No amount of snow, wind or penalties was going to hold Darya Domracheva back on Sunday, at least that’s the way the Belarusian attacked the women’s 10-kilometer pursuit at the IBU World Cup in Nove Mesto, Czech Republic.
Second in the overall World Cup to Finland’s Kaisa Mäkäräinen, Domracheva started fourth in the pursuit, 23 seconds after Germany’s Laura Dahlmeier, who won Saturday’s sprint to start first. Another German, Franziska Hildebrand went out second, one second back, and Veronika Vitkova of the Czech Republic started third, 14 seconds behind.
The beginning of the race was relatively mild weather-wise, with sun at the start, but by the third of four shooting stages, competitors found themselves at the epicenter of a blizzard.
“It was a crazy day out there!” US Biathlon’s Hannah Dreissigacker wrote in an email. “We slid off the icy road in our van on the way to the start, luckily only half a k away so we walked from there. Then it was a total blizzard during zero. Then it got sunny for the start of the race, but then back to blizzard. … I’ve never really seen anything quite like it.”
With snow increasingly blowing into athletes’ eyes as well as their rifles, the pursuit became more about who could keep it together rather than who could execute the perfect race. None of the 51 female finishers hit every target.
That meant Domracheva couldn’t rely on shooting, and she didn’t need to. Even with two early prone misses that set her back to 12th, she rebounded to sixth with a clean second stage.
Entering the range for the first standing in the top four, she missed one, but moved into third. Domracheva left the stadium 19.3 seconds behind the Czech Republic’s Gabriela Soukalova, who cleaned her third-straight stage to take the lead from Hildebrand, who led from the first shooting.
France’s Anais Bescond also cleaned the first three stages to leave the range in second, 3.6 seconds after Soukalova. While the Czech extended her lead on Bescond over the next lap, Domracheva began to close on them both, coming into the final stage in second, less than 14 seconds behind.
There, Soukalova missed two, and that cost her.
With the snow still falling so heavily it caused Hildebrand to crossfire and hit Vitkova’s targets (which led to a six-minute penalty for Hildebrand and Vitkova earning 52 seconds back at the finish), Domracheva missed one for her fourth penalty of the day.
She rounded the penalty loop quickly and headed out on the last lap first, 15.7 seconds ahead of Mäkäräinen, who also missed one for her fourth-total penalty.
Soukalova chased them both in third, 18.6 seconds back, along with Dahlmeier, who cleaned the last stage to leave the range two seconds later.
Over the next kilometer, Mäkäräinen closed the deficit to 14.2 seconds, and then 9.1 seconds with half a kilometer remaining. Domracheva continued to power ahead up front, skiing directly into a headwind along the course’s long climb, and ended up finishing first, 6.8 seconds ahead of Mäkäräinen, in 35:22.3.
“On the last loops it was so soft that on the last uphills and the poles fell down through the snow and you got no push or no glide with your skis,” Domracheva told the IBU. “It was a little bit hard race … [but] you have to fight to the end; you still have a chance.”
Mäkäräinen posted the fastest-course time overall, 17 seconds faster than Domracheva in second.
“If I would have cleaned that [last] stage, I would have been first, but I missed,” Mäkäräinen told the IBU.
Dahlmeier overtook Soukalova by the 9 k mark for third, 14.9 seconds after Domracheva, finishing with three penalties. Her German teammate Vanessa Hinz missed just two on the third stage to place fourth (+24.0), and Soukalova finished fifth (+33.2).
“The early loops are not so important,” said Dahlmeier, who stayed in the top three through the first two stages. “It is most important to have a good race in the last loop.”
Dunklee 18th for U.S.
American Susan Dunklee skied the third-fastest course time on the last lap to place 18th. Back in 27th after two early prone misses, she improved to 19th by the last stage, then finished 1:54.9 behind Domracheva.
Dunklee started ninth, 46 seconds after Dahlmeier, but slipped to a minute and 35 seconds back after the first prone stage. She went on to clean her second prone to improve to 20th, then missed one in the first standing and two more on the last stage.
“It was a tough day and I had to keep reminding myself that everybody else out there was having a far from perfect day too,” Dunklee, who ranks 15th in the overall World Cup, wrote in an email. “The new snow made for slow tracks and it was difficult to pass because only one lane had been skied in.”
She discovered her first prone misses both hit the same edge of the target and was able to adapt to clean her second prone.
“I couldn’t make up as many places on the ski course as usual because I got stuck behind long trains of people,” Dunklee explained. “For the second time this week, I caught a great ride with [Switzerland’s] Elisa Gasparin for the last loops and she was very aggressive about moving around packs.”
Annelies Cook started 28th and finished 38th (+4:58.1) with eighth penalties (2+3+2+1), and Dreissigacker started 39th and finished 41st (+5:04.6) with eight misses as well (1+2+3+2).
While Dreissigacker’s shooting was off, she skied the 19th-fastest course time overall.
“I had great skis and felt good skiing,” Dreissigacker wrote in an email. “I’m psyched with my 19th ski time!! That is a new best for me. The shooting was another story though…it was a combination of bad luck and just bad shooting.”
In the first stage, she realized her rifle sight was completely clogged with ice and snow and spent about 30 seconds trying to blow it out.
“In the next stage I had a lot of wind and I took a lot of clicks and still missed two and so then I ‘shaded’ as well — when you just aim a little off of center to adjust for the wind,” she explained. “In standing I again got a lot of wind, and I didn’t deal with it well and took too long to shoot. And then my last stage was just bad shooting on my part. So not a good shooting day at all, but I just have to remember the positive takeaway — skiing was great!”
After finally getting her targets reset so that she could shoot, Vitkova ended up 11th with four misses (1+1+2+1). Hildebrand fell to 50th with a six-minute penalty after she failed to ski all of her penalty loops.
“She missed two targets in the cross firing so she skied two loops but since it was cross firing she gets 5 penalties and should have skied five laps,” Nove Mesto technical delegate and US Biathlon CEO Max Cobb explained in an email. “The penalty for missing a penalty loop is 2 min for each loop not skied thus 6 min.”
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.