The IBU World Cup kicked off in Östersund, Sweden, on Sunday, with a doubleheader of mixed relay action. Perhaps not surprisingly, two of the most dominant teams of last season picked up wins: Norway and France.
Norway topped the 2 x 6 k + 2 x 7.5 k mixed relay, with the United States team of Susan Dunklee, Clare Egan, Lowell Bailey, and Tim Burke eighth (+2:38.5) and the Canadian team of Julia Ransom, Megan Tandy, Scott Gow, and Brendan Green 22nd (lapped).
In the single mixed relay, French dream duo Marie Dorin Habert and Martin Fourcade came out on top. Canada’s Rosanna Crawford and Nathan Smith finished seventh (+1:44.7) and Americans Joanne Reid and Leif Nordgren 19th (lapped).
Besides being the first race of the season, with all of the excitement and jitters that entails, Östersund had some big wind gusts in store for the World Cup field. Here are some reactions from the North American competitors.
On Testing Ski Speed for the First This Season
“The first race of the season is always an unknown, and a good way to let out the opening season jitters… I’m feeling pretty good about my prep and where I am right now, so I’m optimistic about the individual race in a few days. It’ll be a good way to really test the body and see what I can pull off in the range.”
-Scott Gow (CAN)
“You never know where you’re going to be going into the first race of the season. You do all this hard work and no matter how well you did it over the summer, there’s always this uncertainty for the first race. I was certainly hoping that I would be around here.”
-Susan Dunklee (USA), who led the mixed relay field at the first tag
“I knew there was a good chance that Susan would tag me in first place, so I was prepared for that scenario. She has led the first leg many times before, plus I witnessed firsthand the significant improvements she made over the summer, so I know she is at a very high level and I think we will see many more great things from her this winter.”
-Clare Egan (USA), who took the tag
“I did not expect to stay in front for as long as I did (about 1k), nor to be able to stay with the other women once they passed me. But I felt very comfortable in the lead pack, and that was a welcome confirmation that my summer training went well and that I am in great shape. No matter what stage of development you are at, it is a pivotal moment when you realize that the superstars are not superhuman. That happened yesterday for me!”
What About Shooting Speed?
“The biggest thing I was waiting to see was the shooting speed because I’ve put a lot of effort into bringing my shooting times down over the summer and I think that has paid off quite a bit. I mean, I missed three targets and had to use three spares so that slowed me down a little bit, but the rest of the shooting times were pretty quick… In the past I don’t think I would have had the chance of being tagging off in the lead with three spares, and now because my shooting speeds are a little bit faster it makes it possible, which is really cool.”
“I think the single mixed especially, because the ski length is the same as a [cross-country] sprint, has more focus on fast shooting and fast hand loading (the single bullet you load in a relay when you miss a shot), and I don’t have either of those skills down completely yet.”
-Joanne Reid (USA)
“When I came in for standing the wind had picked up and many of the athletes around me used all three spares and a few ended up in the penalty loop with me. The wind was part of my problem, but additionally I was nervous. There is a catch-22: if you are not confident, it’s almost impossible to shoot well, but if you don’t shoot well consistently, it is almost impossible to be confident. I am trying to work around that!”
-Egan, who cleaned prone with no spare rounds but was stuck with two penalty loops in standing
“Prone was somewhat normal for myself, with the windy range calling for one more spare. However, I think jet lag caught up to me a bit, making for a hard time on the skis, and an absolutely terrible time in the range (standing). I think it was a lack of mental sharpness that caused standing to unravel, which was not only disappointing but embarrassing because I know I’m better than that!”
-Julia Ransom, who led things off for Canada and also had two penalty loops in standing
“It was really good snow cover, but it rained a couple days ago and so all the sidewalks around town are still just sheet ice, and sheet ice under the snow. Some of the downhills, right in the corner where you want to turn you have to be really careful because you’re going to skid out. And also some of the uphills you had to be really careful about which side of the hill you went on, because some of it was all the snow on top was scraped off and it was sheet ice so that was tricky.”
“Three people fell in front of me in the first lap alone.”
“After my last shooting as I was rushing to get out of the range so I could go and tag to Nathan, I hit one of those ice patches and slipped as I was trying to put my pole on, and it just fell out of my hand. I was able to grab it really quick, but it’s still something that kind of throws off your rhythm. Luckily I didn’t have to go ski a whole loop, I just had to tag Nathan right away!”
-Rosanna Crawford (CAN)
“It was definitely tricky this evening with a lot of icy patches. My lower legs are feeling quite strained and a little painful now.”
-Nathan Smith (CAN)
“I was tagged fairly far back and unfortunately there weren’t very many people around me. There was one athlete about 30 seconds ahead and another about 30 seconds behind, so I was fighting to catch up to one and fighting to stay ahead of the other. For my leg of the race I was just trying to have a good personal performance and try to make up time where I could.”
“Today I am starting fresh and coming up with a plan to try to mitigate what happened yesterday for future performances. It’s always hard having those bad days when others are counting on you, but I am lucky to have such awesome, understanding teammates.”
“It’s hard to start out the season with a relay, since there’s more pressure than usual – there are other people depending on your ski speed and shooting accuracy… I don’t know which is worse- being the person that has to go into the penalty lap in the relay, or having to watch your relay teammate go into the penalty lap-yikes!”
-Reid, who had a penalty loop in her first shooting stage
Racing continues in Östersund on Wednesday with the women’s 15 k individual and on Thursday with the men’s 20 k individual.