HOCHFILZEN, Austria – After finishing just 1.2 seconds apart in Friday’s sprint, the fates of Switzerland’s Selina Gasparin and the Czech Republic’s Veronika Vitkova were bound to be intertwined in today’s 10 k World Cup pursuit.
Through two bouts of clean prone shooting and three loops of skiing, the pair stayed close together on the twisting trails. And then their fate stayed stuck like glue, only not in a good way: both missed shots in the first standing stage, hit the penalty loop, and relinquished their podium positions forever.
Instead, it was Synnøve Solemdal of Norway, sixth in the sprint, who moved into the lead with only one penalty, which had come in the very first prone stage. When Gasparin and Vitkova were taking their punishment, Solemdal cleaned and hit the trails. The course took her around the outside of the penalty loop before she shot out through the stadium, so she had ample time to take in her competitors’ ill fortune.
After Solemdal led the fourth loop, followed by a clean-shooting Juliya Dzhyma of Ukraine, she quickly cleaned – her shooting was the fastest of the day on that final stage – and skied to the win by 11 seconds.
“Last year I had my first win here, so this today, I just can’t believe it!” Solemdal said. “This is my favorite place right now, for sure.”
When asked why the courses here suit her so well, Solemdal wasn’t able to come up with a real answer.
“I have no idea why it’s so good for me,” she admitted. “I like the tracks really well, and also I have very good memories from here, so that helps… [and] it’s really beautiful here.”
She added that in Norway at this time of year it is very dark, so the fact that the sun finally came out in the Tirolian Alps today might have boosted her spirits.
After the final shooting, Solemdal’s lead had seemed unassailable. The Norwegian is usually one of the faster skiers on the women’s circuit. But Solemdal wasn’t sure.
“I was trying to just think about myself, but on the last loop I was really afraid that [Dzhyma] would catch me,” she said.
Dzhyma was unable to close the gap, and coasted home to second. It as also an amazing race for the 23-year-old Ukrainian, who had never stood on a World Cup podium before except in relays (she contributed to the Ukrainians’ win in yesterday’s 4 x 6 k competition). After finishing fifth in the sprint on Friday, she had her chance.
Meanwhile, Gasparin struggled mightily in standing, missing two shots in each stage. After making history as the first Swiss to win a World Cup on Friday, she was not able to repeat her success and sank lower and lower in the field, ultimately placing 15th.
But Vitkova was able to rebound from her initial mistake, and did not miss again. She left the final stage in third place, with the chance to snag her third career podium.
Krystyna Palka of Poland had other plans. The silver medalist in this event at World Championships last season, Palka had started the day off in 11th and worked her way up with clean shooting in every stage. When she left the range the final time, she could see Vitkova ahead of her, just a few seconds away. Skiing aggressively, Palka closed the gap and ended up beating the Czech to the line by three seconds.
“I made a really great jump and hard training before this season,” Palka said. “Last season of course I had a lot of chances to be on the podium, but all the time I missed something to be there. This season in Östersund I started not so good, I was not satisfied at all with these competitions. And also here in the sprint, I was not so happy with my result. But now I see that my training has been really good and I am skiing well.”
It was a new day, and a completely new slate of podium finishers in Hochfilzen, which has shown the biathlon world plenty of surprises already this weekend.
“I’m very happy,” Dzhyma said in English of her first podium finish. It was the only English the Ukrainian spoke all weekend, but it was also the most important message.
And Palka, too, reminded the field not to expect the same old winners every weekend, or complete dominance by the traditional teams.
“I know that my shooting is really good, I can shoot well and fast, and I am sure that now it is time for me make the podium more often,” she said.”
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.