For three out of the four legs in the IBU World Cup women’s 4 x 6-kilometer relay on Saturday in Hochfilzen, Austria, it could’ve been anyone’s game, especially Russia’s, Germany’s, Poland’s and the Czech Republic’s.
All four were within 40 seconds of one another behind Russia in first at the final exchange — and while it might have seemed like Russia with a 19-second lead was untouchable — any biathlete will tell you nothing in biathlon is ever a sure-thing.
Ekaterina Shumilova tagged off in first, upholding the position teammate Olga Podchufarova put her in during the second leg. However, by the final prone, Russia’s lead started to unravel. Ekaterina Glazyrina used all three spare rounds, then had to ski the team’s first penalty loop of the day.
She dropped from first to fifth, 44 seconds out of the lead.
Meanwhile, Germany’s anchor Franziska Preuss cleaned her first stage to take control — not knowing what happened to Glazyrina.
“I had no idea that she was on the loop,” Preuss told the IBU after the race. “I did not know it until the finish line.”
Veronika Vitkova of the Czech Republic used one spare to move to second after prone and trailed Preuss by 24.1 seconds leaving the range. Belarus was suddenly back in contention when Darya Domracheva cleaned prone to jump from sixth at the exchange to third, 37 seconds after Preuss.
For the final standing, the pressure was on for Preuss. She had to use one spare, but so did Vitkova and Domracheva in second and third.
The German left the range with a 29-second lead over Vitkova and remained 37.4 seconds ahead of Domracheva in third. With a huge smile, Preuss entered the stadium uncontested and waved to the Austrian crowd as she finished. Domracheva outsprinted Vitkova for second, giving Belarus the silver, 21.1 seconds behind Germany, and the Czech Republic took third another 1.1 seconds back.
For Germany, the relay victory marked the first podium for two of its members: first-leg Luise Kummer and third-leg Vanessa Hinz, the latter of which lifted the team from fourth to second with two spares.
“It is very exciting being up there; it is such a great feeling!” Kummer said.
Second-leg Franziska Hildebrand, who brought Germany from 11th to fourth by the second exchange, said the team’s goal was to be on the podium.
“People should be happy, because we are a very young team and this shows how good we can be,” Hildebrand said.
The Czech Republic’s second skier who brought her team to third from seventh, Gabriela Soukalova was also pleased with the top-three finish.
“We realized at the beginning of the season that we can have a strong relay team I think this result will be a great motivation for our whole team,” she said. “For me, I have had some problems and I needed to have a great race.”
Germany finished the day with zero penalties and eight spares, Belarus had 10 spares and the Czech Republic had nine spares.
Italy (1+4) fell from an early lead set by first-leg Dorothea Wierer, to 13th when second-leg Nicole Gontier had a penalty loop on her second stage. Karin Oberhofer lifted the team from 11th at the final exchange to fourth overall (+39.9) with clean shooting.
Norway placed fifth with a penalty and 12 spares, five of which came from second-leg Synnøve Solemdal. Anchor Tiril Eckhoff skied the team up from 14th to fifth (+46.3).
Poland ended up sixth (0+8), Ukraine was seventh (1+11), Russia eighth (1+7), France ninth (1+10), and Slovenia 10th (0+7).
The Canadians finished 11th overall (0+7), 2:11.1 behind Germany. They were 16th at the end of Megan Heinicke’s first leg, after she cleaned prone and missed three standing.
“I wasn’t feeling particularly snappy but I have been recovering from a cold since last Saturday so I am hoping for a bit more explosiveness next week,” Heinicke explained in an email.
While she was “happy and motivated” by her prone stage, which put her in seventh, Heinicke added that she was surprised by her standing.
