(Note: This article has been updated to include comments from Canada’s Megan Heinicke, who had a career-best pursuit result on Saturday in 14th.)
Ever since last Sunday, Rosanna Crawford’s been trying to keep her success in perspective.
“I try not to bring previous results with me into my next races,” she told FasterSkier on Thursday. That was after she topped her career-best fifth, which she achieved in the IBU World Cup pursuit Dec. 14 in Hochfilzen, Austria, with a fourth-place finish in the World Cup sprint in Pokljuka, Slovenia.
Where would she go from there? The 26-year-old Canadian tried not to think about it. Overconfidence could be her enemy, but nerves? Those were unavoidable.
She started to feel them just before breakfast on Saturday, the morning of the women’s 10-kilometer pursuit in Pokljuka. Crawford was slated to start fourth, 37 seconds behind Gabriela Soukalova of the Czech Republic, who won Thursday’s sprint to lead the pursuit.
So she went for a jog.
“Then it slowly started to sink in,” Crawford recalled in an email.
At the start, she lined up with the likes of Soukalova, Italy’s Dorothea Wierer in bib 2, and Ukraine’s Valj Semerenko in bib 3. When the cameraman stood in front of her, she smiled and called out “Hey Brendan!” to her teammate and boyfriend, Brendan Green.
Then she took a breath. This was it — her chance for a podium, or at least a top finish. But she’d have to gain at least 12 seconds on Semerenko and hold off 56 other women behind her.
Soukalova went out first, 18 seconds ahead of Wierer. She held her own until the first shooting, where she missed three to drop to 18th and nearly a minute behind Wierer, who cleaned her first prone to take the lead.
Crawford lost her position on an early climb out of the stadium, when Darya Domracheva of Belarus in bib 6 passed her near the 0.7 k mark.
“Darya came flying by on the first loop and I stayed with her for a bit but then decided it was too fast for me,” she wrote.
In the range for the first shooting, Crawford missed two and slipped to 21st, 1:07.9 behind Wierer after two penalty loops.
Her goal had been to maintain her focus from her first shots during zero all the way through the race.
“Unfortunately the pressure still got to me for the first shooting and I missed one left, one right and the hits were all centre, so it was all me,” Crawford wrote. “But this was good information to get before my next prone, that I just needed to be bit more settled and focused for each shot.”
From there, she clawed her way back into the mix with perfect shooting through the next three stages. She lifted herself to seventh after the final standing, then posted the sixth-fastest course time on the last lap to finish seventh overall.
Domracheva held steady as well with clean shooting through the first three stages. After the first shooting, she left the range 10.8 seconds behind Wierer in first, and 5.5 seconds behind Semerenko. She passed them both before the second stage to enter the range first and stayed there through the finish.
Despite missing her last shot and having to ski a penalty loop on the last standing, she fended off Finland’s Kaisa Mäkäräinen, who started 15th and charged hard in the final laps, by 10 seconds for her second win of the season in 29:55.9. Semerenko outsprinted Wierer by 0.4 seconds for third, 36.8 seconds behind Domracheva.
“Today I felt I was very concentrated on the shooting range and in control of the race,” Domracheva told the IBU after the race. “Maybe I left too fast from the last shooting stage … but you see as always, I never give up.”
However, she did look back to make sure she didn’t let off the gas too early. As Domracheva crossed the finish line, Mäkäräinen — who had a single miss on her second prone — came soaring down the final descent into the stadium.
Domracheva went down onto her knees and doubled over with exhaustion. Mäkäräinen threw up her arms a couple times to the crowd, as if to say, “I tried.”
Forty-six seconds behind the Belarusian after the third stage, Mäkäräinen in third passed Semerenko early as they left the stadium together on the fourth of five laps. From there, she began her quest for first.
“I was a bit unsure before the start today because my shooting was so bad in the sprint,” Mäkäräinen told the IBU after placing 15th with four penalties in Thursday’s qualifying race. “Today I told myself that it was just a bad day at the office and my shooting would get back to normal.”
While Domracheva was finishing her penalty loop, Mäkäräinen got settled for her final shooting. She cleaned and had 23.6 seconds to make up over the last 2 k. At the end of the day, she posted the fastest course time, 26 seconds faster than Domracheva, who ranked second.
Semerenko was a little slower on skis, with the 17th-ranked course time, but hit 19-of-20 targets as well (with one miss on the third stage) to hang around second and third for most the race.
Wierer had two penalties on the second shooting to drop to sixth, then came back with clean shooting in her standing stages to finish fourth (+37.2).
Germany’s Laura Dahlmeier skied up from ninth to fifth with a single miss on the first stage, and finished 1:12.1 after Domracheva without anyone close to her. Another Belarusian, Nadezhda Skardino took sixth (+1:15.7) with clean shooting.
She was one of two women to clean all day; the other was Canada’s Megan Heinicke — who improved from 41st to 14th.
“Perfect shooting is never easy and on any given day there are usually only a handful of ‘clean’ shooters in this sport,” Heinicke wrote in an email “I am just glad I was able to do it today — this was my first time ever shooting 20/20 in a world cup race.”
Crawford took seventh (+1:20.7), holding off Italy’s Karin Oberhofer, who left the range behind her in eighth, by 5.5 seconds at the finish.
