Another windy day in Oberhof, Germany, for Friday’s IBU World Cup 7.5-kilometer women’s sprint race caused some of the big names to make huge errors on the range and created room for new faces on the podium.
Veronika Vitkova of the Czech Republic made it two-for-two for victories in 2015, claiming her first individual World Cup win. Coming off the Czech women’s first relay win in over a decade on Wednesday, Vitkova powered her way victory on Friday with a time of 22:40.0 even after a miss in both the prone and standing shooting. She had the second-fastest ski time of the field.
“I felt very good on the tracks but I didn’t think I would win with two mistakes,” Vitkova explained in a press conference following Friday’s sprint.
She knocked two Italians back when she crossed the finish line: Dorothea Wierer, who ended up in second place 8.8 seconds back, and Nicole Gontier, who was 19.1 seconds back. Wierer, who had the fastest opening leg in Wednesday’s relay, continued to lead the Italian team and with the result moves into second in the women’s world cup standings.
Wierer commented on the tough conditions of Oberhof: “It was really hard conditions with the wind, I was lucky because in the standing I had no wind, and I could shoot really fast and that was my luck.”
Gontier lead early, being the tenth starter of the day and hitting all 10 targets though she would be bested by 19.1 seconds.
“I’m really surprised because I didn’t expect it [to be on the podium], I shot really well,” Gontier explained during the press conference. “It was the first time I shot clean, and I am really happy to be here with Dorothea for my first podium.”
Her team certainly thrived in the windy conditions, putting three women in the top ten and two on the podium. Karin Oberhofer finished eighth, making them the most successful team on the day.
Overall World Cup leader Kaisa Makarainen had two mistakes in each of her two trips to the shooting range, ending her chances of another sprint victory. Another strong challenger for the overall points lead, Darya Domracheva of Belarus missed three times in the prone and again in her standing, putting her out of contention early. She had the fastest ski time on the day to nevertheless finish 18th.
The German crowds finally had something to celebrate as German native Fransiska Preuss finished fourth, 22.5 seconds back with one miss. Finland’s Mari Laukkanen surpassed her more famous teammate Makarainen to claim fifth, 23.9 seconds off the winning time. Gabriela Soukalova of the Czech Republic, also with two mistakes, rounded out the top six, 24.8 seconds behind her teammate.
Two North American women claimed World Cup points: Americans Susan Dunklee, who finished 21st, 1:22.9 of the pace with three misses, and Hannah Dreissigacker, who placed 37th (+2:05.0) after cleaning her prone shoot and missing two targets in her final trip to the range.
Some athletes were luckier than others in terms of shooting conditions in Oberhof. After facing some difficult gusts in prone shooting, Dunklee explained in an email, “Every athlete had slightly different conditions to deal with. As an athlete, the trick is to not stress out about it because it is not something you can control.”
Dreissigacker was happy to be in the points.
“Scoring points is always good!” Dreissigacker wrote in an email. “I was very happy with my first lap and with shooting clean in prone. In standing I had a little bit of trouble, but it was windy and I was tired and so I was happy to pull myself together after two misses and hit the last two shots.”
Annelies Cook, the third American, finished 62nd (+3:24.3). She crashed on the last lap, reportedly damaging her rifle, but still finished the race.
Rosanna Crawford was again the top Canadian, placing 46th after a difficult standing shooting where she took four laps of the 150-meter penalty loop before completing her race.
“I felt decent skiing and our skis were amazing,” Crawford wrote in an email. “I was lucky in prone with consistent wind and then not so lucky in standing where it was gusting pretty hard.”
Crawford explained that after having made all of her mistakes shooting in the second trip to the range, she realized that shooting standing in the end lanes (25-30) potentially would have offered more shelter from the wind.
Fellow Canadian Megan Heinicke claimed 56th (+2:56.6), just ahead of Zina Kocher in 58th (+3:05.1); Emma Lunder finished 92nd (+5:44.4). Their teammate Julia Ransom took a major crash on her final lap having hit nine of the ten targets, breaking her ski and retiring from the race. In just the second weekend of World Cup racing in her career, Ransom was sitting in 25th place after the second shooting.