Laura Dahlmeier of Germany had just enough speed on the final loop to beat teammate Franziska Hildebrand, winning Saturday’s 7.5-kilometer biathlon sprint in Nove Mesto, Czech Republic, to earn her first-ever World Cup victory.
She finished in an overall time of 21:33.4 and topped Hildebrand by 1.0 second.
Hildebrand had the fastest cumulative time by 15.8 seconds heading into the third of three loops, but Dahlmeier was 16.8 seconds faster on the third loop. Neither skier missed a shot.
“Since I was a little child, I always said that I wanted to come to the World Cup, and that I wanted to win,” Dahlmeier told the IBU’s Jerry Kokesh. “Today it is so, I’m in the first position and it’s amazing for me.”
It was an impressive result for a young German team: Dahlmeier is just 21 years old, and Hildebrand, at 27, is one of the most senior members of the team. It was also a career-best for Hildebrand, who was thrilled to go 1-2 with her younger teammate.
“It is amazing,” Hildebrand said in the press conference. “I felt a little tired from the relay, so I said I would just see what would happen today … The last loop was hard. I am happy to reach the podium.”
The result satisfied the win-hungry German fans, who have high expectations every year. Dahlmeier made it clear that it was satisfying to prove wrong those who had questioned the ability of the young women’s team.
“You can see that our concept works,” she told German broadcaster ZDF. “It was right to go with not so high expectations for the season. But we have shown that we can do it, and that people like [Darya] Domracheva or [Kaisa] Mäkäräinen are beatable.”
Veronika Vitkova of the Czech Republic was third (+13.9), having missed one shot in the prone stage. The 32,000 fans in Nove Mesto were undeniably rooting for a home team victory; the noise when Vitkova and her teammates were on course and on the range was substantial. But the Czech women couldn’t come through. Gabriela Soukalova tied for 20th with one penalty.
Darya Domracheva of Belarus missed one shot in each shooting stage and was fourth (+23.0), while Marie Dorin Habert of France ended up fifth (+26.9) after finishing the first loop in third and missing two shots in the standing stage.
The top North American racer was American Susan Dunklee, who placed ninth (+46.3). She was 17th following the second loop after missing a shot in the standing stage, but pushed herself into the top ten by skiing the eighth-fastest final loop of the day. It marked her third-straight top-10 finish this season.
Dunklee explained in an email that the 2.5 k course in one of her favorites on the World Cup circuit.
“There are a lot of steep climbs, and my strongest technique is V1,” the 28-year-old wrote. “The climbs are hard, but it is crucial to also push hard on the flats and gradual downs after the uphills – that is where I tried to make up time today.”
On the range, Dunklee explained that she chose to shoot on point 30 during the standing stage because it is more protected from the wind. While she did have one late miss, she was happy about how she executed her shooting.
This result comes after a warm-up that she explained felt tense. She wrote that the team was involved in a significant traffic jam on the way to the race and barely made it on time, due to the “32,000-plus” fans driving to Nove Mesto. However, she was able to relax after skiing around for a bit before the race.
Her teammate Annelies Cook also had an impressive performance, placing 28th (+1:19.8) and earning her her third-best sprint result ever on the World Cup, and her best result so far this season.
“I am feeling really happy and also relieved,” she wrote in an email. “It has been a long time since I was able to put together a good race in both skiing and shooting, long enough to start to wonder if it was still possible.”
The 30-year-old Cook explained that she tried to channel the positive energy from the large crowd on hand, and then take advantage of the long approach to the range in order to relax.
“I try not to think about what is possible until the last loop because so much can change in a second and it is better to just be in the moment,” she explained.
She added that it was a great feeling to be able to ski hard on the last loop and “feel like you are actually being competitive on skis.”
The other American woman who qualified for Sunday’s pursuit was Hannah Dreissigacker, who finished 38th (+3:09.7)
“I just tried to really ski my own pace on the first lap and keep it in control so that I’d have more left for the end. I focused on being relaxed and having good technique,” she wrote in an email.
She wrote that during shooting she was focusing on the basics of “breathing and trigger” – as she explained it is easy to lose that focus – and it worked today, as she only missed one shot in the standing stage.
“In standing I think I may have come in a bit too hard, and I got shaky legs,” she wrote.
She wrote that she tried to ski as hard as she could on the last lap, though was passed by Domracheva and knew she should not try and stay with her too early. However, she kept her in her sights on her way to the 30th-fastest final loop of the day.
U.S. Women’s Head Coach Jonne Kähkönen explained in an email that it was a great day overall for the women’s team.
He wrote that he knew the American women could have a solid result as a team as well as individuals, based on both training over the last few weeks and the progression over the course of the season so far.
“I know that we have trained well and have used the opportunity in-between the World Cup races to always aim for even better, so based on that I was feeling confident for the day,” Kähkönen wrote.
He added that Dunklee has been consistently performing well and that it was encouraging to see Cook and Dreissegacker also “stepping it up.”
“I know that they have the potential to ski like this consistently,” he wrote.
Neither Canada’s Audrey Vaillancourt nor American Clare Egan qualified for the pursuit, as Valliancourt placed 66th (+3:09.7) and Egan took 73rd (+3:43.4). In her first World Cup individual race, Egan cleaned prone but missed four standing shots.
In an email, Egan explained that while she executed her plan on her first shooting stage, she didn’t do a good job controlling her rifle in standing.
“For Clare, it was good to see the start and the prone stage,” Kähkönen wote. “She did a great job executing the game plan there. As for making it to the next level, there are really no short cuts – just hard work.”
Canada’s Rosanna Crawford did not finish after missing her first shot in the prone stage, then hitting the next four – in the wrong lane.
“I usually choose my lane as soon as I can see the targets and repeat it a couple times to myself. I didn’t do that today because I was analyzing the wind flags really hard,” Crawford wrote in an email.
After skiing her penalty loop, her coach told Crawford that she had cross-fired and was facing eight minutes of penalties, so she decided to stop.
“I’ve never cross fired before in a race and from what everyone tells me I’ll probably never do it again!” she wrote. “Lots of things to learn from this race but stewing and being angry won’t help me for next week.”
The seventh weekend of the IBU World Cup finishes tomorrow in Nove Mesto with the women’s 10 k pursuit and the men’s 12.5 k pursuit.
— Alex Kochon and Chelsea Little contributed reporting