KONTIOLAHTI, Finland — Not long after finishing the women’s 4 x 6-kilometer relay at 2015 IBU World Championships, Laura Dahlmeier sprinted past reporters to jump into the arms of one of her teammates, her rifle still attached to her back.
A German sports broadcaster employee quickly ushered the 21-year-old Dahlmeier and her three teammates to the Sportschau platform overlooking the stadium where they had just destroyed the 25-team field.
In the minutes before, Dahlmeier built on a 30-second lead her teammate Vanessa Hinz established on the third leg to anchor Germany to a 1:00.3-minute win. Hinz had used just one spare in prone to clean both her stages and skied the second-fastest third leg to leap from third into first — and considerably ahead of anyone else.
With Franziska Hildebrand and Franziska Preuss skiing first and second, respectively, the Germans combined to secure gold ahead of France in second and Italy another 5.8 seconds back in third.
“I think it was a dream of all of ours to be world champion and now the dream is true,” Dahlmeier said in a press conference after her team used six total spares and avoided any penalties for the win in 1:11.54.6.
France, with Anais Bescond, Enora Latuilliere, Justine Braisaz, and Marie Dorin Habert (the latter of which had already won two golds at these world championships), had nine spares and one penalty from Braisaz on the third leg. Habert lifted them from fourth and 1:18.8 behind Germany to silver — her fourth medal in as many races in Kontiolahti, including silver in the mixed relay — using two spares in prone and none to clean standing.
The Italians, with Lisa Vittozzi, Karin Oberhofer, Nicole Gontier, and Dorothea Wierer, led through the second exchange after Oberhofer elevated them from fourth to first with four total spares and the fastest course time of the second leg. Gontier started out 2.5 seconds ahead of Czech Republic, but slipped to third after using two spares on each of her stages.
“I’m not so in shape now and I have to thank my teammates, they are so strong,” Gontier said in the press conference.
She tagged Wierer in third, behind Germany and Russia, respectively. Habert and Wierer both overtook Russia’s anchor Ekaterina Shumilova in the final stage, where Shumilova used two spares, Habert cleaned, and Wierer used one. Wierer left the range in third, 0.6 seconds behind Habert and about 10 seconds ahead of Shumilova in fourth.
“I was so worried about the Russian girl and I thought, ‘I don’t want fourth position,’ ” Wierer said. “I really give all for the team, but I was really, really nervous.”
The team that didn’t lack confidence was Germany, with three women under the age of 23 (Hildebrand is the oldest at 27).
“We are a young team and a strong team and it’s a perfect day for us,” Dahlmeier said after cleaning both her stages to tally her second World Championships medal (following her individual silver in last weekend’s pursuit).
“We are the best team,” she told Sportschau.
Russia, with Ekaterina Glazyrina, Daria Virolaynen, 15 k individual gold medalist Ekaterina Yurlova, and Shumilova, finished 10.7 seconds off the podium in fourth. Norway placed sixth, Ukraine was sixth, Belarus took seventh, and the season-long relay favorites, the Czech Republic (which won the mixed relay) finished eighth, 3:11.7 behind the winners.
The Czechs came through the first exchange in 12th after Eva Puskarcikova’s first leg, 26.4 seconds out of first, and Gabriela Soukalova lifted them to second, 2.5 seconds back. They fell to eighth during Jitka Landova’s third leg, in which she had a standing penalty and six spares. Anchor Veronika Vitkova used three spares and had two penalty laps in prone, then went on to clean standing before finishing eighth.
Canada 10th, U.S. 12th
While the Germans drew a significant amount of attention with their win, two North American squads stood together near the finish, cheering their teammates on with each passing lap before waiting to congratulate their anchors as well.
Canada’s second leg, Rosanna Crawford was one of them, standing near the finish and looking for her teammate Julia Ransom, who had anchored their team to 10th.
