It was a rough day, literally and metaphorically, for the biathletes competing Saturday in Östersund, Sweden. Artificial snow, saved snow and shoveled snow made for a treacherous course, though winds were calm.
Two Canadians broke through the bumpy conditions to have strong races in the IBU World Cup men’s 10-kilometer and women’s 7.5 k sprint — Nathan Smith and Rosanna Crawford finished ninth and 12th, respectively. The rest of the Canadian team did not fare as well, with no other skiers finishing in the top-60 to advance to Sunday’s pursuits.
Smith shot clean to earn his ninth-place finish, while the next Canadian man to finish was Marc André Bédard in 61st (+2:39.1) who missed one target in standing, and Brendan Green (+2:42.1), who missed one in prone and two in standing. This is only Smith’s fourth career top 10, and Canada’s first top 10 of the season.
“Obviously, I’m really happy with the result,” Smith told FasterSkier. “A top 10? I don’t have that many of those, yet.”
For the Canadian women, Crawford was happy with her race, finishing in 12th place (+1:10.3), in spite of missing a target in both prone and standing. But the women’s side was similarly disappointing, with Zina Kocher as the next Canadian woman in 66th place (+2:34.9, +4), and uncharacteristically bad shooting plaguing both Megan Heinicke, who finished 82nd (+3:23.6, +2) and Audrey Vaillancourt, who finished 88th (+3:31.7, +3).
An email to head coach Mattias Ahrens went unanswered as of this writing.
Scott Perras did not start due to a cold: “It’s really too bad,” he wrote in an email. “I am normally pretty healthy throughout the race season. This is my first DNS at any level of racing and I don’t much care for it.”
Smith’s strong result can be credited due to what he called “one of [his] best shooting races ever,” having the 10th-fastest shooting time of the day (+2.9) with no misses.
“After the individual I was pretty disappointed with my standing shooting,” he said. “So I took a day off of shooting and then yesterday I really focused on having really high quality in training, and the same with today during the race. I just tried to be very disciplined, I guess I could say. And it really paid off.”
“It’s not the best that I’ve been on skis in the last year and a half,” he added, “but it’s good still. Just not my best.”
For her part, Crawford was somewhat disappointed in her shooting, and in fact appeared to be having a pretty ho-hum race after the 2nd lap, being in 27th place. But on that final lap, she turned it up, delivering the 7th-fastest course time and moving herself into 12th place.
“This is kind of funny,” Crawford laughed. “I’ve always been kind of the opposite – a really strong starter and then have struggled with finishing loops, but Zina Kocher and I got to train together a lot this year and that’s always been her strength, so being able to work with her all summer long I think has been very beneficial to me to getting that finishing speed.”
Though course conditions were poor, neither Smith nor Crawford complained. Smith benefited from being an early starter, before course conditions deteriorated too much. He highlighted some of the downhill corners as being particularly treacherous.
“They shoveled [the corners], so I didn’t really know what to expect,” he said. “They were okay because you just sort of bounce over the bumps. But then, as each lap went on, the ruts got deeper. I’m sure that, for the last starters, it was pretty scary on those corners.”
Crawford thought that the poor course conditions matched her strengths.
“I’ve always been pretty strong on downhills, so I think that’s a huge advantage for me on a course like this,” she said. In fact, relative to other skiers, course conditions probably helped her out. “It didn’t hurt me, for sure.”
As for her shooting, Crawford made no excuses:
“It was pretty calm on the range, so it was definitely all me. A little bit more focus can go a long way.”
Though Crawford had told FasterSkier that she was hoping for top-10, she was far from disappointed with her finish.
“I’m not expecting to be in the top-10 every single race,” she said. “If I’m consistently in the top-25/top-15 area that’ll make me happy,” adding that she’d still like to get more top-10 finishes this year than she did last year.
“And for sure to be on the podium at least once this year,” she added.
After such a grab bag of results feelings on the the time are pretty mixed.
“Obviously some of us have had great races,” Smith said. “But I’m sure Brendan and Marco, and the other girls, are pretty disappointed about not making the pursuit.”
Smith and Crawford are looking forward to tomorrow’s pursuit with differing baselines for what to expect. Smith is looking forward to what he regards as his best format, while Crawford is apprehensive about what she regards as a weakness.
“It’s a shooting race,” Smith said. “I think shooting speed is more important, which is probably my biggest strength. I can take advantage of that as long as I hit most of the targets.”
Crawford echoed that assessment, but a bit more apprehensively.
“Pursuits were a bit of a weakness for me last year, shooting wise,” she wrote in response to follow-up questions. She hopes to simply hold her position and stay in the top 15, but that she’ll be happy if she is able to follow her range plan and “stay focused on myself and not get caught up in what’s going on around me.”
–Chelsea Little contributed reporting