Conditions were excellent for racing this evening in Ostersund with mild temperatures and light winds. But perfect conditions demand perfection from those that wish to make the podium, and Noway’s Ann Kristin Flatland delivered, skiing and shooting her way to her second career victory in 21:41.2. In second place, Russian Olga Zaitseva also delivered perfect shooting to earn her a spot on the podium, finishing 15.9 seconds behind Flatland. Rounding out a good day for Norway, Tora Berger was able to chase down a podium spot after one missed shot in the prone stage, finishing 22 seconds behind the top spot. Yesterday’s winner in the 15km individual race, Czech Gabriela Soukalova delivered a solid performance to earn her sixth place with one penalty in the prone stage.
This victory is notable to Flatland as it is her first victory her pregnancy, giving birth midway through last season.
“It is of course very good for your self-esteem,” she said in an interview with the Norwegian newspaper NRK, “it shows that I have done a good job [of training] this summer.”
Flatland’s daughter and husband are with her Östersund, which makes it easier. She was so down at the end of last season that she considered retiring. A win boosts her confidence that continuing towards the Sochi Olympics was the right decision despite the huge changes in her family life.
“It’s been up and down in the fall, and there have been times when I’ve wondered if it was worth coming back,” she said. “… I showed that I can compete at the top with a perfect race. It has proven both to myself and those who may not have had faith in me, that I can do it.”
As for second-place Zaitseva, today’s result was an indication of more to come: “I am satisfied with my performance,” she said in an interview with Biathlon Russia. “I can say, ‘we are warming up.’ I always want to win, but I understand that the work is not done yet. Everything will be fine in pursuit.”
Berger, last year’s runaway World Cup total score winner, said that she often has difficulty in the beginning of the season.
The top North American woman, Susan Dunklee, finished 16th with one penalty in the standing stage and a total time of 21:41.9, one minute behind first place.
“My shooting and skiing came together on the same day and that is a big confidence booster for me” Dunklee said of the day’s efforts, “popping a top 20 this early in the season is something I feel really good about.” Dunklee is optimistic about the coming days of racing, “later this weekend we have a pursuit based off of today’s results and there will be lots of great people to ski around – I’m excited!”
“Biathlon is very unpredictable sport,” Dunklee added in an email. “Every athlete on the World Cup is capable of ‘cleaning’ a race; we have all done it many times during practice. Even when we approach our races the same way every time, the shooting doesn’t always pan out due to any number of factors: wind, physical exertion, nerves, etc. It feels extra special when the pieces do come together on a race day.”
The top Canadian, and second North American woman, Megan Imrie, finished 22nd in 22:08.4, 1:27.2 behind Norway’s Flatland. This is Imrie’s third-best World Cup finish after two top-20 finishes in the 2011-2012 season, and a dramatic improvement over yesterday’s 85th place finish, where she had a disappointing nine penalties. Most importantly for Imrie, today’s result qualifies her for the 2014 Sochi Olympics.
“Biathlon Canada is not surprised that Megan was able to complete her Olympic qualification today,” Canada’s High Performance director, Christopher Lindsay, wrote in an email to FasterSkier regarding Imrie’s performance. “She has been training hard and her very strong performance in the WC1 Mixed Relay made it clear that she is ready to race at the top level. We are confident she will have more top 30 results this season.”
Rounding out today’s North American finishers were Canada’s Rosanna Crawford in 51st with three penalties, American Annelies Cook in 55th with two penalties, and Canadians Megan Heinicke in 56thalso with three penalties, and Zina Kocher in 64th with four penalties.
Crawford started strong, cleaning the prone stage, but had “a bit of a disaster” in the standing stage and missed three. Her total course time of 19:29 was 33rd in the field.
“I am glad that I still get to go to battle this Sunday in the pursuit!” she said of the day’s racing.
The final two North Americans were Sara Studebaker and Hannah Dreissigacker, both of the United States, in 71st and 93rd places, respectively. Both Studebaker and Dreissigacker were frustrated with their performances. Studebaker said that it usually takes her a few races get into race shape each season, adding that she was “pretty close to making the pursuit, so I hope to build on that and improve for next week.”
As for her race, Dreissigacker said that she was “sort of embarrassed, really. But at least everything was bad on the same day.”
Studebaker summed it up, “Overall, I think our team is in a good place and we’ll continue to improve as the season goes on. This is just the first week and the most important races are still a couple of months away.”