IBU World Cup (Antholz, Italy): Women’s 7.5 k sprint
So far this season, Norway’s Tiril Eckhoff had yet to crack the top 20 outside a relay in the International Biathlon Union (IBU) World Cup. That all changed Thursday when she won the women’s 7.5-kilometer sprint in Antholz, Italy.
She did so by hitting all 10 targets and besting the time of Germany’s Laura Dahlmeier by 12 seconds at the finish.
“I was very nervous for today,” Eckhoff, 27, told German broadcaster ARD in English after the race. “My shooting has been really bad, and I wasn’t qualified for the sprint at the Olympics, and that has been my plan the whole season for the Olympics. So I am very happy to manage to do a good race and a clean shooting today.”
Eckhoff started 71st out of 103 women, then went on to clean prone and standing and ski the second-fastest overall course time in the process. In doing so, she not only topped Dahlmeier, who started ahead of her in bib 22, but also the Czech Republic’s Veronika Vitkova, who started 21st and posted the second-fastest finishing time after Dahlmeier — until Eckhoff crossed the line. Both Dahlmeier and Vitkova also shot clean.
“I only got positive feedback so I was really happy,” Eckhoff said of trying to beat the times of both Dahlmeier and Vitkova. “I was thinking against Dahlmeier I had to ski really really fast. Now I was very happy to manage that.”
While Eckhoff finished in 21:05.3, Dahlmeier placed second (+12.0) and Vitkova ended up third (+20.6).
“I am very happy about my second place,” Dahlmeier told ARD. “That was a really good race today. I tried to shoot well, because in general the tendency in Antholz is to shoot a few too many misses, so I just tried to start out calm on the course and focus on the shooting.”
Asked specifically about Eckhoff, who’s previous best sprint result this season was 50th (and season best was 22nd in a 15 k individual race), Dahlmeier said, “You probably always have to account for a Tiril Eckhoff. She is a bit of a mixed bag on the shooting range, maybe I wouldn’t quite have expected her to twice get through clean, but when she manages to do that she is right at the top. And she proved that again today.”
Darya Domracheva of Belarus skied the fastest overall course time but had one standing penalty (0+1) that kept her from the podium as she finished fourth (+23.0), and France’s Anais Bescond shot clean to place fifth (+26.6).
Russia’s Ekaterina Yurlova-Percht placed a season-best sixth (+39.4) with clean shooting, Italy’s Dorothea Wierer was seventh (+40.0, one penalty), Switzerland’s Elisa Gasparin eighth (+52.6; no penalties), and Germany’s Franziska Hildebrand and Denise Herrmann ninth (+54.2, no penalties) and 10th (+56.2, one penalty), respectively.
US Biathlon started four of the five women on its Olympic team in Antholz, with Susan Dunklee leading all North Americans in 35th (+1:49.5) after a prone miss and another in standing (1+1). Clare Egan finished 56th (+2:17.0) with three penalties (2+1), Emily Dreissigacker shot clean and finished 59th (+2:26.8), thus qualifying for Saturday’s pursuit (which will be her first at the World Cup level) in the sprint top 60. Joanne Reid was the only American to miss the top 60 in 72nd (+2:43.6) with two prone misses (2+0).
“I didn’t feel sharp on the skis and I struggled adjusting to the thin air of high altitude,” Dunklee said of the Antholz venue’s elevation around 1,600 meters (or 5,200 feet) above sea level, according to a US Biathlon press release. “I’m grateful to get another opportunity Saturday. I want to make the most of each race start as preparation for Korea. Three women in the pursuit – that’s a big step forward and a great place to see the team heading into the Games.”
“I definitely struggled with the altitude in the skiing, but I was really happy with my shooting and, of course, am very excited to have qualified for my first World Cup pursuit,” Dreissigacker said, according to the release.
“My shooting continues to be extremely disappointing,” Egan said. “But on the bright side I skied fast enough to give myself another chance on Saturday in the pursuit.”
Canada was led by Nadia Moser in 85th (+3:23.4) with two misses (1+1). Sarah Beaudry, who was recently named to Biathlon Canada’s Olympic team, followed in 87th (+3:30.4) with three penalties (2+1), and Megan Bankes finished 90th (+3:46.5) with four misses (1+3).
The Antholz World Cup men’s 10 k sprint takes place Friday at 8:15 a.m. EST.