On Saturday, Darya Domracheva watched as second place in the World Cup pursuit skied away from her.
She had stepped on competitor Dorothea Wierer’s pole in the final corner of the 10 k pursuit in Antholz, Italy, and felt it unsportsmanlike to try to beat Wierer to the finish when the Italian had only one ski pole. So she let Wierer go and settled for third.
In Sunday’s World Cup mass start, Domracheva was rewarded by some combination of karma, skill, and hard work, and rounded that same corner to the finish line all alone in first place to claim her second win of the season.
Nobody shot better than Domracheva, and only six other women matched her single penalty loop. The Belarusian left the shooting range after the fourth and final stage with just a 3.3-second lead on Slovakia’s Anastasiya Kuzmina, who missed three shots in total and was coming out of the penalty loop as Domracheva skated past.
“It was very tough race, and very slow snow conditions,” Domracheva said in a press conference of the abundant fresh snow that had fallen overnight and continued to fall off trees and onto the trails (and racers) during the competition. “So I understood from the start of the competition that it was really important to be focused on shooting today.”
But Domracheva was able to put the hammer down and extend the gap on Kuzmina, who had been the most dominant athlete of the first half of the season, and win by 11.9 seconds.
“I can say that today was quite a tough race for me,” Domracheva said. “The feeling was not so light. It was also not in the plan that here in Antholz would be very easy. So we are still in preparation, and it’s one very important step in my preparation for the next races.”
It was the last World Cup competition before the Olympics, where Domracheva will do her best to follow up on the three gold medals she won in Sochi in 2014.
Third place went to Kaisa Makarainen of Finland, who was frustrated by four missed shots and left the range (and penalty loop) the final time in eighth place. But in a stunning show of grit and speed, she charged past racer after racer; she had the fastest ski time of the day and that was particularly true on the last loop.
The Finn celebrated as she crossed the line 16.2 seconds behind Domracheva. That meant another podium – her fifth of the season – and two spots on Germany’s Laura Dahlmeier, thus hanging onto the yellow bib of the overall World Cup leader until racing resumes after the Olympics (which don’t count for World Cup points).
“I tried to ski as fast as possible and catch some places,” Makarainen said in the press conference. “I was not sure if I could catch the podium because it was quite a big gap. But I guess some other girls were more tired than me!”
Fourth place went to Norway’s Marte Olsbu (+22.6), fifth to Dahlmeier (+23.9), and sixth to her teammate Maren Hammerschmidt (+25.2).
Wierer had shot clean through three stages and led the race onto the shooting range the last time, to the thrill of the home crowd. But she missed two shots and ended the day in seventh, +29.4.
Fourcade Extends World Cup Lead with Another Win
While Norway’s Johannes Thingnes Bø came into the men’s 15 k mass start with two consecutive wins under his belt, he immediately missed two shots in the first prone stage, then two more in the next prone stage.
While Bø has turned in some of the most stunning performances on the World Cup this season, another man leads the standings, and that’s Martin Fourcade of France. Fourcade is nothing if not consistent and with only two missed shots in the mass start, he picked up his sixth win of the season.
“It’s good to find back this position in Antholz,” he said in a post-race press conference. “It’s only my second victory here. The first one was in the mass start in 2011, so it’s been a while and I’m very satisfied and happy to be back on top of the podium in Antholz.”
The last time Fourcade was off the podium was in the single mixed relay in Östersund, Sweden, in the very first race of the season, and the last time he was off the individual podium was back in Kontiolahti, Finland, in the second-to-last weekend of last season.
“The weekend was really nice,” Fourcade said. “I had not my best ski level on the first two competitions, but today felt really good on the skis and it gives me confidence for the Olympics… I want to keep my hunger from that last [bullet] I missed, to keep some things to work on for the Olympics.”
With the younger Bø out of the picture, the two men who ended up battling behind Fourcade were both still Norwegian: Tarjei Bø, the older brother in the family, and his teammate Erlend Bjøntegaard.
Former World Champion Bø won their sprint to the finish, crossing the line 2.8 seconds behind Fourcade (who had eased through the last few hundred meters after maintaining a big lead through the rest of the course), and Bjøntegaard picked up his first career podium in third (+5.1).
“It was quite fun actually,” Bjøntegaard said of his battle with Bø. “I’ve had a lot of hard sessions with that guy in the past two years. We were talking to each other on the fourth loop and the last loop, trying to exchange who was in front. I think that worked out quite well. I know that he is strong in the head, especially at the end, but I think I gave it a good shot and I really tried.”
After the Norwegians it was two Germans battling to the line, with Benedikt Doll taking fourth (+16.0) and Johannes Kuehn fifth (+18.3), each with two missed shots.
Johannes Bø struggled mightily against his five total penalties, and remarkably managed to make it up to sixth place, just 29.2 seconds behind Fourcade.
“I was taken by the wind, maybe,” the younger Bø told Norwegian broadcaster NRK. “It’s biathlon, it goes up and down.”
That made it four in the top seven for Norway, as Emil Hegle Svendsen rounded out the flower ceremony after shooting three penalties (+33.5).
The only American entry in either mass start, Tim Burke finished 22nd (+1:43.8) with four penalties.
No Canadians qualified for the mass starts.
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.