Two days ago, when three Canadian women including newcomer Emma Lunder placed in the top 30 in a World Cup sprint, the team talked about how positive their atmosphere was and how much they could accomplish.
Fast forward to today, and teammates Rosanna Crawford and Zina Kocher were sprinting down the finishing lanes of the 10 k World Cup pursuit competition in a fight for 13th place. Just how huge was it? Neither has had a better finish so far this season, and Crawford has only done better once in her entire career.
“As I left the range there wasn’t anyone to close to me, but then Zina passed me on one of the up hills and I was like okay, time to giver!” Crawford wrote in an e-mail.
She had started the day in bib 17 and immediately missed three shots in the first prone stage, which dropped her back to 33rd place. But Crawford only missed one more shot over the last three stages and gradually climbed into the top 15.
“Things started out really bad with three misses in my first prone,” Crawford wrote. “I over-corrected for the wind, so all me! I got a correction out on my second loop to come back what I had corrected in my first shooting. The first miss of the second bout was also me being a bit trigger happy! I find when I have bad first shooting or two the pressure is off a bit and it’s easier to hit the next 10-15 targets.”
She skied an aggressive last loop, notching the 10th-fastest closing time. But when Kocher, consistently one of the fastest skiers on the circuit, passed her, Crawford knew she would have to take it to a whole new level to hang on.
Kocher had started in bib 23 and collected four penalties of her own over the course of the race. That was thanks in part to the Pokljuka wind, which has tripped up competitor after competitor over the course of two days of racing.
“Tricky day out there for sure,” Kocher wrote in an e-mail. “My first prone the wind was quite strong, I made a correction but it wasn’t quite enough as I missed my first two shots. I stopped and reevaluate and made another correction, hitting the next three. The next prone I had to change the correction again and just focused 1 shot at a time. Standing, I just made sure to come in controlled, and take it one shot at a time.”
By the time she left the range the last time, she was in 18th place and on the warpath.
“This is a hard 2km course, especially in the heat that we had today, and I didn’t want to burn out before the final lap,” Kocher explained. “I think when it comes down to a final lap I’m pretty mentally strong. I can motivate myself to find every last bit and honestly, I love that challenge. It’s exciting to look ahead and try to see if you can catch the next place.”
Eventually, that next place was Crawford.
“I tried my best to stick with her on the up hills and then when we were almost at the finish I saw the Ukraine girl [Natalya Burdyga, who ended up 15th],” Crawford wrote. “To be honest I wasn’t thinking about catching Zina, only catching the Ukrainian girl! Zina is so strong on the last loop, I knew if I could keep her in sight then maybe the French girl behind me wouldn’t catch me.”
Kocher outsprinted her in the end, claiming 13th while Crawford settled for 14th, just over two minutes and 45 seconds behind Kaisa Makarainen of Finland, who claimed the win. It was a meaningful way to end a good race.
“It was really fun with Rosanna there, it was truly motivating for both of us, she knows me well and when I passed her she challenged herself to not give up,” Kocher wrote.
In the second World Cup race of her career, Emma Lunder racked up two penalties in each prone stage but then cleaned both standing stages, and skied into 41st place, just outside the World Cup points. Teammate Megan Heinicke dropped from 43rd to 45th with seven penalties.
Dunklee, Studebaker Represent for U.S.
After being stymied by a rifle problem in the sprint, Susan Dunklee skied aggressively and moved from 38th up to 20th to become the top U.S. woman in the pursuit. Despite five penalties, she had the fourth-fastest ski time and rocketed through the field.
“Every loop I had good pack of people just ahead that I could chase down,” Dunklee wrote in an e-mail. “I was surprised to move up so many places. My shooting was far from great today, I couldn’t find my normal flow in standing, but it was nice to have all my equipment working correctly. I never did find the missing part to my rifle so we scavenged some other similar pieces instead and had to adjust the sight position a little to make it work.”
The other U.S. qualifier, Sara Studebaker, had three penalties and finished 36th, scoring World Cup points for the second straight competition.
“I am definitely happy to have some solid results here after feeling like I missed a couple opportunities at the Olympics,” Studebaker wrote in an e-mail. “I’m definitely happy with my results the last couple days. It’s nice to grab a couple World Cup points here!”
Both Dunklee and Studebaker noted the snow conditions, which became slower and sloppier over the course of the women’s race and added to the difficulties presented by the wind.
“The snow transformed about three loops into the race, making for some slow skiing but it seems like all the athletes were struggling,” Dunklee wrote.
“Conditions today were tough, though,” Studebaker agreed. “The skis slowed way down in the third loop and just got worse as conditions kept warming up. Luckily, it was pretty much the same for all the teams, but it made for a tough last couple laps.”
Dunklee is looking to carry on her momentum from the Olympics, where she had a collection of the best results ever by a U.S. woman. And Studebaker is, too – she wants to finish the season strong and this weekend has been a good step in the right direction.
“I haven’t felt quite as good on skis these last couple days as I did in Sochi,” Studbaker wrote. “It’s a little frustrating not to be able to find that speed, but also indicative that I probably hit my peak perfectly! I think there’s still some gas left in the tank for another couple weekends, though, so I’m looking forward to that.”
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.