Note: This article has been updated to include comments from Rosanna Crawford.
For a few minutes, it looked like Biathlon Canada’s Rosanna Crawford could clutch her second podium in her second-straight individual race in Ruhpolding, Germany, in the women’s 12.5-kilometer mass start on Sunday. Maybe it could even be the first World Cup victory of her career.
After cleaning also the 20th of 20 targets — as the only competitor to achieve that on Sunday in the elite mass start field of just 30 athletes — Crawford headed out on the final loop 16 seconds ahead of Czech Republic’s Veronika Vitkova, with Finland’s Kaisa Mäkäräinen and Germany’s Laura Dahlmeier a few additional seconds behind, all of them former World Cup winners and world champions.
“I was really surprised to leave the range in 1st, these are the 30 best women in the world,” Crawford wrote in an email.
On the prior loop, Crawford had lost just about ten seconds to those three and Darya Domracheva of Belarus, before passing them on the range with her flawless shooting. Mäkäräinen and Dahlmeier each incurred a penalty, having to ski 150 extra meters before they could return to the course to chase after her, while Vitkova had also remained clean in that stage.
But would the Canadian’s lead be large enough to reach the finish first, keeping some of the strongest skiers of the field at bay?
Anxiously looking behind several times, Crawford was overtaken by Dahlmeier and Mäkäräinen, but kept Vitkova behind her to stay in podium contention. Yet her lead was dwindling.
Out of the final downhill in a meandering section of turns, Mäkäräinen moved in front of Dahlmeier and held that ski-length lead into the finish. She crossed the line in a time of 34:05.6 minutes (with two penalties), with Dahlmeier just 0.8 seconds behind (also with two penalties) before collapsing to catch her breath.
Cheered on from the side of the track by coaches and teammates, Crawford remained in front right until the little tree branches marking the finishing lanes, but Vitkova was already on her tails.
“I really thought if I made it to the stadium in front of Vitkova I’d be able to hold her off, but she had the slip stream and I my legs just felt like concrete,” Crawford wrote.
Choosing the lane to her right, Vitkova pushed hard and managed to outsprint Crawford to the line for third (+4.6, with two penalties) while Crawford finished 0.6 seconds back in fourth (+5.2, with no penalties). For Crawford, the result was her career best in a mass start, and she received many congratulations from her peers and the ovations from thousands of spectators during the flower ceremony following the race.
“I would have love to hold onto a podium but was pretty dead on my last loop,” she continued, adding that she had woken up to a sore throat and congestion on Saturday, which persisted on Sunday. “In hindsight it was a mistake to be looking over my shoulder to see how close they were, I really should have just kept pushing, but this being a position I’ve never been in before I was pretty overwhelmed! Next time I will just keep fighting till I cross that red line in the snow! But having the two of the strongest women chasing me down was a bit scary! Kaisa is so fast and Laura I’m sure wanted to give the fans what they came for, a German podium!
“I was pretty disappointed when I crossed the line in 4th, but as time went by I got more and more happy,” she added. “To have hit another 20/20 is fantastic, especially in the high pressure situation of a Mass Start. With that race I went 50/50 in Ruhpolding!”
Germany’s Denise Herrmann followed in fifth (+16.7), almost making up for a penalty lap in each of the four stages by also skiing the fastest course time on each loop. Domracheva finished sixth (+23.7) after she had missed two more targets in the final standing stage (0+0+1+2).
For Vitkova it was the second podium of the season, after another third place in the sprint in Oberhof, Germany.
“I knew that Kaisa and Laura are behind me,“ Vitkova said of the exciting last loop in the post-race press conference. “My feeling on the skis was very good, and I believed that I can catch Rosanna. … It was very nice, now we have Olympic season and my results are better and better, so I am very happy.”
For Mäkäräinen, it was her first victory of the season and 22nd overall in her career. She also moved into the lead in the overall World Cup Total Score, 19 points ahead of Slovakia’s Anastasia Kuzmina in second.
