ÖSTERSUND, Sweden – After watching teammate Jean Philippe Le Guellec win Canada’s first World Cup earlier in the afternoon, Zina Kocher had her work cut out for her to stay on task for her own 7.5 k sprint.
“It was so exciting,” she told FasterSkier. “It took me actually a long time before my race to just calm down, because we were so excited. We watched the flower ceremony, and I was so pumped up that I forgot that I had to focus for my own race. It was incredibly exciting this morning, to watch that.”
But she managed to get her focus back, make it to the start line, and shoot 90 percent in despite some windy conditions, and notch her first top-ten finish of the season: tenth place, 43.6 seconds behind Tora Berger of Norway.
“It was a windy day, and I knew that if I had nine for ten then it could be a good day,” she said at the finish. “I took a long time in shooting to make it happen. But that’s okay, it’s better than skiing an extra 25 seconds around the penalty lap.”
Rosanna Crawford also had a strong race, placing 54th for the fourth-best World Cup result of her career. Often a sharpshooter, Crawford achieved her result despite three misses.
“Great day on the skis today but once again too many mistakes in the range, 3 misses and 54th, but starting the pursuit tomorrow!” she tweeted after the race.
Canada’s third starter in the women’s race, Megan Imrie, was unable to keep the momentum from Le Guellec’s performance, and finished 79th with three penalties, all coming in standing. It was clearly a disappointing result for Imrie, who struggled with the wind in that last shooting stage.
“It was just the standing – it was pretty windy out there,” she told FasterSkier. “My strategy was to get in the range, and get out of the range. So I could have handled one less miss, or two, but I did what I could to just be quick, and I know there were a lot of misses today.”
The silver lining was that she was happy with her skiing.
“It was definitely the best one so far,” she said of the sprint race. “My skiing has still been pretty sluggish from all the training we did this fall, but today’s skiing felt pretty good. We upped the training hours and intensity a lot this year, so I’m kind of waiting for my body to catch up. By the time February rolls around, I should be fine.”
Kocher agreed – it wasn’t one of her fastest skis, but she was confident that she could keep improving.
“It’s a good start,” she said of the races so far. “I’m feeling a little bit tired still from the training this fall. I think the next two weeks my ski speed will feel better. I did [increase my training], just because it’s a pre-Olympic year, so we just wanted to make sure I had a really good base going into the Olympic training year. World Championships is the bigger goal [for this season]. And it’s getting over jetlag, too – this week can be a bit tricky.”
In today’s pursuit, Kocher will start less than 30 seconds out of podium position. She told FasterSkier this fall that one of her goals for the season was to get back on the World Cup podium for the first time since 2006.
In the men’s race, Scott Perras continued his strong opening to this season, placing 45th with two misses. Going into the pursuits, he’s about two penalties out of the top twenty.
“I think it went pretty good,” Perras told FasterSkier after the race. “Two penalties is probably decent in this type of conditions, but that means that there were some opportunities out there. The relay and the individual were both 90 percent shooting, then 80 today, so I was hoping for another 90.”
Perras, an early starter, said that he would like to stay in the points (top 40), which didn’t happen. But he has a good chance to climb up in the pursuit.
Nathan Smith was denied that chance, landing in arguably the worst position after a sprint: 61st place, 1.7 seconds out of the pursuit.
Chelsea Little is FasterSkier's Editor-At-Large. A former racer at Ford Sayre, Dartmouth College and the Craftsbury Green Racing Project, she is a PhD candidate in aquatic ecology in the @Altermatt_lab at Eawag, the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology in Zurich, Switzerland. You can follow her on twitter @ChelskiLittle.