There was a gentle breeze and it was unseasonably warm when the women started racing this morning in Kontiolahti, Finland. The well-salted course was firm but very wet, with standing puddles in the snow that racers had to ski around. That didn’t stop Canada from putting three women in the top-30, including two in the top-15, and the US from putting two women in the top 30. Canada’s Megan Heinicke and the United State’s Hannah Dreissigacker were 15th and 28th, respectively, both posting best-ever World Cup finishes.
Finnish hometown-girl Kaisa Makarainen took first place in spite of one penalty in standing, out-skiing her competition and finishing in a total time of 20:36.3 on the 7.5-kilometer course. Russia’s Olga Zaitseva was second (+6.1) and another Finn, Mari Laukkanen was third (+22.7). Both women shot clean. Tora Berger of Norway was fourth (0+1), Russia’s Olga Vilukhina was fifth (0+0) and the Czech Republic’s Veronika Vitkova was sixth (0+0).
The Canadian squad showed strong depth, placing three women in the top-30 with two in the top-15. Rosanna Crawford was the top North American woman, finishing 1:05.8 off the pace to take 13th, with one penalty in prone. Heinicke was 15th (1+0) and Zina Kocher was 23rd (1+1).
Heinicke was relieved to have all the parts of her training line up on the same day, having just beaten a lingering post-Olympic cold and having not had her best shooting in a number of recent races.
“It was so much fun to feel strong again!” she wrote in an email. “I always tell myself that if I race like I train – just get out there, enjoy it and do my job – and everything will be fine, and that is what I was able to do today. My general feeling is: Thank goodness I finally pulled it together!”
Kocher was pleased with her performance, but had a bit of bad luck.
“Unfortunately I had the worst luck with the wind and had to wait for the gust to die because it was too strong. I hit four out of five prone but it wasted a lot of time.”
Though they didn’t rival their Canadian counterparts in the standings, the US team had two breakout performances: Dreissigacker’s best-ever World Cup finish in spite of one penalty in prone, and Susan Dunklee, just behind Dreissigacker in 29th, using her post-Olympic fitness to post her fastest-ever splits. Unfortunately, she was foiled by “extra mistakes” in the shooting, causing her to earn a penalty in prone and three in standing.
“I have been working on being more assertive in the aiming process by trying to use the bolting motion to land on the next target,” she explained in an email. “Unfortunately today I didn’t give myself time to fully settle the barrel on the target before taking the shot. It is a small detail to fix, but one that caused a some extra mistakes.”
Dunklee posted the second fastest course time, behind only winner Makarainen.
American finishers were rounded out by Annelies Cook in 75th (1+4) and Sara Studebaker in 80th (3+3).
World Cup competition continues Saturday with another sprint.