It was a pursuit race, but it must have felt more like a mass start.
The first four women all started within the first three seconds of one another in Saturday’s 10-kilometer pursuit at the IBU World Cup in Ruhpolding, Germany. Franziska Hildebrand of Germany started first, followed by Gabriela Soukalova of the Czech Republic, Finland’s Kaisa Mäkäräinen, and another German, Laura Dahlmeier in fourth.
Hildebrand and Mäkäräinen didn’t hold on to their top spots, each accruing too many penalties in such a tight field to remain competitive for a spot on the podium. After an initial miss in the first prone shooting took her out, Hildebrand ended up ninth and 1:24.3 behind the eventual winner with four penalties (1+0+1+2). Behind her, Mäkäräinen took 13th (+1:52.1) after skiing five penalty laps (0+1+2+2).
But Dahlmeier and Soukalova stayed neck-and-neck at the front of the race, each earning one penalty — Dahlmeier on the second-to-last stage, Soukalova on the final standing stage. Dahlmeier passed Soukalova on the last lap, much to the delight of the German crowd, holding on to win by 7.3 seconds in 32:35.9.
Ruhpolding’s already-sloppy course got worse, along with the weather, as the race went on. Light rain ensured mushy conditions, a factor that Soukalova cited in losing her lead to Dahlmeier. “Traditionally, I am not very strong on the last loop,” the runner-up said in a post-race press conference. “Besides, I am not very light for this kind of snow.”
Italy’s Dorothea Wierer moved up from sixth to claim the final podium spot in third (+53.6) despite two penalties (0+1+0+1). She led a tight pack into the finish, including Norway’s Tiril Eckhoff in fourth (+57.3), France’s Marie Dorin Habert in fifth (+57.5), and Slovakia’s Paulina Fialkova in sixth (+1:01).
American Susan Dunklee started 11th and finished 15th (+2:04.1) in a sprint to the line with Karin Oberhofer, edging the Italian by 0.1 seconds.
Over the four-stage race, Dunklee accrued three penalties, all of which came in the last two standing stages (0+0+2+1).
“It was one of those days when it is difficult to apply any sort of power effectively without simply wasting energy,” Dunklee explained in an email. “The race started great. … I moved up as far as 6th.”
However, she experienced some technical difficulties, and lost a clip while putting her rifle back on after the second prone stage. She got a new one, but “I didn’t do a perfect job of regaining control of my focus before beginning shooting,” she explained. She missed two shots in next shooting stage.
Julia Ransom was Canada’s top finisher, gaining four spots to finish 45th (+4:19.6), with two misses (0+0+1+1), followed by teammate Sarah Beaudry, who improved one place to 54th (+6:12.4) with three penalties (0+1+0+2). American Annelies Cook started 43rd and finished 58th (+7:50.6) with eight penalties (1+2+3+2).
This was a big week for fans of American skiing, and Dunklee was not immune to the excitement of the U.S. Ski Team’s success at the Tour de Ski.
“I had an exciting sprint battle with Karin Oberhofer of Italy for 15th place,” Dunklee wrote. “Inspired from watching the Tour de Ski all week, I thought it was the perfect opportunity to use a finishing lunge. The good news: I outlunged Karin. The bad news: I broke my rifle stock when I crashed after the line.”
Was it worth it?
“Worth it, I think. The stock will be fixed by tomorrow.”
Dunklee will start Sunday’s 12.5 k mass start in bib 23 (of 30). Race starts at 8:45 a.m. Eastern time. Watch here.