“I appreciate silver and bronze a lot, too, since all podium places mean you had a good race, but victory is victory,” Mäkäräinen said in the press conference. “We were skiing quite fast all the last loop, I was on my limit all the time. … Happy that it ended this way.”
Dahlmeier, coming off a cold that forced her to forego the previous week of races in Oberhof, Germany, was satisfied with her result as well, despite narrowly missing out on another victory in front of her fans after anchoring her relay team to a win on Saturday.
“It was a lot of fun today, a really great race that had everything, suspense at the shooting range, a fight on the loop … and incredibly exciting with that finish sprint,” Dahlmeier told German broadcaster ZDF after the flower ceremony, according to a translation. “For me this was the perfect race to close out the week in Ruhpolding.”
“It was like Kaisa said, a really fast loop for us,” Dahlmeier later explained in the press conference. “We had really good equipment today, so for me it was a little bit easier on the downhill parts. We [caught] Rosanna Crawford, and I was in front on the last hill up the [shooting range climb]. Then we had the final sprint, and Kaisa was a little bit faster than me today. But I am very happy about this second place, and I think it is a really good sign that I am in good shape.”
As Crawford had told FasterSkier following her podium in the individual race, she considers Ruhpolding a “special place”, after she raced her first Junior World Championships there in 2008, her first World Cup in there in 2010, and on Thursday, her first World Cup podium (when she was third in the 15 k individual). She has followed that up with another one of her best results of her career.
“The crowd was amazing in Ruhpolding this whole week! I loved having my first podium at one of the most popular World Cup venues,” she wrote. “We had incredible skis all week and our techs worked so hard, a big shout out to them! I think none of them have voices this morning from cheering so hard in yesterday’s race!!”
And regardless of whether or not Crawford reached the podium on Sunday, multiple-time World Champion Dahlmeier pointed out, “There is no big difference even between a place in the 40s or a victory,” she said of the ups and downs of her weekend and the sport in general during the press conference. “With the shooting, you can have one or two [misses] more and you are somewhere out of the best 30. Then the next day you can win a race or be on the podium … That’s the difference between cross-country and biathlon, and that’s why we love it.”
J.T. Bø Wins Men’s Mass Start Ahead of Fourcade; Burke 21st
Earlier on Sunday, US Biathlon’s Tim Burke successfully cleaned the first two stages in the men’s 15 k mass start to stay in contention for a top position. He left the range in 11th position and just 8 seconds behind the pace set by World Cup leader Martin Fourcade of France in first and his Norwegian rival Johannes Thingnes Bø in second.
“The atmosphere was great out on the course today with 25,000 fans,” Burke wrote in and email to FasterSkier. “No matter how many times I have done this, racing in that environment is always exciting.”
Then Burke missed the last shot in his first standing bout and had to ski a penalty lap. He came back on the course in 13th, just ahead of Fourcade who had incurred two penalties in that stage. Then Burke skied the fifth-fastest course time on the next loop, trying to again close a gap to the group ahead.
“I felt decent throughout the race but am definitely looking forward to racing on some different courses that better suit my strengths,” Burke wrote. “Ruhpolding is filled with short, steep climbs that are almost always followed by some type of recovery. Because of that, it ends up being an endless cycle of sprint then recover, which is definitely not my forte.”
After he missed two more targets in the final standing stage, Burke lost 10 positions and another 50 seconds to the leaders, leaving the range in 23rd. On the final loop he made up two places, passing Norway’s Lars Helge Birkeland and Bulgaria’s Krasimir Anev, to finish 21st (+1:30.2, with three penalties).
“Overall, I am happy with where I am at right now,” wrote Burke, who placed fourth in a 10 k sprint at the previous World Cup in Oberhof. “I just have to work on a few small details and then a top result should be possible.”
Ahead of Burke, the mass start was decided when Johannes Bø extended his lead on the fourth loop before the final shooting to almost 20 seconds, then returned to the course in first place despite a penalty in the last standing.
