OSLO, Norway—Hannah Dreissigacker didn’t even know if she would be competing at World Championships this season. A month ago, the 2014 Olympian was on the IBU Cup, and floundering.
But she began to turn things around, and then turned in top-30 results in Canmore, Alberta, and Presque Isle, Maine, when she was moved up to the World Cup.
So on Thursday she found herself leading the World Championships mixed relay after receiving the tag from Susan Dunklee in first place, and on Saturday she placed 18th in the 7.5 kilometer sprint, a season best.
“It’s funny how fast your expectations can change I guess,” Dreissigacker said after the race. “Definitely there was a little while after Christmas where I was racing on the IBU Cup and doing badly that I thought I might not even come here. That really re-set my expectations, so that I had to re-think and say, I need to race for myself and I need to have fun and enjoy it and do the best I can do in these last few races… It’s funny though, because as soon as you start to do well again, you want to do well and you want to do better.”
With Dunklee placing eighth, the Vermonters’ one-two punch was one of the best World Championship days for the U.S. women’s team ever.
“I’m really excited for Hannah too,” U.S. Biathlon Association President and CEO Max Cobb said after discussing Dunklee’s result. “That was a super performance. Her best of the season so far… I’m so excited that we have two women in the top 20!”
Dreissigacker shot clean, and was able to ski the 48th fastest ski time to land in the top 20.
“It’s biathlon,” Dreissigacker said. “You can always wish you did something better. Today I guess I wish I skied better since I shot well. But I gave it everything I had. I felt like I actually paced myself pretty well so I could still push it on the last lap.”
The other two American women will miss the pursuit. Annelies Cook was ill in the run-up to World Championships and couldn’t find her legs. Despite a single penalty, she landed 63rd and said she was disappointed not to be able to use some speed on the final loop.
Clare Egan finished 84th after taking only a single penalty, but forgetting her penalty loop and accruing a two-minute penalty as a result.
On the men’s side, Tim Burke finished 14th (+1:09.1) with one penalty and Leif Nordgren was a season-best 18th (+1:16.8) with clean shooting.
“Finally I put good shooting together,” Nordgren said. “Zero-zero, that’s the first time in a long time in a sprint. That’s what I needed today. You know, for me it’s been kind of a bad year as a whole. So it’s nice to finally have a good one at World Champs.”
Burke had a similar feeling, after having many races this year where things just didn’t go his way.
“I feel like I was headed definitely in the right direction, in Canmore and Presque Isle,” Burke said. “It was really good for me. I think today was a good start to World Champs. I felt good, but I wasn’t great. Sometimes I struggle a little bit with the taper. The first race back is a challenge for me. I was a little bit flat today but I really expect to feel better and better each race.”
All four Americans will be in the pursuit, with Lowell Bailey finishing 29th (+1:34.8) and Sean Doherty 43rd (+1:56.5).
“I’m really happy with it,” Doherty said of his effort. “I’m really happy with it. I felt very strong skiing, which was really fun. It’s nice to have the shape come around for the Champs here. And I shot one penalty each time, which I mean that’s not perfect, but I can’t really complain either. I felt really good… It’s nice to belong in this field. It really is fun, it’s really fun. Instead of being the little kid who is kind of wide-eyed with everything, it’s fun to really be here to race and fit in.”
Crawford Leads Canada
Rosanna Crawford was the top Canadian, finishing 29th in the women’s sprint. With one penalty she was one minute and 34 seconds behind race winner Tiril Eckhoff of Norway.
“Shooting nine out of ten is my curse,” she joked. “I don’t think I’ll ever be able to hit ten for ten.”
That said, Crawford was happy that her ski form was coming around after competing while ill in the Canmore World Cup.
“It took a long time to get rid of that sore throat,” she said. “I had a sore throat for about, oh, 27 days. I was able to train through, though, and just to be at home was nice, and to be around my family and my dog and get to ski the trails that I never get to ski. It was a good recovery for us.”
She will be joined in Sunday’s pursuit by Julia Ransom, who placed 50th (+2:14.6) with one penalty.
Sarah Beaudry finished 71st with two penalties and Zina Kocher 82nd with five penalties.
“I had one huge standing mistake,” Ransom said. “I could see that I almost didn’t even hit the backboard. I just pulled it too soon and wasn’t really ready. But other than that, it was good. I’m feeling more like myself on skis.”
This is the second World Championships for the Kelowna, British Columbia native. And she can tell the difference.
“My World Championships last year, it was the first pursuit I ever made so I was pumped, I think I finished 58th or something,” she said. “It is nice to feel like I’m competing more instead of just participating.”
For Sunday’s pursuit, she’s hoping she can replicate a performance in Antholz, Italy, earlier this year, where she cleaned all four stages and moved up from 46th to 19th.
And she’s also simply enjoying competing in Oslo for the first time.
“Oslo is amazing,” she gushed. “You can hear the rumbles of cheers from our hotel.Last year I went home for a few weeks rest, so I’ve been looking forward to this for a long time. Holmenkollen is the place to be. And it’s above and beyond my expectations.”
For the Canadian men, Brendan Green was tops with one penalty in 35th (+1:44.1). Like the rest of the team, before World Championships Green had not competed since the Canmore World Cups, having skipped Presque Isle to train.
“We’ve had a little longer break away from racing than we usually do, but I think there were positives in that,” he said. “Especially for myself, with my back I was able to give it a rest after Canmore. And that allowed the team to get a solid block of training in. So in terms of our preparation it went more or less exactly as planned. It’s still early in the Championships so hopefully we can build on it and it goes up from here.”
Nathan Smith was disappointed with three penalties in standing, ending up 46th (+1:58.7) and Scott Gow was one spot back with a single penalty (+2:03.6).
“Standing was a disaster,” Smith said. “I missed three standing. I think my skiing was good, but you have to shoot well too, right?”
Macx Davies also made the cut in the pursuit, making the Canadian men’s team four for four.
In his first senior World Championships, Davies, like Ransom, is soaking up the Oslo scene.
“Coming through my last loop, [Ole Einar] Bjørndalen passed me by a little bit, so I came through the stadium just after him,” Davies explained. “I was finishing as he was shooting. The whole crowd was going up. It was impressive.”
Chelsea Little is FasterSkier's Editor-At-Large. A former racer at Ford Sayre, Dartmouth College and the Craftsbury Green Racing Project, she is a PhD candidate in aquatic ecology in the @Altermatt_lab at Eawag, the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology in Zurich, Switzerland. You can follow her on twitter @ChelskiLittle.