“After hitting the last standing target I knew it was fighting time! Dalhmeier and Skardino were just in front of me and Oberhofer was just behind,” she explained. “I knew that if I could get to the top of the hill in front of the Italian that she probably wouldn’t catch me. Top 6 was so close, but with how skiing felt today I am really happy with top 10! This has been the best start to the season ever for me and I can’t wait to see what the rest of the season holds.”
Despite achieving her third-best World Cup result, Crawford didn’t feel in top-top shape on Saturday, still fighting a sore throat which she came down with earlier in the week.
“But just like last week, feeling bad one race doesn’t mean that tomorrow I won’t feel good, hopefully!” she wrote, referencing Sunday’s 12.5 k mass start.
As the lone Canadian starter in bib 8, she’ll aim to mimic her teammate’s perfect shooting.
“It’s really motivating and inspiring to see Megan Tandy hit 20/20 today and move up so many spots! I’ll try to channel my inner Megan tomorrow :)!” Crawford wrote. “I’m sitting in 8th place for overall World Cup points. All I can control tomorrow is skiing well and hitting the targets, if that happens, then anything is possible!”
For Heinicke, the pursuit marked her second-best World Cup result after finishing 12th in the individual race in Östersund, Sweden, at the start of this season. Her previous best in a pursuit was 29th.
“This was my first time ever shooting 20/20 in a world cup race.” — Megan Heinicke (Biathlon Canada), after starting 41st and skiing up to her second-best World Cup result in 14th on Saturday
With the clean shooting and the 11th-fastest time on the range, Heinicke worked her way up from 28th after the first stage to 14th by the end of the final shooting. She finished in that position, 2:09.5 behind Domracheva.
Before the start, she thought she’d be pleased with a top 30.
“My main ski goal going into this race was to ski a bit more tactically and aggressively in the group with the other girls — even with start bib 41 I started in a good pack of girls,” Heinicke wrote. “My main goal on the range was to follow my race plan for standing. I have shot quite well prone so far this season but have struggled a few times with my standing shooting so that was critical.
“I was getting information about my position on course and I was really happy to have moved into the top 30 after my 2 clean prone shootings,” she added. “Because I knew that standing shooting would be the hardest part of the race for me I didn’t really celebrate too soon … even after my first standing I kept that little voice in my head that was telling me this was an awesome race pretty quiet because I know how fast everything can change. I didn’t really believe it until after the last standing.”
“Even after my first standing I kept that little voice in my head that was telling me this was an awesome race pretty quiet … I didn’t really believe it until after the last standing.” — Heinicke
Two Americans qualified for the pursuit — Hannah Dreissigacker and Susan Dunklee — and they started within three seconds of each other in 18th and 19th, respectively, a minute back from Soukalova.
With a clean first prone, Dunklee was up to 12th, 48 seconds behind the leader. She went on to miss one in each of the next two stages, then three on the final standing to drop to 32nd with one lap to go. She passed four people on that lap and finished 28th (+3:17.1).
“I have been struggling with a head cold and a sore throat and today I was in survival mode,” Dunklee explained in an email. “Often it is smarter to not race through sickness, but this is the last week of the trimester and we get a long break after tomorrow.”
She wanted to finish the trimester off in the top 25 overall, which comes with full support from the IBU in the form of room and board. It would also help her lock down more mass-start opportunities.
“I have started the season on the wrong side of that top-25 bubble in the past and it’s an uphill battle to earn mass start rights later,” Dunklee wrote. “Today’s performance wasn’t pretty and I lost a lot of places because of that disastrous last stage, but tomorrow is a new day and I get to race the mass start.”
Currently ranked 22nd overall, she’ll start in bib 22 on Sunday in row 8 of 10. Mäkäräinen stands as the overall World Cup leader, followed by Domracheva and Semerenko, respectively.
Dreissigacker fell out of the top 30 on the first stage with two misses, then missed two more on her second prone. In an email, she attributed her initial penalties to rushing a bit, and thought she might have lost her focus for a “split second” on the second stage.
She cleaned her first standing, but missed two more on her last stage to leave the range in last place. She passed Sweden’s Emma Nilsson on the final lap to finish 56th with six penalties, but was hit with another two-minute penalty for miscounting her penalty loops.
“My biggest regret about the race is that I somehow forgot a penalty loop after my second prone stage,” Dreissigacker explained. “This is a huge, DUMB mistake and I am really kicking myself about it. I guess my brain just shut off for a minute, and I only did one lap instead of two … I was having a bad day anyways, and I can analyze that a lot, but in the end the only thing that was unacceptable about today was the missed penalty loop.”
After tallying a career-best 18th in the sprint, she was especially excited for the pursuit. But like, Crawford, she tried to be cautious.
“I knew that ‘biathlon giveth, and biathlon taketh away,’ ” Dreissigacker wrote. “I’m not sure who said that, but it’s the truth.I was hoping to ski better today, pacing off of the girls around me. Instead, I felt flat and just sort of empty during the skiing.”
Leaving Pokljuka and flying home to Craftsbury, Vt., on Monday, she’ll hold onto her “awesome memory of the sprint race, and look forward to more races like that after the Christmas break,” she wrote. “I think that our whole team will just be getting stronger as the season progresses, and there is still lots of time!”
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.