Note: This article has been corrected to reflect the fact that American Annelies Cook caught skiers on her penultimate lap.
“You can’t expect to be fast all the time,” Biathlon Canada’s Rosanna Crawford stated just two days ago after placing 34th in the IBU World Cup 7.5-kilometer sprint in Hochfilzen, Austria.
But sometimes, you’re going to be very fast and extremely efficient when it comes to shooting, according Crawford’s coach Roddy Ward. And it’ll happen when you least expect it — like Sunday.
Ward explained in a phone interview on Sunday that Crawford was probably least confident in her pursuit racing compared to, say, sprints and relays, which she considers her strengths.
He joked that was going to have a talk with her about that after the women’s 10-kilometer pursuit on Sunday, after Crawford skied up from 34th and 1 minute, 34 seconds out of first to a career-best fifth, 53.4 seconds behind Finnish winner Kaisa Mäkäräinen.
Her previous individual World Cup best was eighth in a mass start last season in Holmenkollen, Norway. Sunday, however, marked her first individual flower ceremony.
“She’s got good accuracy, she’s got good speed, she likes to fight, she’s very competitive,” Ward said. “So it has always shocked me a little bit that [she thinks the pursuit is] not her best. I think her goal was just to move up and I was just like, ‘Way more is possible.’
“Today was a good moment for her to show just what she can do in a pursuit,” he continued. “She can be the best, she was the best today in the world, so that’s got to give her confidence. … This is big. This is huge.”
“I think her goal was just to move up and I was just like, ‘Way more is possible.’ ” — Roddy Ward, Biathlon Canada national-team coach and Crawford’s personal coach
Crawford, 26, was slightly reserved when it came to reflecting on what she had done.
“It’s pretty exciting; I definitely made things hard on myself by not having a good ski day Friday,” she said on the phone after Sunday’s race.
Two days ago, Crawford explained she lacked snap and her legs felt heavy. She hit 90 percent of her shots in the sprint, but felt her ski speed was lacking. She rebounded to post one of the fastest second legs of Saturday’s 4 x 6 k relay, where she lifted the team from 16th to sixth with fast, clean shooting.
With her form feeling like it was coming around in time for the Hochfilzen pursuit, Crawford explained that she tried not to get ahead of herself. With solid shooting, she knew she could pick off the places — and sure enough, after the third shooting stage, she was up to 10th.
“Shooting has been always good for me in Hochfilzen,” Crawford said after missing a single target in her first prone, then cleaning the next three stages.
A top-five result didn’t cross her mind before the start, but she thought with 90- to 100-percent shooting, she could finish in the top 15.
By the fourth stage, she found herself in ninth entering the range for the final standing. Meanwhile, Ward, who had been in the range watching her shots through the scope, had done some quick math in his head to determine that she could nab a top five if she cleaned that stage.
As he watched all five of her last shots hit her targets, he looked up at the scoreboard and realized she was in fourth.
He excitedly radioed his colleagues out on course, including Biathlon Canada’s head coach Mattias Ahrens and several of the team’s wax technicians. One woman yelled, “Go get her! Go get her, Rosanna, go get her!” which was picked up by the IBU television crews, as Crawford left the stadium 2.4 seconds behind France’s Anais Bescond in third.
After Mäkäräinen led into the range and cleaned the final stage, she left with a nearly 50-second gap to Russia’s Ekaterina Glazyrina, who also cleaned the last standing to stay in second.
Bescond moved to third with a clean bout as well after Ukraine’s Valj Semerenko and Germany’s Franziska Preuss both missed one and had to ski a penalty loop.
Bescond and Crawford were about a minute behind Mäkäräinen, and Crawford started the final 2 k lap less than six seconds ahead of Russia’s Olga Podchufarova in fifth. Italy’s Karin Oberhofer, who started second after placing second on Friday, was another two seconds back in seventh.
Crawford described that last lap as “so hard.”
