and shooting,” said Crawford in a press release. “I feel this has made the biggest difference for me. Dreaming of being in the top-30 will not put you there. Trusting your training and knowing you are a good skier and shooter will be the reason you make the results you want!”
The snowy conditions made for a challenging day for everyone, and Crawford said she restrained her pace on the first lap because felt a little off warming up.
“I didn’t go as hard as I normally would in my warm up,” she said. “My first loop was pretty slow and I got faster as the race went on and had my best loop my last loop. The opposite to last weekend where it was really hard to get to the finish line.”
Crawford’s second lap was 10 seconds faster than her first, and her final stage nine seconds faster than that. Though the snow made things slow, Crawford thought the course was an equal playing field for everyone.
“The range was also pretty calm which was nice,” she added.
The 24-year-old saved considerable time on the range; her prone stage was the fifth-fastest in the field. “Shooting has always been my strong point,” Crawford said. “I am also pretty fast in the range for shooting time and getting in and out. I feel like this makes up a little bit for not being as fast on the skis.”
Only 14.2 seconds behind Crawford was her teammate Zina Kocher, in sixteenth. The veteran biathlete made two errors, one prone and one standing. She had the eight-fastest ski time of the day, and without missing targets she would have landed on the podium. Her finishing kick was particularly strong; only one woman had a faster final 2.5 k.
“[I] felt way better than last week skiing and was happy that I stuck to my process today,” Kocher said. She was 73rd in the Hochfilzen sprint with five missed targets.
“After last week’s result, I’m relatively satisfied with today, but of course, I want more. Two misses is ok, but clean is always better!” she said.
More snowfall is expected on in Pokljuka on Saturday for the 10 k pursuit, and Kocher expects it to be a challenging race.
“My expectation of myself is [to] stay in control and stick to the process in shooting,” she said. “Sure the ski fitness and feeling is there to make it happen, but the targets have to go down too!”
Behind Crawford and Kocher, Megan Heinicke (CAN) placed 45th (+1:57.9) with two errors and Megan Imrie (+4:17.9) placed 90th with six errors.
Dunklee Paces U.S. In Fourteenth
Three American women had their best days of the season so far in Pokljuka, led by Susan Dunklee’s 14th place showing (+53.2). Sara Studebaker placed 36th (+1:41.8) and Annelies Cook was 40th (+1:45.2). Lanny Barnes finished outside the points in 92nd (+4:41.1) with three errors.
Wearing bib number 20, Dunklee bolted out of the gate and came through the range for the first time in second place. She cleaned the targets in the prone position and stood up faster than anyone in the field, and after everyone came through only four more women had posted better times from the first stage.
From there Dunklee began to tire and she made one shooting error in the standing position. But on the whole Dunklee was “psyched” with her result, which is a serious step forward from the 31st and 52nd she posted in Hochfilzen last week.
“I have very high goals for myself but have been struggling with subpar shooting in the last couple World Cups,” she said in an email. “This week I had a few good days of training on the range that helped me regain my confidence. My skiing felt strong but not quite 100% today.”
The slow snow in Pokljuka on Friday started to get to her, but “I kept telling myself that most of the field was probably also floundering in the soft snow and feeling tired after a couple weeks of intense racing,” Dunklee said.
She was equally as happy with her teammates’ results.
“We have put in years of hard work together as a group and it is super exciting to have it pay off with three of us not only qualifying for tomorrow’s pursuit but also scoring World Cup points. Tomorrow is going to be a blast!” she said.
Behind her, Studebaker was “exceptionally happy” to have moved past the frustration of the season thus far.
“My legs definitely felt heavy, which I think is pretty normal for the third week of racing and in these conditions,” she said. “I was getting some good splits on the course after first and second shooting, though, so that helped me feel more confident in my skiing.”
With only one error, Studebaker had the 44th-best course time.
She and her teammates had talked prior to the sprint about needing better team-wide results in their third week on the World Cup, and on Friday it finally came together.
“All-in-all it was a great day for us,” Studebaker said. “We had been talking about how we needed to step up our game a little and get some better Nation’s Cup points, and I think having three girls in the points today we accomplished that.”
(End-of-season Nation’s Cup ranking determine national start spots.)
Cook eked into the points in 40th for the best day in both shooting and skiing that she’s had this year. She missed two targets, one in each stage, but felt that she put together a decent race.
“I wanted to race a smart race and not totally die at the end, but I died,” she said.
Still, she had a few firsts on Friday, like passing women who she knew to be fast.
“I kept wondering if I was accidentally going too hard,” Cook said. “It’s a little bit intimidating to pass someone like Olga Zaitseva (of Russia, who was 46th) on the trails, but it also feels pretty good. To be honest, that is what I was the most excited about. It may be silly, but you take what you can!”
Cook commended the American’s techs for hitting the wax where other teams seemed to have missed.
“Our skis were really fast and you could tell that some of the bigger nations struggled with that. So we got a big boost from our techs today,” she said.
As for the pursuit tomorrow?
“It’s going to keep on snowing hard, so tomorrow is going to be a difficult pursuit. Luckily we are all in it together,” Cook concluded.
Audrey Mangan (@audreymangan) is an Associate Editor at FasterSkier and lives in Colorado. She learned to love skiing at home in Western New York.