On the last loop he defended his lead ahead of three French athletes with Antonin Guigonnnat, Quentin Fillon Maillet and Fourcade chasing after him. Though Bø skied the second-fastest course time overall, he lost 14 seconds to Fourcade on the last loop and crossed the finish line 4.5 seconds ahead of Fourcade in 37:11.2 minutes (with one penalty).
At the press conference, Bø acknowledged that he was worried Fourcade would catch him.
“I was thinking about it when I saw him out on the tracks there, but I tried to just stay in my own lane for the tracks, and it was very good practice to stay on the lead on the last lap,” Bø said. “It’s very tough, mentally, and you just have to think forward and not so much about the people behind.
“When you fight for the win, you don’t want to be weak, you know?” Bø added when asked what gave him strength on that last loop. “So it’s just to be happy with the pain in the legs and ski as fast as you can.”
Fourcade — who temporarily dropped to 15th following two misses in the third stage — could not quite catch Bø and settled for second (+4.5), with two penalties (0+0+2+0).
“It was a really good fight at the front of the competition,” Fourcade said inatthe press conference. “I didn’t take enough time to be stable on my [first standing stage] and I missed two, but I think I could [have missed] three on that; it was a really bad one. … I knew that with two mistakes advantage, it would be really hard to come back on Johannes, and when I saw that he missed only one on the last shooting, I knew that it was already over for me.”
So he focused on at least catching his teammates Guigonnat and Fillon Maillet on the final loop, who had left the range in second and third, respectively.
“It was really special to fight with them because we know each other — our strong points and our weaknesses,” Fourcade said. “I knew that I had to be really faster than Antonin before the last finish [stretch], because he’s a really good sprinter.”
Fourcade’s 26-year-old teammate Guigonnat, who had been called up to the French World Cup team for the last three races, finished third place (+8.4, with no penalty). It was the second World Cup podium of his career, following up on another third place in the sprint in Annecy, France, earlier this season.
“I didn’t feel much pressure because I’m clearly an outsider, so nobody’s cheering for me, I think,” Guigonnat modestly said in the press conference. “And the other guys, they are fighting each other for maybe the yellow bib [of the World Cup leader] or things like this, and then I just do my job and that’s it.”
Fillon Maillet finished fourth (+12.6, with one penalty), and Bø’s older brother Tarjei Bø placed fifth (+14.2, with one penalty) after he made up by five positions on the final loop.
Burke learned Saturday that he could race the 30-man mass start, after being listed as the third alternate based on his current World Cup Total Score. After Sunday’s race, he’s up to 26th in the overall standings.
“A few athletes in front of me were sick so they decided to sit out,” Burke explained in his email. “This is very normal for a mass start, you can usually count on 1 to 3 athletes sitting out. I ended up doing that earlier this season [for the World Cup in Annecy] when I sat out the Mass Start because of a cold.“
Aside from Crawford and Burke, no other North Americans qualified for Sunday’s mass starts via the top-25 positions in the World Cup Total Scores, respectively the five best results of those outside those ranks in the individual race.
The IBU World Cup continues in Antholz, Italy, with sprints on Thursday, Jan. 18 for the women and Friday, Jan. 19 for the men.
“My fiancée will come down, so I’m looking forward to have her on her first World Cup outside Norway, so that will be fun,” Bø revealed when asked about Antholz at the press conference.
“That’s good news for me, because he will be really tired for competitions,” Fourcade quipped, as both laughed.
Fourcade continues to lead Bø in the Total Score standings, now just 44 points ahead with 666 points.
— Andrea Pontyondy-Smith contributed
Harald has been following cross-country skiing and biathlon for some 20 years since the Olympic Winter Games in Albertville and Lillehammer. A graduate of Middlesex University London and Harvard University, he now lives near the Alps where he likes to go skiing, snowboarding and hiking. He is a former track athlete in middle-distance running, as well as a huge NBA fan.