“I went pretty hard the whole race and was running out of gas,” she said.
Podchufarova charged ahead on the last climb to pass her in fourth, and Crawford used every last ounce to hold off Oberhofer. She did so by 2 seconds and finished 6.9 seconds off the podium in fifth, collapsing immediately after crossing the line.
“She was fighting from 34th — she fought her way up the whole race and just at the end there was this last little bit the she just didn’t have,” Ward said. “Up to that point she was out-skiing those girls, but they could hold a little reserve [as earlier starters] … Otherwise, she was fighting for the podium.”
“I was happy to hold onto a top five because Oberhofer was coming on as well,” Crawford said. “I was really glad I had what little energy I had left.”
Mäkäräinen won her second individual race in Hochfilzen and third-straight World Cup race in 30:44.8, 34.4 seconds ahead of Glazyrina in second. Bescond and Podchufarova fought for third, with Bescond outlasting the Russian by 3.2 seconds. Crawford finished 3.7 after Podchufarova.
The way the Canadian pushed herself to the point of visible exhaustion didn’t surprise Ward.
“I see that kind of pain from Rosanna every intensity session; this is no different,” he said. “She definitely gives everything she has.”
“I see that kind of pain from Rosanna every intensity session … She definitely gives everything she has.” — Ward
After making up more places than anyone else to finish in the top five, Crawford ended the day with the sixth-fastest course time after Belarus’s Darya Domracheva (who missed five to end up 13th) as the fastest, and Veronika Vitkova of the Czech Republic (who was 25th with five penalties, and had to switch mats and restart one stage when another racer cross-fired, hitting her targets). Finland’s Mari Laukkenen’s course time ranked third, but she had seven misses, Semerenko was fourth fastest and finished 10th, and Poland’s Monica Hojnisz improved from 40th to 11th with the fifth-fastest course time.
“She definitely showed she was at the top of the field in shooting and skiing,” Ward said of Crawford. “I’m excited. I think she just has to be patient. Results like this don’t necessarily happen when you want them to happen … they happen when you least expect [it].”
This past spring, Ward said he and Crawford discussed her potential for a podium this season.
“I really felt this was possible for her,” he said. “If she’s not her biggest believer, I am. I’ve got to be second. I’m up there anyway.”
In an email, Ahrens wrote that Crawford’s race showed her potential, “combining great ski speed with good shooting efficiency. When all those components align she can be on the podium, she has made another step this season in her training, it shows in more efficient ski technique and in general aerobic capacity.”
Pulling Off a Near-Perfect Race, From Start to Finish
According to Crawford, the key to her success was not overthinking it. She knew the start could be her forte, and she immediately worked to chase 11 women who started within 10 seconds ahead of her. With her skis running well, especially on the downhills, she moved up to 31st by 1.2 k and 28th after the first stage.
In the first shooting, Mäkäräinen cleaned with careful aim to head out on her second lap, 30 seconds ahead of Oberhofer, who missed one but remained in second. Germany’s Franziska Hildebrand cleaned to leave the range another three seconds back in third, and Domracheva improved from eighth to fourth by the first stage with clean shooting as well. She left three seconds after Hildebrand, who started fifth.
American Susan Dunklee, who started 29th, 1:29 behind Mäkäräinen, hit all her initial targets to improve to 18th and 1:25 back after the first prone.
Crawford said it was a little chaotic entering the range for the first time, especially with Hochfilzen’s uphill approach. The lane-designator got confused, she said, and told her to go in lane 30 for the first prone, but there was no one in lane 29.
“That might’ve affected me because there’s a bit of a berm there,” she said. She also felt slightly rushed getting settled and removing her sunglasses. Crawford missed her third target — but that was her only hiccup of the day.
“I worked really hard on just not having thoughts when I’m racing; you can’t get ahead of yourself and start thinking about the range,” she said.
One mantra she uses while racing is repeating to herself, “Just this.” That helps her focus on her technique and the moment, rather than what just happened or what lies ahead.
