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SOCHI, Russia — There’s something about enormous white retaining walls that speaks to Rosanna Crawford, and whatever it is, it’s working for her in Sochi.
In her second Olympics, the 25-year-old Canadian biathlete led three of her teammates in the top 60 of the 7.5-kilometer sprint on Sunday — the first women’s race of the 2014 Winter Games.
Crawford cleaned her prone and missed one standing to finish 25th overall, shaving 47 places off her previous-best Olympic result at the 2010 Vancouver Games.
But this wasn’t Canada, and Crawford was in the zone, clocking the third-fastest range time in standing and sixth-fastest course time to finish 1:04 behind Slovakia’s Anastasiya Kuzmina, who won in 21:06.8.
“My shooting … in the last two World Cups was pretty poor, and my confidence had gotten rattled,” Crawford explained. “But during training here things were going really well and I love the range, and I had just made sure to pick a specific spot on the course where I switched to shooter, just taking it one shot at a time and just staying focused on me.”
With a downhill approach to the range, complete with “giant retaining walls” unique to Sochi’s brand-new venue, she said it was nice to glide down into the range for a change. “You’re not working at all,” she said. “It’s pretty awesome.”
Once in the stadium, she said the shouts of the Russian crowd stood out. “It was crazy. When I came to shoot standing, it must have been the Russian podium was finishing and it was so loud that I really had to try and pull my focus onto my and not on the crowd shouting Rush-y-a.”
In addition to her shooting, Crawford felt good on the three-loop course as well.
“This course is hard so it was definitely a little bit about pacing rather than focusing on moving fast,” she said. “I just focused on good technique, and I think that gets me up the hills rather than if I’m scrambling.”
Along with Crawford, Canada’s three other starters also placed high enough to qualify for Tuesday’s pursuit, with Megan Imrie finishing 31st (+1:12.7), Zina Kocher following 6 seconds back in 32nd, and Megan Heinicke making the cut in 59th (+2:27.7).
All four had been to at least one Olympics before (in 2010), and for all but Kocher and Heinicke, Sunday marked their best individual performances at any Games. Kocher placed 27th in a 15 k individual race in the 2006 Torino Olympics, and Heinicke raced three individual events in Vancouver with a top result of 36th in the pursuit.
Imrie, who turns 28 on Friday, improved upon her previous Olympic best by 31 places in 31st. Sunday’s result marked her first time qualifying for the Olympic pursuit.
“It went almost perfect,” she said after cleaning prone and having a single standing penalty. “I’m super happy. I mean, you never really know with an Olympic race how you’re going to feel, and you just have to play the cards you’re given. I felt pretty darn good out there and made the shooting count.”
Kocher missed one shot in both stages for two penalties, and while it wasn’t her best result, she said it was an improvement upon other races this season.
“I’ve been having some problems in sprint races this year and so this is one of my best, if not my best, and it’s my best sprint in Olympic Games,” Kocher said. “So it could have been better, but I’m satisfied.”
A three-time Olympian, Kocher, 31, said she’s more relaxed overall this time around — but it still doesn’t come easy.
“I’ve been pretty stressed with nerves this year, and today I just tried to stay in control and relax,” she said. “I came in four years ago with high expectations and wanting to be like I was in 2007, and I wasn’t. I was tired at the Games and I was very stressed. At these Games, I feel like I took control of my training, I changed a lot of things from four years ago and I came into here a lot more confident that I did everything that I could to do the best I can for these two weeks.”
Heinicke, 25, was initially disappointed with her result on Sunday, missing one prone and two standing to finish 2:27.7 behind Kuzmina.
“It was great conditions on the shooting range; there is no reason to have three misses and so I’m pretty disappointed, particularly about the standing two misses,” she said. “It was just too many penalty loops to be up there in the top 30 like I would like to be and like I have the potential to be. … If we were having this conversation 10 minutes from now, I’d be a lot more like ‘Yes, pursuit, I’m in there, I’m gonna fight.’ I’m really stoked that I squeaked in there.”
With four women in the 10 k pursuit, Sunday was a solid one for Canada, which qualified just one woman four years ago for the pursuit in Vancouver.
“Looking back at 2010, Megan [Heinicke] was the only one who did qualify for the pursuit and now to have all four of us there is really exciting and I think it bodes really well for the relay,” Crawford said. “We had such a good time in France placing fourth there. And we know that the potential is very high for us, come the relay.”
Imrie said the team reflected on the Olympics four years ago in the waxroom before the start.
“Megan Heinicke was saying, ‘Man, four years goes by fast!’ ” Imrie said. “I felt totally overwhelmed at the last Games, in a good way, but it really did a number on my legs. I was just totally exhausted throughout the whole thing. Now there’s four years in the bank trying to manage my training, it feels much better.”
The women’s 10 k pursuit starts Tuesday at 7 p.m. Moscow time (10 a.m. EST). The men will kick things off Monday night in the 12.5 k pursuit at 7 p.m.
— Chelsea Little and Seth Adams contributed reporting
Alex Kochon (email@example.com) 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.