Nathan Smith, 1st place, Khanty-Mansiysk World Cup pursuit
Canadian biathlete Nathan Smith saved his best performance for last, earning the first win of his career in the penultimate race of the World Cup season. After placing fifth in the sprint in Khanty-Mansiysk, Russia, Smith executed a flawless race in the 12.5-kilomter pursuit to pick up a 24-second victory. Not only was it the first win for him, but the first for both Canada and North America as a whole since December of 2012.
Smith skied the fourth loop of the race alone in the lead, then came into the range and missed a shot. After his penalty loop, he found himself still in the lead.
The performance was perhaps all the more impressive since Canada was operating with a skeleton crew for the Siberia season finale: just head coach Matthias Ahrens, head wax tech Tom Zidek, and three athletes were there. That meant that out on course, Smith was all alone.
“I wasn’t totally relaxed,” Smith said after the race. “We only have one support guy here, Tom, and so I didn’t get that many splits. I just got one leaving the stadium when Tom said those guys were still in the loop. So I knew I had maybe 25 seconds. I kept going hard until the last climb and then I knew I was safe.”
And once he reached the line?
“I could enjoy the final finish stretch and have that moment,” he said.
Rosanna Crawford, 4th place, Pokljuka World Cup sprint
Canada’s Rosanna Crawford had her moment just before Christmas. Coming off of a fifth-place performance the previous week, she set a new best of fourth place in the 7.5 k sprint in Pokljuka, Slovenia. Coming down with a cold, Crawford hadn’t even been sure she would start – but she did, and doubled down on a course that suited her perfectly.
“This course also played really well to my strengths,” she told FasterSkier at the time. “There are 3 dipsy dodalies (as Matthias calls them!) right before the range/finish, I really made sure to push hard over the hills and to be fast on the downhills. Since it’s a downhill finish here you really need to start making your move on that 1st of 3 hills.”
It was the closest a North American woman came to the podium all year and was fueled by a furious last lap by Crawford. That made up for one penalty on the range, and propelled her past a few clean-shooting opponents.
“I think a big part of this season has been not having expectations going into my races,” Crawford said. “I think being a bit sick yesterday and not feeling great in my warm up definitely let me relax a bit, not as much pressure since I wasn’t feeling.”