RUHPOLDING, Germany – When Kaisa Makarainen exploded onto the biathlon scene in 2011, people were scratching their heads. Where did she come from? The Finn went from being an unknown to winning World Cups, a World Championship, and the World Cup Total Score that year.
Ever since, she’s been an intermittent presence on the podium, though never matching her 2011 season. Here in Ruhpolding today, she earned her fourth podium of the season, sprinting past Germany’s Franziska Preuss on the penultimate climb of the 12.5 k pursuit.
It was a relief after she placed 10th in the individual despite fairly good shooting.
“I had some problems in the individual, because it was a very icy track,” Makarainen said. “My skis were just slipping away. I couldn’t do my own skiing. Today the course was maybe a little better. Still the uphills were icy, but my skis did much better on the ice and it was much more fun to go.”
The improvement must have been huge, because today she had the fastest ski time of the entire field, and an especially blazing last loop.
“I was not so sure after the last shooting which position I had,” Makarainen said. “It was so loud with the spectators that the trainers tried to tell me, but I didn’t hear everything. I thought that the girls in front of me, the best of them was fourth. But then I heard that Franziska was in third place. It gave me more energy because I knew that it I could catch her, I would be on the podium.”
That motivation allowed her to fly past Preuss as if she was standing still, despite being on a sickeningly steep climb out of the stadium.
“Today was a good day for me,” she said. “Especially when the track is not really my track. It’s pretty easy here.”
The result was important for Makarainen, who is trying to get ramped up for the Sochi Olympics.
“I don’t do well now before the Olympics, I think it’s not possible to do well there,” she said. “So I think it’s very important to get good races before Sochi so that you have self-confidence and you can be more relaxed once you get there.”
Despite her World Cup title in 2011, the Finnish team is still something of an underdog on the World Cup circuit. For instance, Makarainen doesn’t even really have a shooting coach.
“Most of the summer I have been training on my own, without any shooting coaches,” she said. “And now in the winter, the people on the range have changed. So it’s not the same person all the time. We have much more responsibility about shooting, ourselves, than for some of the other countries. So I have to say that I have learned something, I have learned it myself.”
Despite that, her shooting has improved somewhat and she is still lightning fast on her skis. She and teammate Mari Laukkanen are a force to be reckoned with on the trails.
In fact, Laukkanen raced on the FIS Cross Country World Cup this weekend, qualifying for the skate sprint in 16th position and ending up 23rd in the final results. She is looking for a spot on the Finnish sprint squad in Sochi.
Last season, Makarainen competed in FIS World Championships, placing 14th in the 10 k skate.
She hasn’t finalized anything for the Olympics, but is eyeing a possible start if the skiers are willing to give her one. Unlike Laukkanen, she wasn’t willing to give up a weekend of biathlon racing or disrupt her preparations for Sochi by jumping in a ski race.
“I think that my only chance is the 30 k, which is after all the biathlon races,” she said. “But I can’t do any cross country races before that and I can’t compete against the Finnish girls. So I think it would be very difficult for the coaches to choose who to put there. But if there are only three girls who want to do the race, then maybe I could be the fourth one. It’s up to them, and I will not think about it until I have done all my biathlon races.”
Hopefully, a 30 k start would be the icing on the cake of a successful Olympics, one that brings her a medal for Finland in biathlon.
“I hope that Sochi is my highest point,” she smiled.
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.