Darya Domracheva had a few little hangups en route to winning Saturday’s 10 k pursuit in Khanty-Mansiysk, Russia.
The Belorussian seemed unfocused: on the second shooting stage, which is prone in pursuit format races, she came into the range first, skied onto the mat on point one, and then set up to shoot standing. Rival Kaisa Makarainen set up in prone on mat two, and Domracheva eventually realized her mistake just before firing her first shot.
“I think today I was maybe too much into the race,” Domracheva said in an interview with the IBU’s Jerry Kokesh. “I think the spectators rescued me today with their loud cheering. In understood that something wrong was happening on the shooting range.”
Then, in the third shooting stage – which she cleaned, perhaps why she was so overexcited to shoot standing – she nearly dropped her rifle as she went to sling it back over her shoulders.
Despite the seemingly wacky errors, Domracheva was perfect when it counted. A miss after that standing-to-prone transition, understandable since she was undoubtedly flustered, resulted in her only penalty loop of the competition. Domracheva cruised to a 15.7-second win and inched further ahead of Makarainen in the overall World Cup standings. Domracheva is now 32 points ahead of the Finn, and with one race to go it’s hard to see her losing the crown.
“It’s a big emotional win,” she said. “I felt really good physically, and also mentally good, but of course it’s the end of the season and you feel a little bit tired. But we keep all of our power to fight.”
Behind her, two young Germans – 21-year-old Laura Dahlmeier and 20-year-old Franziska Preuss – fought for podium positions. Dahlmeier left the range with a 3.2 second advantage on her younger teammate, but Preuss caught and passed her on the trails, leading into the final climb into the stadium.
Dahlmeier stayed on her tails, but couldn’t pull even and pass until the pair entered the finishing lanes. Even there, they were nearly inseparable, sprinting side by side to the finish. Dahlmeier prevailed by 0.2 seconds.
“Franziska was ahead and then I was ahead,” Dahlmeier said in a press conference. “We were touching skis on the uphill. It is nice that we are both now on the podium.”
“We are teammates and friends,” Preuss said. “But here at the end of the season, it is nice to be on the podium. There is no pressure now that the World Championships are over.”
Rosanna Crawford, the only Canadian woman to travel to this far-flung Siberian venue, moved from 28th up to 13th with 19-for-20 shooting.
“I was pretty disappointed after World Champs, I had set some high goals and didn’t meet any of them,” explained Crawford, who had top-six finishes earlier this season but a best finish of 25th at the World Championships which ended last weekend. “I was more than ready to head home and just not in a good head space going into Russia. Going from Finland food to Russian food is bound to make anyone a little grumpy! I was trying really hard to turn the motivation around for the races and didn’t quite make it yesterday. Tom kept telling me I seemed out of it and to put a smile on my face.”
Despite being tired after a grueling World Championships, she found her energy come back more and more in the past few days. In the final loop, she moved from 15th up to 13th. Being a stronger finisher is something she’s proud to have accomplished this season.
“This year I’ve been able to be strong on my last loop and really pace my self well,” she wrote in an email. “I think this has come with age and learning my body and getting fitter as an athlete. I now look forward to that last loop battle rather than dread it! Our skis were great today so I knew if I could hang onto that group of girls I could take a few of them on the last up hill. Sprinting is something [sister] Chandra has taught me well, and downhills!”
With one race remaining, Crawford sits in 21st place in the overall World Cup standings.
“It’s funny: my goals this year was to consistently place in the top 30, a few top 15 and top 10’s and I really wanted to be on the podium at least once,” she wrote. “I did achieve all but the last one. I was only outside of the top 30 two or three times I think (and Nove Mesto when I cross fired). Since my season started off so great with top form it was hard to come back down to top 30 level. This season has been my best yet and I am happy to finish it will a good race today. I can hit the targets!!”
For the United States, Susan Dunklee moved from 26th up to 10th with clean prone shooting, but missed five targets over her two final standing bouts and slid back to 23rd. She had the second-fastest ski time of the field, but five penalties were too many loops to make up.
“Today’s plan was to approach the race like a biathlon race and not just a ski race,” she wrote in an email. “That meant giving myself the time and space necessary to approach the range with 100% mental focus. I slowed coming through the stadium, took lots of deep breathes, checked for a solid feeling in the setup, and thought about my trigger pressure. I think I executed this plan very well for all the stages. It worked great in prone. Obviously something was slightly off in the standing and I’m not sure what it was.”
She was joined by Hannah Dreissigacker, who after a career-best 14th-place finish in the sprint missed two shots in each prone stage and one in the final standing stage to end up 38th.
“I actually wasn’t too nervous today, I was mostly just excited to be doing a pursuit with such a good start spot!” she wrote in an email. “It was a bummer that prone went so badly…its never fun to see yourself moving backwards like that in a pursuit. But I’m happy with how standing went!”
It’s all part of the learning process, said USBA Chief of Sport Bernd Eisenbichler.
“Hannah had some good positions for starting pursuits this season, and she will learn out of every single one and soon will go through there as well and keep her position and even climb up,” Eisenbichler wrote in an email. “It’s important to state that she had kind of a muscle spasm yesterday, so was not in full power today. I a, not worried about her for tomorrow. The coaches will find the right words to get her prepared for that special race and it’s just a really great way to end the season and see what’s out there for the future for her.
Despite the errors, Dreissigacker was still in the points, and her result was good enough to qualify her for the 30-woman mass start which will conclude the 2014-2015 season. It will be her first World Cup mass start.
“I’m psyched and kind of amazed that I still made the mass start after today’s race!” she wrote. “It is a nice surprise to end my season with! It has been a goal of mine for a while to make a mass start. I’m hoping for some better prone shooting tomorrow, and also that my legs miraculously feel fresher than they did today.”
All three North Americans will compete, and that’s something Dunklee is looking forward to.
“Two US women in a mass start- that hasn’t happened in a few years,” Dunklee wrote. “Hannah has come on strong this winter and it’s going to be a thrill to toe that start line together with a teammate!”
With teammate Leif Nordgren appearing in the men’s mass start for the first time in four years, it’s an exciting time for U.S. biathlon.
“We approach every race the same way and try to get the best result, and it’s great to see that Hannah and Leif even after long season and a lot of traveling, did that this week again,” Eisenbichler wrote. “They both knew that if they have a good sprint race, like they showed this season a couple of times, they have a really good chance to get in the mass start. They both wanted this to get accomplished for the whole past season- this will be a great motivator for the coming training period and shows that both of them made a good step forward and are on the right track.”
Chelsea Little is FasterSkier's Editor-At-Large. A former racer at Ford Sayre, Dartmouth College and the Craftsbury Green Racing Project, she is a PhD candidate in aquatic ecology in the @Altermatt_lab at Eawag, the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology in Zurich, Switzerland. You can follow her on twitter @ChelskiLittle.