“I didn’t feel like I had pushed very hard during the 2nd loop so I was pretty surprised when my left leg was shaky during standing,” she explained. “I have often struggled with standing in the last 2 seasons but rarely because of shaky legs! There was definitely that element of slight panic at needing to use all 3 spares and a fierce determination to hit then. I admit, I was relieved to bypass the penalty loop. My goal on the last loop was simply to giver and try to catch 1 or 2 of the girls ahead of me.”
She moved up one spot from 17th to 16th, tagging teammate Rosanna Crawford 52 seconds back from Italy in first.
“I knew that with some good quick shooting on the range that you can move up a lot in a relay,” Crawford explained, adding that she didn’t think about shooting right away. “You don’t want to start thinking about shooting as soon as you start a race or that’ll put too much pressure on yourself. So I focused on my skiing and switched to shooting when I was getting closer to the range. My skis were really good today, which always makes for a fun race, because you just feel like you’re flying!”
With clean shooting on both stages, she left the range in 12th after prone and sixth after standing. She recorded the fastest shooting for her leg.
“I just took it one shot at a time never getting ahead of myself,” Crawford wrote. “Things can go wrong quickly in a biathlon races if you start thinking about the 5th shot when you’re only on the 1st!”
She handed off to 20-year-old Sarah Beaudry, who was in her first World Cup relay and second-ever World Cup race, in sixth. In an email, Beaudry explained that she simply wanted to hit her targets and ski fast.
After cleaning prone, she was up to fourth.
“Moving up to fourth wasn’t really part of any plan, it was more just a result of my good prone shooting,” Beaudry wrote. “For my prone I just came in really relaxed and my focus was to watch wind. Sometimes I am a little forgetful about wind so I think having that focus helped me stay calm.”
Fortunately for the women’s and men’s races on Saturday, there wasn’t much wind to speak of.
Beaudry tried to stay calm as she approached her standing stage, but after hitting her first two targets, she got “a little too excited” and ended up missing the last three, she explained.
“Then I was just trying hard to avoid the penalty loop with my spares,” she added. She avoided it, tagging Audrey Vaillancourt in 12th, 1:09.4 back.
“Today I was going to give everything I had no matter what place I was tagged in, and this is exactly what I did,” Vaillancourt wrote.
With a single prone miss, Vaillancourt maintained her position in 12th. One lap later, she cleaned standing to improve to 11th.
“I kept focused on trying to get closer to the other team, but I also knew there were some very strong women out there in the last leg,” she wrote.
Slovenia’s Urska Poje was 15 seconds ahead of her in 10th heading into the final lap. Vaillancourt ended up finishing 18 seconds behind in 11th.
“Overall I am very happy with my race, both on the skiing and shooting side. I have had a cold all week which affected my training and preparation a lot, but today I felt a lot better so I think I’m back on track,” Vaillancourt wrote.
Crawford referred to her team’s 11th place, with zero penalties and seven spares, as a “decent result.”
“We had two legs with some scary standing, but no penalty loops is great!” she wrote. “A few less spares and we could have been top 10. We were trying a different order today and it seemed like it worked out pretty well. Megan did a great job at the start of the race.”
Later Saturday afternoon, the Canadian men tied a team-best sixth in the 4 x 7.5 k relay.
“So excited for men’s team,” Crawford wrote. “They’ve had a bit of a bumpy start and not performing like they were hoping for. A top 6 is a great way to build some confidence into the rest of the season.”
With three women on the World Cup circuit, the U.S. did not field a women’s relay.
- Audrey Vaillancourt
- canadian women's relay
- Czech Republic
- Darya Domracheva
- Dorothea Wierer
- Ekaterina Glazyrina
- Ekaterina Shumilova
- Franziska Hildebrand
- Franziska Preuss
- Gabriela Soukalova
- Hochfilzen relay
- Karin Oberhofer
- Luise Kummer
- Megan Heinicke
- Olga Podchufarova
- Rosanna Crawford
- Sarah Beaudry
- Vanessa Hinz
- Veronika Vitkova
- women's 4x6 k relay
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.