Audrey Vaillancourt had tagged Ransom in 10th, improving one place after Crawford put her in 11th at the second exchange. Ransom, a 22-year-old World Championships rookie, used two spares on each of her stages to help the team meet its personal goal: a top 10.
She held off Austria’s Katharina Innerhofer by 0.5 seconds to finish 10th, 3:39.5 behind Germany. In total, the Canadians used 10 spares and had one penalty (which came on Crawford’s standing stage).
“Megan [Heinicke] tagged me off into a great spot, [and I] came in prone … with the group,” Crawford explained.
She had entered her first stage around 12th after Heinicke tagged her in 14th, 33.8 seconds out of the lead. (The team’s first leg, Heinicke used a single prone spare and cleaned standing.) Crawford cleaned prone, then went on to use three spares in standing while trying avoid the penalty loop, which she ultimately had to ski around once.
“Standing, I came in and missed my middle shot and loaded my first spare quickly and missed,” Crawford explained. “As I loaded my last spare, I took my rifle down and shook my legs out and missed.”
Not only did the penalty loop cost her, but the three spares, which she estimated takes her six to 10 seconds to load apiece, set her back as well. Regardless, Crawford skied the sixth-fastest second leg to tag Vaillancourt in 11th, 1:08.6 behind the leader.
Vaillancourt, 23, went on to use two prone spares and cleaned standing outright to bring the team to 10th, 1:45.3 out of first.
“I didn’t really know what place I was in at any time, it was just good to always have a pack of people [around me],” Vaillancourt said. “I passed people in the standing so that felt awesome. It’s always such a good feeling, like, ‘Yeah!’ … I was a little tired on the last lap, but I’m happy.”
Ransom used two spares in prone, rising to ninth, and then two more in standing to drop one spot to 10th.
“I saw eight and ninth ahead of me on the climbs,” she recalled. “You’re just gunning for those and didn’t look back.”
In her first World Championships relay, Ransom said she was “terrified” to anchor, “mainly because I saw the start list and saw a lot of medalists hanging out in the fourth [leg] with me.
“In zero I was pretty nervous, but you quickly fall back into race mode,” she added. “Even though you start with [Belarusian Darya] Domracheva, you put it aside. Once I was on the track and I could feel like I could ski like myself it was fun and I loved it.”
Overall, the Canadians were pleased with their performance, with two relative newcomers on the team. While it’s Vaillancourt’s second World Championships, this season was her first full time on the World Cup.
“[Last night], we talked about that if we all bring our A-game, a top 10 is realistic and a top eight would be the perfect race,” Crawford said.
“I don’t think that we can say that we had a perfect performance as a team today, so I think that makes it even more awesome that we made our goal,” Heinicke said. “We have been mixing up our relays a ton this year. This is only the second time us four have raced together and we have never had this order. Lots of experiment; it’s been good.”
Dunklee Fastest First Leg
The Americans tied their season best in 12th, with Susan Dunklee, Hannah Dreissigacker, Annelies Cook, and Clare Egan. Despite starting in the seventh of nine rows at the start, Dunklee skied the fastest course time of all the first legs to put her team in third, 3.7 seconds behind Poland, which led through the first exchange.
“I almost prefer starting in one of the back rows,” Dunklee explained in an email after the race. “I love the rush of having to maneuver through the pack and chase people down. It just feels like a really fun game. It helps a lot that my fitness is in peak form right now, and the course suits my strengths with that big wall climb.”
By the 1.3 k checkpoint, Dunklee had skied up to second behind Hildebrand.
“I don’t know how Susan just careened to the front of the pack like that,” Heinicke observed. “It was pretty impressive. I was in the second half and it was the most aggressive mass start I have ever been in, so much bumping and ski stepping and poles. It was a little bit chaotic and also exciting.”
Dunklee held her position in second entering the range for the first time, where she used two spares and had some trouble unhooking her sling from her arm. Dunklee left the range in 21st, 26.5 seconds behind Hildebrand, who cleaned without any spares.
