Dorothea Wierer of Italy shone bright early in her career, sweeping all three races as World Junior Championships in 2011.
Frequently a perfect shot, she initially had trouble adapting to the speed of the World Cup circuit. But in the past few seasons she upped her training, focus, and speed, and emerged in 2014 as a contender. She notched six different top-ten performances, including a podium in Pokljuka, Slovenia, and sixth place in the Olympic sprint.
This season, Wierer has started off with a bang and made it clear that her competitors should be worried.
After a convincing win in the opening sprint in Sjusjøen, Norway, on Saturday, she came right back with an 8-second victory over Norway’s Tiril Eckhoff in the 12.5 k mass start today.
“Anything could happen,” Eckhoff told Norwegian broadcaster NRK regarding the last shooting stage. “I hoped that Dorothea would miss.”
But she didn’t. At that point, Eckhoff had two penalties to Wierer’s one, but as the fastest skier in the field, the Norwegian had caught up by the time they hit the range for the final standing bout.
There, Eckhof missed two more, but Wierer only accrued one more penalty, and skied her way to the win.
Nicole Gontier of Italy placed third, 35 seconds back with two penalties, asserting Italy’s status as a much-improved team in advance of the World Cup opener in Östersund, Sweden, at the end of the month. In the sprint, Karin Oberhofer had represented Italy in third place, giving them two thirds of the podium spots on each day of racing.
The news wasn’t all bad for Norway, either, however. Eckhoff’s ski speed impressed, and veteran Synnøve Solemdal placed fourth with three penalties, a huge improvement over her disastrous sprint race.
Solemdal, a former World Cup winner, disappointed at the 2014 Olympics and later found out she had mononucleosis. She had placed 21st in the sprint.
“I would like to be further ahead than I am today, but I’ll stay calm,” she told NRK after the sprint. “I have less of a base than the others and I’ll continue to train into the winter. I don’t look at this as darkly as you might think.”
The Norwegians also took the next three places with Hilde Fenne, Kaia Wøien Nicolaisen, and Elise Ringen.
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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.