If you were wondering whether a podium in the first race of the season took the pressure off Rosanna Crawford for the first individual women’s race on Thursday, the answer is no.
“I am very realistic that the single mixed relay isn’t like any other race we do and that it didn’t have most of the strongest women,” Crawford wrote in an email. “So I was quite nervous going into today’s race, wondering where I would land, to see if all my hard work over the summer had paid off.”
Crawford, a 27-year-old two-time Olympian and Biathlon Canada team veteran, had experienced success in Östersund, Sweden, well before last Sunday. At last season’s International Biathlon Union (IBU) World Cup opener there, she placed 12th in the sprint and 16th in the 15-kilometer individual distance race.
This year, she landed in between the two and placed 13th in Thursday’s 15 k individual, the longest format on the women’s circuit. It was her personal best in a 15 k, and it came right at the start of the season.
“It was a calm day on the range in terms of Ostersund, a little flutter of the flags, maybe a 2-3 click wind and it was quite consistent,” Crawford explained. “I knew a lot of girls would be shooting well, so I just made sure to stay focused on my self and my range routine.”
The 41st starter, she knocked down 18 of 20 targets, missing one on each of her standing stages to finish 2:41.6 behind Italy’s Dorothea Wierer, who shot clean to win her first-career World Cup in 42:17.
“I do not think the first win has hit me yet, but happy to win, not just for me but for our team,” Wierer, who started 46th, said in a post-race press conference. It was also her first time shooting 100 percent in a 15 k.
“I was a little sick last week so I was not so brilliant on the skis today, but it was okay,” Wierer added. “The shooting was good, though; I turned off the head and just shot like in training.”
Besides Wierer, three other women also cleaned and finished in the top 12: Ukraine’s Olena Pidhrushna, who placed third, and two Belarusians, Nadezhda Skardino in sixth and Nastassia Dubarezava in 12th. The second-place finisher, Marie Dorin Habert of France missed two on the second stage, but skied the fastest course time to reach the podium, 14.1 seconds behind Wierer. Pidhrushna finished 37.8 seconds back from the Italian in third.
Meanwhile, Crawford hung in the top 20 throughout the race, rising from 19th to 13th on her third of five loops. At the end of the day, her course time ranked a modest 35th, but her range time was notable: she was fourth fastest of 101 finishers.
“I really wanted to be control in the range. Last year I missed 2 in my last standing to hit 17/20, so I wanted to beat that,” Crawford recalled. “I learned a few things from the single mixed relay last Sunday. It reminded me not to stress too much in the range and to just remember that I am a good shooter.”
Her shooting time ranked sixth overall. After cleaning her second prone — the third of four stages — Crawford had a sense she was having a good race.
“Skiing felt strong and the targets were going down, so that just left my last standing!” she wrote. “On my last loop I knew the top 10 was close, but I just didn’t quite have enough gas in the tank to bring me closer!”
She started 13th and ended there, 8.2 seconds behind Dubarezava in 12th and about 22 seconds out of 10th. Previously, Crawford’s best finish in an individual race had been 16th last year in Östersund. At 2013 IBU World Championships in Nove Mesto, Czech Republic, she placed 17th in the 15 k individual with 95-percent shooting.
“I am happy with my result but know that skiing isn’t quite where I want it yet,” Crawford wrote on Thursday. She reflected that she started too hard and forgot to control her skiing.
“In the end I don’t think it changed things too much ski speed wise, but I did get a bit slower as the race went on,” she added. “Looking forward to Saturday’s shorter race!”
The women’s and men’s races continue in Östersund with the 7.5/10 k sprints on Saturday and 10/12.5 k pursuits on Sunday.
“I definitely want to consistently be in the top-15, with hitting the top-10 more than last year,” Crawford said in a Biathlon Canada press release. “My main goal is a podium in a non-team event. These first three World Cups [in Östersund, Hochfilzen and Pokljuka] are my favourite venues, so I know they will be my best chance to be on the podium.”
After Crawford, Canada’s Julia Ransom finished 52nd (+5:25.6) with three penalties (1+2+0+0), Megan Tandy (formerly Heinicke) placed 67th (+6:54.2) with five misses, and Zina Kocher was 98th (+11:30) with nine penalties. For each miss in an individual race, a minute penalty is added.
Leading the U.S. in her first year on the World Cup team, Clare Egan placed 44th (+4:52.9) with 17-for-20 shooting. She cleaned both prone stages and missed one on the first standing and two on the final standing.
It was her second-best finish at the World Cup level after placing 40th in the sprint at 2015 World Championships in Kontiolahti, Finland. She started racing internationally last season.
“The conditions were perfect tonight. Clear skies, fast track, little wind,” Egan, 28, wrote in an email.
She started last in bib 103 and saw her teammate Susan Dunklee finish before she started.
“It was actually relaxing to take my time and hang out for 40 minutes in the cafeteria eating cookies while I waited,” Egan said in a US Biathlon press release.
“I really did not know what to expect, because anything can happen in biathlon, but in the best case scenario I was hoping to hit all my prone targets and only miss a few in standing,” she wrote in the email. “That is exactly what happened so I am really pleased.”
The key to her success was “Fake it till you make it!!!” Egan explained. “It is crucial to be confident on the range, so I am doing my best to convince myself that I am a super solid shooter even when it doesn’t look like it through my sights, and sometimes it works.”
She felt like her racing had come around since Sunday, when she and Sean Doherty teamed up to place 15th in the single mixed relay, and explained her skis “were also incredibly fast today so that was a big advantage.”
After recording her best-ever shooting percentage at the World Cup level, Egan was excited about her chances to improve as she finds her race shape.
“I need to keep using every race opportunity to test out the things I work on in practice and fine tune the racing process so that it becomes second nature,” she wrote.
Her teammates, Hannah Dreissigacker, Dunklee and Annelies Cook placed 80th, 84th and 91st, respectively, in what appeared to be an off-day for the rest of the Americans. Dreissigacker missed five targets (0+1+3+1), and Dunklee and Cook each missed nine.
“Sometimes you just have a bad day on the range,” Egan wrote. “I missed all five standing targets in our pre-world cup season opener less than two weeks ago. You can also be really, really close to hitting the target but that doesn’t show on the results sheet. Our team is very strong and I learn from Hannah, Susan and Annelies every day. One of their most important lessons is about resilience. Having a rough day at the range is just part of this crazy sport.”