Rosanna Crawford had a big breakthrough last week, placing fifth in the World Cup pursuit in Hochfilzen, Austria, a career-best result and all the more impressive because she started the day in 34th place and moved her way up.
Today in the very next race, a 7.5 k sprint in Pokljuka, Slovenia, the Canadian biathlete went one better and finished fourth, with one penalty and the tenth-fastest ski time.
“I try not to bring previous results with me into my next races,” Crawford wrote in an e-mail. “You can’t get over confident, just look at Kaisa [Makarainen of Finland, the World Cup leader] today, she goes from great shooting to four misses from one race to the next. She’s still a beast on the ski though! Of course my previous results have helped with my confidence, and I am really excited for two more chances this weekend to have great day!”
It wasn’t totally clear that Crawford would be in shape for another top result today. She hadn’t been feeling her best earlier in the week.
“I had a bit of a sore throat and some congestion yesterday, so I was a little worried how I would feel skiing today,” she explained. “I woke up feeling a lot better than yesterday after having taken every tincture I know of- oil of oregano, hot tea with lemon, salt gargle, vitamin D and C!”
But that may have actually helped move on and leave the fifth-place result behind her, as she said was so important.
“I think a big part of this season has been not having expectations going into my races… I think being a bit sick yesterday and not feeling great in my warm up definitely let me relax a bit, not as much pressure since I wasn’t feeling 100%,” she wrote.
With one miss in prone, it wasn’t going to be a perfect race. But thoughts of that can’t slow you down when you’re racing on the World Cup.
“I know it sounds lame, but these things don’t cross your mind while you are racing,” she wrote. “I leave the range after prone and it’s time to think about skiing! I knew I was skiing well, but I just stayed focused on my cue words.”
As an early starter, it also wasn’t worth worrying about the shooting too much since so many racers were still to come. By the time Crawford hit the last loop of the course, though, she was finally getting some information about how later starters were faring through the prone stage.
“It was hard to say what would happen after one prone miss,” Canadian Head Coach Matthias Ahrens wrote in an e-mail. “But her clean standing shooting and increase in ski speed combined with shooting mistakes by others, indicated a good back split, which she was informed about and that pushed her especially in the last lap.”
Crawford has sometimes struggled to maintain her speed in the last kilometers of races, but that certainly wasn’t the case today. She turned in the third-fastest closing lap and ended the day 36.8 seconds behind Gabriela Soukalova of the Czech Republic, who shot clean for the win.
(It was something of a comeback for Soukalova. The recent Olympic medalist had a slow start to the season, but things started to turn around in the women’s relay last weekend, where her team placed third. “That relay was the most important race of the winter,” she said in a press conference. “I started to believe that I could be at the top again… That day, I stopped worrying about hitting the targets and skiing fast… I began to enjoy the competition.”)
“I’ve always had trouble with last laps, so a bit yes, you can make up time on that last loop if you have some gas in the tank,” she wrote. “But this course also played really well to my strengths. There are 3 dipsy dodalies (as Matthias calls them!) right before the range/finish, I really made sure to push hard over the hills and to be fast on the downhills. Since it’s a downhill finish here you really need to start making your move on that 1st of 3 hills.”
Ahrens and National Team Coach Coach Roddy Ward both agreed that the Pokljuka terrain plays to Crawford’s strengths. The course is also at medium altitude, which likely suits the Canadians, who train for most of the year in Canmore, Alberta, nestled in the Rocky Mountains.
“It is technical with downhills, transitions, etc.,” Ahrens explained. “She had good races here before. I would say that technical work in skiing combined with functional movement work has made her a more efficient skier and that translates into being still able to hold or increase the speed in her last lap.”
“She is also in great shape and racing smart,” Ward added via e-mail. “You have to work every part of the course here, there is not much rest and there are corners and bumps that you can take advantage of. Rosanna carries her speed well and is confident on downhills. All of this helped her out there today. In particular she made up 5 spots in the final kilometer or so where there are a lot of transitions in up and down terrain.”
Another challenge: Ward wrote that the shooting mats were slippery, although he wasn’t exactly sure why since it wasn’t raining or snowing.
“She slowed down her shooting a little to make sure she would hit five,” he wrote.
Canada had two other women in the race, Megan Heinicke and Sarah Beaudry. Heinicke placed 41st and will have good opportunities in Saturday’s pursuit. She started off the season with a 12th-place finish in the 15 k individual in Östersund, Sweden, but hasn’t been able to replicate the top-20.
Beaudry place 66th, narrowly missing the pursuit. With a single penalty, she left the range in 52nd, well within the 60-woman cutoff, but slumped in the final kilometers of the race. Beaudry is still a junior and had her World Cup debut in the relay last weekend.
Two other women, Audrey Vaillancourt and Zina Kocher, were moved down to the IBU Cup after lackluster results in the early season.
Crawford’s recent success means a lot to the team, including, the coaches said, to younger athletes.
“Sarah did great again and it’s perfect for her to be here while we are having success that she can feed off of,” Ward wrote. “Sarah is a great teammate and brings a lot of positive energy to the group of girls too. Today she shot well and skied fantastic for 2/3 laps. She ran out of stream on the final lap and that cost her a pursuit start. However, she is young and she shows great speed and strength. In fact, she shows similar characteristics to Rosanna a few years ago (speed, strength, good shooting) that we can really build on in the training.”
“I believe that having a consistent top performer shows the others in the team what is possible,” Ahrens added.
Crawford feels that consistently performing at this level is possible, and hopes that she can carry her momentum – it’s the best pair of finishes for a Canadian woman in years – all the way to World Championships in Kontiolahti, Finland, in March.
“I am feeling really strong right now and hopefully I can carry this through the season and into World Champs,” she wrote. “We have a couple of good training blocks before then, so we will just have to wait and see! In previous years I seem to build as the season goes on, so if my shooting stays the same I can hope for more great results!”
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.