OSLO, Norway — In the last relay of French star Marie Dorin Habert’s career, she turned in a crucial performance to bring her team to the front. Anaïs Bescond extended the gap and France took the win in the women’s 4 x 6-kilometer relay here at Holmenkollen by 14.4 seconds over Germany.
Was she nervous going into the last team event she will ever race?
“I wasn’t really nervous,” Dorin Habert, 31, said in a press conference. “I think it’s a special thing to know that there is no more starts and no more relays for me, so I just wanted to fight and struggle hard like every relay. I think I did my best today.”
Dorin Habert won two gold medals, in the individual and the pursuit, here at World Championships two years ago. So Oslo is a special place.
“It’s so nice to end this way, to share it with all of the team, and the beautiful sun, and all the French people,” Dorin Habert said. “It’s a wonderful day for me. I would like to thank a lot, well, everyone, for being there in the biathlon family. I’m really happy to have this career, and I’m really happy for everything.
The Italian duo of Lisa Vittozzi and Dorothea Wierer put their team in first place at the halfway point, and it was their teammate Nicole Gontier whom Dorin Habert passed to pull France into first. Gontier stuck with her, and Italy was only 2.2 seconds back at the last exchange.
The German anchor, Laura Dahlmeier, charged past Italian skier Federica Sanfilippo. She was unable to catch Bescond, but Germany finished second with seven spare rounds to six by the French, and Italy placed third with eight spare rounds (+33.2).
Norway placed fourth with a penalty loop and 10 spares (+1:26.5), Switzerland fifth with eight spare rounds (+1:54.2), and Sweden sixth with a remarkable three spare rounds (+2:27.2).
The Canadian team skied an even race, with Sarah Beaudry leading off in 12th, Julia Ransom tagging in 14th, Emma Lunder in 15th, and then Rosanna Crawford bringing the team up to 11th.
“I love coming from behind and chasing girls down, and I just looked at it as practice for tomorrow,” said Crawford, who will start Sunday’s pursuit in bib 38. “I was within somewhat contact with the other women around me, so that was nice. People to chase, people to ski with.”
It wasn’t the result the team knew they were capable of, with 11 spare rounds. But it has been a long season.
“Of course everyone is tired, every team is tired,” Crawford said. “But our fast isn’t as fast as the fastest, so our slow is, well, a lot slower. I felt so good through Finland, and I really thought the ski speed was going to hold, but then it wasn’t there in the sprint. And also, today was slightly better, but not what I had last weekend. It’s so frustrating to be up and down.”
The U.S. team started off with a tough leg by Clare Egan, who used all of her spare rounds in both prone and standing and had two penalty laps. She tagged off at the first exchange in 21st and last place.
“This is I think the worst race of my career,” she said after the finish. “I’m really embarrassed. It is the worst possible thing to do it in a relay. I hate letting everyone down. It’s a really terrible feeling.”
Her teammates, though, were more circumspect.
“I never, ever, want to hear a teammate apologizing for tagging off far back like that,” said Susan Dunklee, who took the tag from Egan. “The only thing they can apologize for is if they didn’t try. And Clare was out there and trying her best. So I have nothing but respect for that.
“What I yelled at Clare, when she was at the top corner and I was warming up, I yelled, ‘We love you and we think you’re awesome!’ ” Dunklee continued. “She was in last place, and we still do love her. You just have to know that your teammates have all been there, they have all done the same thing in the relay, and they know exactly how you feel. Usually, there’s a piece of our relay that we can look at and get really excited about, so we will do that today.”
For Egan, though, it was a race that just came apart. The team started with bib 22, one of the last in the field, but she move up 10 places to 12th by the first shooting.
Then, spare rounds and penalty laps.
“I’ve never had a penalty loop in prone, in the World Cup [in a relay], but to do that in the first stage and immediately be like a minute behind everyone – no, I didn’t lose hope,” Egan said. “I knew that anything can happen in the standing. And I actually, I didn’t come into the range last. I had passed one person. But, you know, with another [penalty lap] in standing, I was just trying to get as fast as I could to the finish because … I just hoped that my teammates all would get a chance to do the race. If we get lapped then we get pulled. That’s it.”
She also lost part of a pole early on in the race, and the replacement process did not go smoothly.
“I just had to get a new one, but then the new one was shorter than my own pole,” Egan explained. “So when I went by a coach I meant to switch out the shorter pole for a spare that was the right height, and I gave him my own pole. So then I finished the race and I was like, ‘What the heck? I still have this stupid pole.’ ”
As the relay continued, Dunklee had the seventh-fastest second leg time, and Reid the eighth-fastest third leg time; by the third exchange, the U.S. was in 17th place.
“The shooting didn’t feel really sharp today,” said Dunklee, who used three spare rounds in total. “I don’t know what the times were but I don’t think they were very fast. I just felt sluggish and, a little out of it, really.”
Reid used only one spare round, a performance she was excited about.
“It’s always easier to start from behind and work your way up because there’s no pressure,” she said. “Whereas if you come into the range in first and have to shoot on point one, and everyone is staring at you, that’s really hard. Today was low-pressure shooting.”
Emily Dreissigacker anchored the team, and used four spare rounds to move up to 15th. She caught the team from Kazakhstan and held off a challenge from Korea in a three-way sprint finish, chasing Austria who finished jut 2.1 seconds ahead.
“I don’t know when the last time I actually had to sprint for the finish was, but it was great!” she said.
China and Slovenia were disqualified, and Bulgaria and Lithuania were lapped. But despite being the last team on the first leg, the U.S. women avoided that fate by a large margin.
“I definitely went out hard,” Dreissigacker said. “I knew we were sort of in the danger zone for getting lapped, but actually, the skiing felt really good the first two laps. I kind of died at the end, so I was glad I was able to come through at the finish.”
“I think we’ve all been through some ups and downs this season and struggling with that,” Dunklee said of Egan’s relay leg. “It’s important to remember that biathlon isn’t everything. There’s other stuff going on in our daily lives that is meaningful to us. It’s important to never lose sight of that.”
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.