The American spent the next lap skiing up to 12th before cleaning her standing stage to improve to seventh. Poland’s Monika Hojnisz cleaned her second-straight stage without any spares to take the lead, 2.4 seconds ahead of Russia.
Meanwhile, Dunklee left the range 14 seconds back in seventh. Over the next lap, she skied back up to third, tagging Dreissigacker 3.7 seconds out of the lead.
“I’m getting used to that; I expect Susan to hand off to me in the top five at least,” Dreissigacker said. “I should be getting better at it, and I still seem to be struggling with get being put in that position. I think I’ve always liked being one of the chasers not one of the chased.”
Coming into the range for the first time, Dreissigacker was fourth behind Poland, Italy and Russia, respectively. There, she had to use three spares to hit all of her targets.
“I kind of pulled off two shots accidentally, just way too fast with the trigger,” Dreissigacker explained. “I think I was a little excited, my fingers had gone a little bit number for some reason. … Using the third spare is always really bittersweet. You’re bummed that you had to use three, but you’re always so happy you hit that last one and didn’t do a penalty loop.”
She left the range in 11th, 37 seconds behind Russia up front. In standing, Dreissigacker used two spares to head out for her final lap in 10th.
“Hoping that one of these days I can use not quite so many spares,” she said.
Dreissigacker tagged Cook in 10th, 1:06 out of the lead. Cook used two spares in each stage to hand off to Egan in 11th, 2:05.4 back.
“That is not like awesome shooting, but I think we all had a little bit of the nightmare of the last relay, where we had six penalty loops, in the back of our head,” Cook said, referring to the last World Cup relay in Oslo, Norway, where the Americans were in 18th before being lapped. “So we were all kind of like, ‘OK! I’m really happy that didn’t happen again!’ I felt really good skiing and it was fun. I felt like I was in the mix, which is exciting.”
In terms of team goals, she said they didn’t target a specific place.
“We didn’t do that many relays this year [and] we’ve got some new faces,” Cook said. “I think for us, it is just about getting experience … We have had a pretty steady relay team the last few years so now we are kind of rebuilding that up. Today we just wanted to have fun and to feel like after the race, we would all be in good moods and happy.”
In her first World Championships, Egan anchored the U.S. to 12th, 3:44.8 behind Germany and 0.8 seconds out of 11th. The 27-year-old US Biathlon development skier cleaned her first stage to move into eighth after prone, then used three standing spares, which put her back in 13th.
“I wish I had just used two [spares] because we would have been 10th instead of 12th,” Egan said, estimating it takes her about 20 seconds to load each spare. “That is my only regret. I got really close … I passed one person and I finished within a second [of 11th].
“This is my first relay that I have not had two penalty laps in standing. So big improvement for me,” she added. “I just tried to ski my own race and remember that I am always trying to gain experience.”
At the end of the day, Dunklee pointed out that 12th matched their best result of the season.
“It certainly wasn’t a perfect performance and there were several teams within reach ahead of us. I think it is good to be hungry for a higher place and know the possibility is there, but this was also result we can finish the season feeling proud of,” she wrote.
— Topher Sabot contributed reporting
- 2015 IBU World Championships
- 4 x 6 k relay
- Anais Bescond
- Annelies Cook
- Audrey Vaillancourt
- Clare Egan
- Daria Virolaynen
- Dorothea Wierer
- Ekaterina Glazyrina
- Ekaterina Shumilova
- Ekaterina Yurlova
- Enora Latuilliere
- Franziska Hildebrand
- Franziska Preuss
- Gabriela Soukalova
- German women's relay
- Hannah Dreissigacker
- Julia Ransom
- Justine Braisaz
- Karin Oberhofer
- Kontiolahti World Championships
- Laura Dahlmeier
- Lisa Vittozzi
- Marie Dorin Habert
- Megan Heinicke
- Nicole Gontier
- Rosanna Crawford
- Susan Dunklee
- Vanessa Hinz
- women's 4 x 6 k relay
- Women's Relay
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.