KONTIOLAHTI, Finland — Ask anyone who follows biathlon who the favorites were going into the 2015 IBU World Championships, and they would have been sure to mention Finland’s Kaisa Mäkäräinen and Darya Domracheva of Belarus. Of course there were others, but Marie Dorin Habert — the French skier who gave birth to her first child in September?
She couldn’t believe it, either.
“I don’t have words,” Habert, 28, said in a press conference following her third medal in as many races at World Championships and her second-straight gold. “It’s just crazy for me, and everything is right with me in these World Championships.”
After winning Saturday’s 7.5-kilometer sprint and starting with a 10-second lead in the women’s 10 k pursuit on Sunday, Habert kept herself in contention for another victory by hitting all of her targets in her first two stages.
The competitor who started closest to her, Weronika Nowakowska-Ziemniak of Poland, held her own in second for the first two stages as well, despite missing one on her second prone. She came out of the penalty loop 43.8 seconds after Habert, yet remained in second until the third shooting.
There, Habert came into standing first and missed two targets. Her clean streak had ended and some 12,800 spectators in the stands wondered what would become of Habert.
Meanwhile, Germany’s Laura Dahlmeier, who started fourth, 29 seconds after Habert, had moved into third by the first stage despite an early prone miss. Dahlmeier cleaned the second prone as well as the first standing to leave the range 20 seconds behind Habert, who had just completed her two penalty loops.
“When I missed two, I said, ‘Ooh! It’s bad for me. I have to be fast,’ ” Habert recalled.
She went on to ski the second-fastest course time on her third lap and remained ahead of Dahlmeier. Both missed one in the second-and-final standing, and Habert headed out on her third lap with a 27.3-second lead.
Meanwhile, Nowakowska-Ziemniak had two additional penalties on her third stage to slip to third, 43.8 seconds behind Habert. While she cleaned her final stage, she left the range in fourth, five seconds behind Russia’s Ekaterina Shumilova, the only woman to hit all 20 of her targets.
The final clean stage lifted Shumilova, who started sixth, from fourth to third — until Nowakowska-Ziemniak tracked her down on the final lap.
“I asked myself, ‘Weronika, do you fight, or do you get just a fourth place and it’s still OK?’ ” Nowakowska-Ziemniak reflected in the press conference. “After one second, I answer to myself, ‘Of course, I am fighting.’ I was trying to catch [Ekaterina] as fast as possible and I did it quite fast … On the uphill, my coach told me she’s twenty meters behind me, so I realize that, yes she fall down, and then I push even harder to not let her catch me.”
“I asked myself, ‘Weronika, do you fight, or do you get just a fourth place and it’s still OK?’ After one second, I answer to myself, ‘Of course, I am fighting.’” — Poland’s Weronika Nowakowska-Ziemniak, pursuit bronze medalist
While Nowakowska-Ziemniak left the Russian behind in the race for bronze, Habert continued to forge ahead up front, entering the finishing straight alone and grabbing a large French flag from the sidelines. She waved it proudly and completed her trifecta of medals (silver in the mixed relay, gold in the sprint, and now gold the pursuit), crossing the line first in 30:07.7. Dahlmeier finished 15.3 seconds later for silver, her first World Championships medal.
“I’m totally happy. It was a big dream since I was a little child,” the German said in the conference. “Now I have this silver medal and it’s a perfect day for me, and also, I’m really happy for Marie. It’s perfect.”
Nowakowska-Ziemniak finished 31.6 seconds after Habert and 17.1 seconds ahead of Shumilova for bronze, her second medal in as many races after notching her first World Cup-level podium on Saturday.
“It’s crazy because I was waiting so many years to be on the podium and yesterday I get the first medal and today the second,” Nowakowska-Ziemniak said. “I was feeling much better on the track, but the shooting range I wasn’t perfect, but it’s still a medal so I’m really happy.
“You can’t imagine how happy people in Poland were with the medals because in the winter sport, this winter wasn’t so good for the Polish teams, for ski jumpers and cross-country skiers,” she added. “So the medal in biathlon, it was something really, really important for the association and for my teammates.”
Habert simply stated: “I’m more happy than yesterday.”
Saturday’s sprint bronze medalist, Valj Semerenko started 20 seconds after Habert and ended up 19th (+2:23.8) after missing three on her first prone. She had another penalty on her second stage, then cleaned her first standing before missing two more for a total of six penalties.
Mäkäräinen could lay claim to the most impressive ski of the day, racing up from 35th to 12th with the fastest overall course time. She finished 1:28 behind Habert with two prone penalties and a standing miss.
Domracheva had the second-fastest course time, 33 seconds slower than Mäkäräinen, yet rose from 25th to finish seventh with two total penalties — one on the second prone and another on the second standing.