On the second lap, Domracheva surged to second and entered the range with Hildebrand, just as Mäkäräinen was leaving after cleaning her second-straight stage.
Both Domracheva and Hildebrand missed their first two shots, and the two dropped to 13th and 14th, respectively. Preuss cleaned her second-straight prone to jump to second, 38.7 seconds behind Mäkäräinen. Bescond cleaned her second straight as well to move into third, 51.4 seconds out of the lead. Oberhofer missed one target but hung in fourth, five seconds behind Bescond.
Just like the first two stages, Mäkäräinen came into the range alone for the third shooting, but this time, the calm-and-collected Finn missed her first standing shot. Just as she left the mat to head out on her penalty lap, about eight women entered the range.
The first of them, Preuss in second missed two of her targets to drop to fifth. Glazyrina cleaned to move into second, 42.6 seconds behind Mäkäräinen, and Bescond missed one but stuck in third, 56.2 seconds back.
Crawford cleaned her second-consecutive stage to start her fourth lap in 10th, 1:08.7 behind. After two clean prone stages, Dunklee missed two standing to slip from 14th to 20th and 1:53 out of the lead.
With about 10 women chasing Glazyrina, the Russian continued to push to maintain second — and be ready for the off-chance that she could move into first — with Mäkäräinen some 40 seconds ahead of her. Mäkäräinen cleaned her final standing to essentially lock up the win.
Glazyrina cleaned the fourth stage as well to hold her position, leaving the range 49 seconds behind Mäkäräinen. Bescond also hit her final standing targets to remain in third, just ahead of Crawford, who was happy to clean her last stage as well.
“I know it kind of sounds silly, but I’ve worked so hard on not paying attention to what’s going on around [me],” she said. “As soon as you look around to who’s shooting in lane four or five, you’re just throwing away shots there.”
That said, she was pleased to find herself in fourth at the beginning of her last lap.
“I have high expectations this season and I know that a podium is just around the corner,” she told the IBU in a post-race video interview.
“I’ve worked so hard on not paying attention to what’s going on around [me]. As soon as you look around to who’s shooting in lane four or five, you’re just throwing away shots.” — Rosanna Crawford (Biathlon Canada) after career-best fifth in Hochfilzen pursuit
Dunklee missed two in her last stage to fall farther back to 30th. On the last lap, she skied the seventh-fastest course time to finish 27th overall, 2:40.4 behind Mäkäräinen.
“No matter whether I am in first or in fiftieth, I believe it is important to fight all the way to the finish,” Dunklee explained in an email. “The last loop, I gave everything I had to catch a French girl [Enora Latuilliere] in sight ahead of me, but this time she outsprinted me to the line. It was a fun battle.
“I am not entirely sure what went wrong in standing,” she wrote. “Missing so many was frustrating. I have a lot of faith in my prone shooting right now, so between that and the ski speed, I am able to create good opportunities almost every race. The next step will be to follow through on that trajectory by improving my standing percentages.
“I had a great race going for a while,” she added. “I dreamed of moving up 20 places like I did last week, which didn’t happen, but I was inspired to see Annelies move up 17 and Rosanna almost 30!”
Her US Biathlon teammate, Annelies Cook, started 50th and improved to 32nd with 80-percent shooting (1+0+0+1).
“Missing one in prone on the first stage left me pretty much in the same place,” Cook explained in an email. “So it was really cleaning the next prone and standing that jumped me up quite a lot and then keeping it together in the last standing. That was my best shooting in a long time! I just tried to be relaxed and I told myself that I had to do it.”
On Cook’s fourth lap, she caught up to some skiers and and was able to draft a few of them, giving her an uplifting confirmation that her skis were running well.
“Today was really good for me mentally. I was feeling quite stressed and bummed about my earlier performances and I needed today for a boost in confidence,” she added.
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Alex Kochon (firstname.lastname@example.org) 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.