Clare Egan had been hoping for a top 60 in the International Biathlon Union (IBU) World Cup sprint on Saturday. That’s what she needed to qualify for Sunday’s pursuit in Östersund, Sweden.
To meet that goal, she aimed to push herself out of her comfort zone in the 7.5 k sprint, she wrote in an email after the race. The newest member of U.S. women’s World Cup team, she also wanted to stay “calm and confident” while shooting. Two days ago, Egan shot 17-for-20 in a four-stage race to place 44th in the 15 k individual. That was her second-best finish on the World Cup.
Imagine how she felt after placing 16th for a career best on Saturday.
“I knew that with clean shooting I would do well,” Egan reflected.
It had been raining, hailing and snowing before their race, she explained, but all of that stopped before the first woman started. The men had to deal with more unfortunate elements in the earlier race, and just one of the 100-plus men in the field cleaned: 22-year-old Canadian Macx Davies.
“It was stable weather throughout [our] race, clear and light wind,” Egan wrote. “I think the track got a bit faster as it got skied-in so that was to my advantage as a late starter.”
She started 90th, giving her enough time to “chill out in the cafeteria and eat cookies,” she wrote. Once on course, she quickly found that she had “excellent skis,” as proven by a downhill approach to the stadium followed by a flat 300-meter stretch into the range.
“I coasted almost the entire way to the shooting point, which definitely helped my shooting,” she explained.
Egan cleaned prone to put herself in 27th, then standing to rank 15th with one lap to go. She finished 15th and was ultimately bumped one place to 16th, 1:05.3 behind race winner Gabriela Soukalova of the Czech Republic and 0.1 second behind Sweden’s Elisabeth Högberg in 15th.
“I saw on the big screen that that I was around 10th leaving the range for the last lap, and then all of our staff members were out on the course screaming for me,” Egan wrote. “Unfortunately it was once of these situations where the first coach told me I was 2 seconds out of the top-10, the second coach told me I was 2 seconds out of 12th, then 2 seconds out of 14th, and so on, so I was just trying to get to the finish line as quickly as possible.
“I had the 40th-fastest ski time today, which is much better than my 59th rank from Thursday’s individual, and I hope to continue on that trajectory as I get into race shape,” she added.
Last January, Egan shot a perfect 10-for-10 in an IBU Cup sprint in Ridnaun, Italy, which qualified her for her first World Cup. While she was proud of that shooting result, she explained Saturday’s 16th was “sweet in a different way because this is a much higher level.”
She also had to consider the training she’s been through to get to the World Cup this season. Egan explained she “narrowly qualified” for the World Cup team this fall, “so I am relieved to be outperforming my summer self. I don’t want to get hung up on the meaning of one result, because biathlon is very volatile, but it gives me confidence that the work I am doing is good and that I am on the right track,” she wrote.
After performing well enough at two sets of team trials in August and October, Egan was named the World Cup team in early November. Asked what she had hoped for in terms of results her first season starting on the World Cup, she wrote, “Not these ones!!!”
Egan will start Sunday’s pursuit in 16th, 1:05 behind Soukalova.
“I want to use the head-to-head competition to push my ski speed, and then be really diligent about sticking to my own routine on the range,” Egan wrote of her goal for Sunday. “If I do those two things I will be happy with my race. And I want to enjoy the opportunity to ski with some extremely fast women.”
Along with Egan, Annelies Cook qualified for the pursuit for the U.S. in 25th. She finished 1:23.6 behind the winner with a single standing miss for the fourth-best result of her career.
“It was super fun to perform in the way that I expect from myself,” Cook wrote in an email. “My goals today were to let go of the Individual race and not let that shooting haunt me.”
She placed 91st in the 15 k individual on Thursday, with nine one-minute penalties.
“I am just happier to be skiing better than I have in the last two years,” Cook wrote on Saturday. “And after I missed standing, I just wanted to be able to dig deep and allow myself to hurt and see where that would get me. I finished in 18th and I knew that I would most likely move back a bit, but I figured it might be good enough to be a top 30 at the end of the day.”
She’ll start 1:24 back in the pursuit with three others: Norway’s Marte Olsbu, who placed 26th on Saturday, Canada’s Zina Kocher in 27th, and France’s Coline Varcin in 28th.
Kocher and Canadian teammate Rosanna Crawford finished in the top 30, with Crawford leading the way in 22nd with two misses (1+1). Kocher cleaned prone and missed one standing.
“With 1 miss, I had hoped to be within the top 20 or better but I am still happy with the result because I gave everything I had today,” Kocher wrote. “It’s only the 1st week & it’s always been my pattern that I need a few races to pick up the speed. After what I went through last year, this start to the season feels amazing.”
On Thursday, she placed 98th in the 15 k with nine penalties.
“I’m stoked to be back on the World Cup,” Kocher wrote. “I’m feeling stronger & mentally in a way better head space that last year. … I am only focusing one day at a time and will find out on Sunday whether I continue to the WC2 [World Cup 2], or to the IBU Cup.”
Crawford placed 13th in the 15 k, and last year at the same venue, she was 12th in the sprint.
“I know the ski speed isn’t the same right now, so I was hoping to stay in the top 20,” Crawford wrote. “I am a bit disappointed with this result, I think more because I got to see how unlucky the men had it … So with our conditions I expected a lot more, but any day you have a top 30 is a pretty good day.
“It’s amazing to see how things have changed for me in the sport,” she added. “This is what you want, to keep striving for that perfect race and to always be challenging yourself.”
She noted that it was a tight sprint, with just 2 minutes and 20 seconds separating the top 60. Also qualifying for Canada was Julia Ransom in 32nd (+1:37.7), with one prone miss, and Megan Tandy in 46th (+2:00; 1+1).
“Skiing felt great!” Ransom wrote, after posting her career best by 20 places. “I love this course because you get the hard work done in the beginning and then get to play all the way back to the range.
“Making world cup points feels like a door has been opened to the top 30,” she added. “I would love to walk through that door tomorrow, but ultimately I just want to have a solid race to be proud of.”
American Susan Dunklee started early and led early on in the sprint after a clean prone, but missed four standing to end up 64th (+2:25.5). Hannah Dreissigacker placed 91st (+3:57) with five misses (3+2).
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.