Confidence is a funny thing. In skiing, you spend a summer – or a lifetime – of training to achieve a certain outcome and once you obtain it, sometimes it naturally repeats itself.
That was the case for Selina Gasparin on Saturday, who captured her second IBU World Cup victory eight days after notching her first in the 7.5-kilometer sprint in Hochfilzen, Austria.
Gasparin, 29, tallied yet another 7.5 k sprint win for Switzerland after becoming her nation’s first biathlete to win a World Cup last week. Back then, she didn’t think the win was possible with a penalty in standing.
But it was, as she edged Veronika Vitkova of the Czech Republic by 1.2 seconds. On Saturday at Le Grand Bornand in Annecy, France, Gasparin shot clean for the win – which almost shocked her more. Fifth after the first loop, the Swiss rose to second after knocking down every target before her second lap.
After starting four minutes behind Finland’s Kaisa Mäkäräinen, Gasparin bumped her out of the lead on the second loop. Mäkäräinen cleaned her prone, but missed one standing to fall to seventh before clawing back on the last lap.
Gabriela Soukalova of the Czech Republic cleaned her prone as well and took a 7.5-second lead on Gasparin, but also suffered a single standing penalty to drop 11 seconds behind the eventual winner with 2.5 k remaining.
Gasparin seized the victory in 20:51.4 minutes, 8.3 seconds ahead of Mäkäräinen in second, and Ukraine’s Valj Semerenko placed third (+11.5) with a standing penalty. Soukalova finished fourth, 13.2 seconds out of first, and the next three finishers all cleaned: Russia’s Olga Vilukhina in fifth and Germany’s Franziska Preuss and Franziska Hildebrand, who tied for sixth.
Olena Pidhrushna of Ukraine had a prone penalty and placed eighth, and Poland’s Krystyna Palka and Germany’s Laura Dahlmeier in ninth and 10th, respectively, were perfect on the range.
“I will be happy to wear number 1 tomorrow and then go home for Christmas,” Gasparin told IBU, according to a press release. “After that, I will go back to doing the same thing: focus on the race, shoot clean and take one race at a time. I do not look forward too much, because I know how fast it all can change in biathlon.”
All Four Canadians Pursuit-Bound
Coming off their nation’s best-ever relay in fourth on Thursday, the Canadian women all qualified for Sunday’s pursuit with top-60 results on Saturday.
Rosanna Crawford led the crew in 26th, 1:01.1 behind Gasparin. Excited about the race and the course that suits her, Crawford wrote in an email that she woke up with a slightly different feeling than two days before.
“My legs were not feeling as fresh as they were on Thursday, and skiing was a lot harder than I thought it was going to be,” she wrote. “The 2.5km course has some deceiving long gradual climbs, that end with a short steep bridges!”
Leaving prone with a penalty and ranking 54th, Crawford rose to 27th after cleaning her second stage. She had initially overcorrected for wind on a generally calm day and learned from her mistake to shoot flawlessly – and fast – in standing.
“I think my one miss was just my silly brain showing up where it’s not wanted!” she explained. “The final lap was pretty tough, I didn’t cross the line totally gassed but I wasn’t able to make my legs move any faster out there on course.”
Quick-and-careful shooting turned out to be key as Crawford tallied the best North American result in Saturday’s 7.5 k.
“I am always happy to be in the top 30 and 90% is better than any of my sprint races so far this season, so I am happy about that!” she wrote. “I wish I could have been skiing like the relay, but tomorrow is another day! Another chance to go to battle!”
Teammate Megan Imrie placed 40th with one penalty in each stage to finish 1:26.4 behind the winner. On a day when her legs felt “torched,” Imrie tried to focus on gliding and took advantage of the range’s downhill entry.
“It feels easier for me to relax into my shooting position,” she explained of the approach. “The conditions were pretty calm on the range, but the snow wasn’t very fast. It’s a course of continuous gradual climbing, so it was a leg burner out there. You worked for your seconds.”
While she’s unsure how she’ll fare in the pursuit – a race that’s not traditionally her strongest – Imrie’s optimistic that the trend could change.
“This season I’ve been approaching each race with the mindset of bringing my very best to the line regardless of circumstances or conditions,” she wrote. “I’ve been feeling relaxed, happy, and my shooting is reflecting that.”
Another Canadian, Zina Kocher tied for 45th (+1:35) with Norway’s Marte Olsbu after three penalties: one prone and two standing. The fourth relay member, Megan Heinicke also missed one prone and two standing for 50th (+1:41.2).
After starting 96th of 97, Heinicke described the conditions as “perfect.” While the uphills and corners became slightly “sugary,” some of the long descents also got faster later in the race, so she didn’t feel as though she was at a disadvantage.
When she missed shots, Heinicke simply moved on. She had the third-fastest shooting time in the first stage and 16th-fastest in the second bout.
“Today was all about moving on efficiently to the next step which was getting out of that penalty loop and onto the course as fast as possible!” she wrote. “I feel like I went into this race with the right approach – fast and aggressive, but I am feeling frustrated and disappointed about the misses.”
In Sunday’s 10 k pursuit, she expects to analyze more during the race.
“I believe in my training and am just looking forward to another chance to try and bring it all together,” Heinicke wrote. “I am very determined and I want to go into the Christmas holidays satisfied with my own performance!”
Narrowly making the cut in 60th, Susan Dunklee was the lone American to qualify for the pursuit. Dunklee suffered one prone miss then skied three penalty laps after her standing stage to finish 2:13.4 behind the winner.
After ranking 66th on the first loop and 72nd on the second, she was surprised to hear she made the top 60. She started 10th and didn’t hear much for splits, but had a sense she might squeak through with four misses.
Dunklee explained she changed her pacing for Saturday’s course, holding back slightly on the uphills in order to accelerate through the transitions and downhills.
“I fought hard the last loop,” Dunklee wrote. “I wanted it too badly in standing and forgot to focus on the process of shooting well.”
Three other Americans placed outside the top 60: Annelies Cook was 62nd with two penalties (1+1), Sara Studebaker finished 76th with three misses (2+1), and Hannah Dreissigacker was 77th with two misses (1+1).
“All and all, a very disappointing day for the whole crew,” Dunklee wrote. The team tied their career-best relay result of eighth on Thursday. “I am happy to get one more chance before heading home for the holiday break [on Monday].”
Alex Kochon (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the former managing editor at FasterSkier. She spent seven years with FS from 2011-2018, and has been writing, editing, and skiing ever since. She's making a cameo in 2020.