Gabriela Soukalova of the Czech Republic improved from 18th to fifth (+58.0) with a single miss on the first stage, and Germany’s Franziska Hildebrand went from 10th to sixth (+1:00) with two penalties.
Despite temperatures around 40 degrees Fahrenheit with misting precipitation, conditions were firmer and even icy for the women’s race — which followed the men’s pursuit earlier in the afternoon.
Crawford, Heinicke in the Top 30
Among the North American women, Rosanna Crawford of Canada knocked off seven places to finish 25th (+2:51.5) after starting 32nd, 2:13 after Habert.
While she missed two early prone shots, Crawford cleaned her second stage to move back into the top 30. One more miss on her first standing put her in 27th leaving the range, and she proceeded to clean her final stage.
“On my first prone, I shanked one to the left, one to the right and one to the center,” Crawford explained. “Usually when I see that on the board I say, ‘Oh you idiot, just hit the frickin’ targets,’ and I did.”
All things considered, with the sixth-fastest range time and 24th-ranked course time, she said she was happy.
“To be 32nd [yesterday] and two-thirds back was very surprising so I was happy to make some points and still know I’m in it for the rest of the championships,” she said. “Two less misses on that first one would have been glorious.”
In doing so, Crawford would have matched her boyfriend Brendan Green’s 95-percent shooting in the men’s pursuit. “I’ll let him have it this time,” she said.
Also for Biathlon Canada, Megan Heinicke finished in the top 30 for the second-straight race after starting 23rd. She ended up 28th (+3:19.4) with 90-percent shooting, missing one early prone and another target on her last standing.
“I’m … relieved,” Heinicke said. “Two times in the top 30, I’m really glad with that and considering my fitness coming in, I basically feel like I put pretty close to my best out there. Tried to ski tactically, skied behind people when I could.”
Sick for much of the last month, she explained her expectations for her skiing form were low coming into World Championships.
“I need to count on the shooting and I’m really glad I brought it together,” she said. “I’m kind of sad about the prone miss because that one was really on me, and I was like, ‘Oh dang it, you just did that,’ but the standing miss, I don’t actually know what happened so I’m not gonna beat myself up about it either way.”
On most of Heinicke’s best days, there’s a common theme: her strength in shooting. While she excelled in shooting as a junior, she said she struggled with it in the last few seasons. However, this season, she felt more at ease.
“I’ve had some big changes in my life recently and I’m feeling a lot more relaxed and a lot more balanced,” Heinicke said. “I’m under a lot less pressure, internal and external, and I’m just enjoying it. Instead of standing there, like, ‘Please hit this, let it be OK,’ or really worrying about results, I’m way more task-oriented and I’m like, ‘Oh yeah, I worked on this, and I’m confident.’ ”
Dunklee Third-Fastest Skier
American Susan Dunklee had the third-fastest ski time after Mäkäräinen and Domracheva, and improved from starting 42nd to finishing 34th (+3:58.1) despite six penalties.
“The prone shots that I missed were really bad shots,” Dunklee said after missing two in each of her first two stages. She went on to miss two apiece in both standing stages.
“Skiing felt better today. The shooting was more normal speed, and I’m really happy after yesterday,” she added. “You start getting this little seed of doubt in your mind about your shooting ability when you pull a stunt like that, so I was glad to have normal-feeling shooting even if it wasn’t a great percentage.”
While 42nd wasn’t where she had hoped to end up in the sprint, which has implications for next Saturday’s mass start (as does the pursuit), Dunklee made sure to push to the end.
“Partway around the last loop yesterday, I reminded myself, ‘You are a fighter. I don’t care how you’re doing, that’s part of who you are and you’ve got to live up to that today,’ ” she recalled. “So that’s what I did.”
The second U.S. woman in her first-ever pursuit, Clare Egan started 40th and finished 52nd (+6:29.2) with seven penalties (1+1+3+2).
Canada’s World Championships rookie, Julia Ransom placed 57th (+8:02.8) after starting 52nd. She also missed seven (1+2+2+2).
“My legs were basically cooked from yesterday,” Ransom said. “To have consistent misses, that was hard and I feel like it was something that I had to get out of my system. It was my first pursuit on the World Cup and I had to pay my dues.
“I really enjoyed racing,” she added. “There are some parts where you miss and you’re near the back and you want to cry, the bottom lip starts to quiver a bit, but at the end of the day I’m proud that I made it here.”
With two days off until the next race in Kontiolahti (the women’s 15 k individual), most of the racers were excited for a break.
“I’m going to start with a massage and go from there,” Ransom said.
— Lander Karath contributed reporting
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.