Spectacular doesn’t need to special, at least that’s how Hannah Dreissigacker felt about Saturday’s 7.5-kilometer sprint at Holmenkollen in Oslo, Norway.
If she simply approached the second race of the three-day IBU World Cup weekend like it was any other, the 28-year-old US Biathlon member figured she had as good a shot at ever at a good day.
What she didn’t realize was coming was a career best.
“It’s a good feeling to hit all the targets,” Dreissigacker said on the phone following her 16th-place finish on Saturday. The result topped her previous best of 17th in the sprint in Pokljuka, Slovenia, in mid-December, when she also shot a perfect 10-for-10.
On Saturday, Dreissigacker had a couple of special people to celebrate with; her parents and boyfriend Nils Koons arrived in time to watch her race at Holmenkollen.
“I’m really happy right now … I think happiness always helps being in a good mental place racing,” she said.
The 39th starter out of 96, Dreissigacker experienced what she considered “more consistent” conditions than Thursday’s individual and “slightly foggy, but we couldn’t see the targets in practice yesterday,” she said. “I was just happy to be able to see the targets.”
Just like every other race, she tried to make each of her trips to the range during the sprint feel like she was on autopilot. She went through her checklist: checking the wind flags, thinking about breathing, removing her poles, and getting into position quickly.
“I’ve been trying lately to just be confident shooting and shoot pretty fast, not shoot as fast as I can, but just not take much time,” Dreissigacker said. “I shoot better when I’m fast. I kind of always come back to that as something to focus on — you want to stay in a good rhythm.”
Her range and shooting times ended up being the eighth and ninth fastest overall, respectively, and she was one of nine women in the top 20 to hit all 10 targets. Two days ago, Dreissigacker finished 33rd in the 15 k individual with flawless shooting except for one stage — her second, where she missed three.
That frustrated her somewhat, yet she knew she wasn’t far off from a perfect race.
“I knew that the clean stages were possible so I just decided to just act normal out there,” she said. “It’s funny how it can feel easy when you’re doing it because you feel like you’re doing what you always do and it works … Some days it just comes together.”
After cleaning her second-straight stage, Dreissigacker heard her coaches tel her she was in 10th, about five seconds out of sixth.
“That’s a pretty exciting split to get,” she reflected. She finished 12th and ultimately placed 16th, 1:00.1 behind winner Darya Domracheva of Belarus.
Less than 10 seconds separated her from sixth, and four others were within two seconds of Dreissigacker in 17th through 20th.
“I knew the race was really tight and in the end, I know there was like 10 places in 10 seconds right around me,” she said. “It just makes you realize those extra seconds on the skis are really important.”
Overall, her course time ranked 41st, and she explained her ski speed had improved since the beginning of the season. “I think that it can keep getting faster, hopefully for World Championships [from March 3-15], I think it will,” she said.
Crawford 1.6 Seconds Out of 10th
Canada’s Rosanna Crawford raced to 13th on Saturday with a single standing miss and the 18th-fastest course time overall. With a clean prone, she stood 15th overall after the first stage, then improved to 14th with the 13th-fastest course time on her second lap and one penalty on the second stage.
“My legs were feeling a bit heavy today, but I knew that I wanted to start hard,” Crawford wrote in an email. “I felt like I really made up time on the downhills and flats in the Thursday’s race, so I made sure to really push over the top of hills and push really hard on the rolling flats. … None of the hills on the 2.5km loop are too long, so you really can keep a good tempo going.
“I missed my first shot standing, just think I wasn’t quite ready for it, should have taken one more breath, but happy to hit the next 4,” she added.
The 20th starter, Crawford crossed the finish line in sixth, but was pushed back 13th, 54.9 seconds behind Domracheva and 1.6 seconds out of 10th (which Ukraine’s Valj Semerenko, Russia’s Daria Virolaynen, and Slovakia’s Jana Gerekova tied for). She was 1.8 seconds from ninth.
“It’s great to add another top 15 to my resume!” Crawford wrote.”I feel like things are starting to make the turn again, which is good for the confidence … I know a biathlete shouldn’t complain about 90%, but the number of times I’ve hit 9/10 is starting to get a bit annoying! Hopefully I hit that magic 100% in World Champs.”
Domracheva stole the show for the eighth time this season with clean shooting and the third-fastest course time. After starting 32nd, she was one of more than 30 women to clean prone, and after that first stage, Norway’s Tiril Eckhoff led by 1.6 seconds over Poland’s Weronika Nowakowska-Ziemnia. Domracheva remained three seconds back in fourth (after Russia’s Olga Podchufarova in third).
Another perfect stage moved Domracheva to first, 16.2 seconds ahead of Germany’s Laura Dahlmeier in second, and their order remained in tact through the finish with Domracheva sealing the win in 20:35.7.
Dahlmeier in bib 50 took second, 14.3 seconds back, for her fourth podium in the last six races, and France’s Marie Dorin Habert in bib 11 tallied her first podium since having a child this summer in third (+29.9) with one standing penalty.
For the fifth-straight race, Dorin Habert’s ski time ranked fourth after the Czech Republic’s Veronika Vitkova (who finished 21st with three penalties), Finland’s Kaisa Mäkäräinen (who placed 24th with three misses) and Domracheva, respectively. Her French teammate, Anais Bescond finished fourth (+32.6) for her fifth top-five the season with clean shooting, according to RealBiathlon.
“I am a happy lady right now,” Domracheva told the IBU after the race, which moved her to first in the overall World Cup standings, 10 points ahead of Mäkäräinen. “I was not thinking so much about the competition, just focused on my own race and wish to hit all of the prone targets which I did today … This is a really good place for me … a really good day.”
On Thursday, Domracheva placed second in the individual, 1:18.3 behind Mäkäräinen.
A year ago, Dorin Habert announced her pregnancy at Holmenkollen. “Last year, I did not expect that I would be at this level so quickly,” she told the IBU on Saturday. “I have worked hard and everything is possible now.”
Canada’s Audrey Vaillancourt cleaned her second-straight race to place 36th (+1:30) for her second-best result after a career-high 30th on Thursday.
While the confidence she built on Thursday helped, she explained in an email that a sprint is inherently different than the 15 k individual, so her strategy had to change — but some things remained the same.
“Once again I wanted to take the race step by step, and give my best for each one,” Vaillancourt wrote. “So basically not be thinking about my next shooting bout while skiing and vice-versa. Also focus on each shot separately again.”
She ended up clocking the third-fastest overall shooting time and sixth-fastest range time.
“I was feeling extremely confident, and that showed on my shooting speed,” she wrote. “I think I made up a lot of time there. When I left the range I thought : okaaaay next step GIVE IT ALL.”
On her last lap, she heard her wax technicians tell her she was in 30th. Despite finishing 36th, she said she wasn’t surprised. “There was probably 5 girls within a second around me,” she wrote. “I am very satisfied with my placing, I gave all I could and everything went as planned today.”
Canada’s third woman, Megan Heinicke placed 68th (+2:30.7) with three penalties (1+2), and Sarah Beaudry was 80th (+3:11.5) with one miss in each stage.
Annelies Cook was the second American in 65th (+2:28.8) with three misses (2+1). A day after her 29th birthday, Susan Dunklee finished 69th (+2:32.5) with four misses (3+1), and Clare Egan was 91st (+4:40.9) with six penalties (2+4).
Alex Kochon (email@example.com) 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.