With the 2017/2018 season officially in the rearview, FasterSkier is excited to unveil its annual award winners for this past winter. Votes stem from the FS staff, scattered across the U.S., Canada, and Europe, and while not scientific, they are intended to reflect a broader sense of the season in review. This set of honors goes to outstanding North American biathletes on the international circuit.
Rosanna Crawford, Biathlon Canada
Rosanna Crawford had been close to the podium before, coming into this season. Fourth place. Fifth place.
But then she had a disastrous 2017 season that left her in tears after World Championships, wondering what had gone wrong. After that, she lost her brother, as the Crawford family endured heart-rending tragedy.
All of that might have stopped some people, but not Crawford. In Ruhpolding, Germany, she finally scored that podium – in a race so tough it’s only held a few times a season, the 15 k individual. She shot a perfect 20-for-20 to take third place, 21.2 seconds behind Dorothea Wierer of Italy.
“There’s just so many lessons you learn over the years, and trying to bring it all together and to have it pay off on one day is exactly what we’re all hunting for out there,” Crawford said after her podium.
Later that weekend she again shot 20-for-20, this time in the mass start. She left the range the final time in first place, but was passed by three other women on the final loop and had to settle for fourth.
“I was really surprised to leave the range in 1st, these are the 30 best women in the world,” Crawford wrote in an email after the mass start. “I would have love to hold onto a podium, but was pretty dead on my last loop… I was pretty disappointed when I crossed the line in fourth, but as time went by I got more and more happy. 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!”
It was an up-and-down season for Crawford, who finished no better than 39th in the first period of World Cup racing and was sent down to the second-tier IBU Cup. But she excelled there, and then came the races in Ruhpolding.
From there she headed to the Olympics – her third – and had a poor sprint race, finishing 53rd with three penalties. It was devastating, but she came back and climbed all the way up to 19th in the pursuit, the biggest improvement in the whole field.
“I had some really good chats with my sister Chandra,” Crawford said after the Olympic pursuit. “She’s a huge motivator for me and my biggest cheerleader now. She really just talked some sense into me to not be so down on myself after the sprint, so that was really helpful.”
Immediately after the Olympics, Crawford finished 12th in the sprint and 11th in the mass start in Kontiolahti, Finland, before finishing the season off in Oslo. She has still not announced whether she will continue competing next year, or retire.
But crossing the finish line in third in Ruhpolding was an unforgettable highlight, either way.
“[Teammates] Julia [Ransom], Emma [Lunder] and Sarah [Beaudry], they kind of pushed past the IBU guys, which I don’t think they were allowed to do, but Canada’s not on the podium every day so they let them sneak by to give me a hug so that was really special,” Crawford told FasterSkier. “I’ve been with these girls the past couple years now and so to be able to celebrate with them is amazing. Their results have been so inspiring for me … [My coach Roddy Ward] also jumped the fence, which I don’t think was allowed, so that was nice to be able to see him as well.”
Tim Burke, US Biathlon
While Crawford was finally hitting that career mark, U.S. Biathlon’s Tim Burke was getting his mojo back. After a frustrating few seasons, Burke rallied for the 2018 Olympics, his fourth.
Along the way, he amassed some strong results: tenth in the sprint in Annecy, fourth in the sprint in Oberhof. The Oberhof sprint was his best result since 2013.
It came on a course with a personal connection, as his wife, Andrea (Henkel) Burke, had her home training base in Oberhof.
“I have spent a lot of time training here over the last eight years,” Burke laughed. “It’s Andrea’s home town and I feel like the fans out there today were really behind me from the start, because of Andrea. So be able to have the best performance of my season and my best performance in a long time here was for sure special.”
Burke didn’t set a best-ever U.S. mark for himself at the Olympics, with a top finish of 17th in the pursuit. Like Crawford, he made the best of things after a disappointing Olympic sprint, in his case having finished 47th in the opening competition.
“I was disappointed in the result not the performance,” he said of the sprint, after improving in the pursuit. “I felt like I executed well. I felt like I hit my cues on the course and on the range, and it just didn’t happen yesterday. The game plan going into today, there was nothing new. Stick to the things that have been working well for me in the World Cup, and that’s what I did.”
In PyeongChang, he contributed to a U.S. men’s relay team which finished sixth, tying the best ever team result at an Olympic Games.
A few weeks later, in his final race before retiring, he went out and did some solid biathlon, helping the team to seventh in the World Cup relay in Oslo.
Burke’s career has had many individual highs – six podiums including a World Championships silver medal in 2013, and a brief stint in the overall World Cup leader’s bib – but this season, it was his team efforts that were some of the best.
“The Olympic relay, we were very happy with,” he said in Oslo. “The sixth place there [in PyeongChang, South Korea], we were right there. That was a great race for us, but this is solid as well… I’ve been here a long, long time, and an top eight today is very different than a top eight when I came on the World Cup 14 years ago. It’s so close now. There’s so many good teams. So it’s a solid result.”
Honorable Mention: Susan Dunklee, US Biathlon
Burke’s teammate Susan Dunklee saved the best for last this season, hitting the podium for the first time since winning silver in the mass start at last year’s World Championships.
It was a tough start to the season for Dunklee, who tried to implement a new shooting strategy and saw it backfire, as she had a string of results no better than 53rd in the opening two weekends of racing.
But then she had a solid weekend in Annecy, France, finishing tenth in the sprint and sixth in the pursuit. A lifeline.
“After Thursday, I was just feeling relief, to be honest,” she said after the Annecy pursuit. “It’s so huge to get a top ten and then get a flower ceremony today.”
Two months later, Dunklee had an athlete’s worst nightmare and got sick at the beginning of the Olympics, racing the opening sprint anyway but then finishing 66th and missing the pursuit. In the 15 k individual she placed 19th, and she led the women’s relay at one point.
“I often start feeling stronger and stronger as the season goes on, and this season it took a little longer,” Dunklee explained. “I had a lot of sickness, and some frustrating shooting days early in the season that made it hard for me to keep going.”
After the Games, she finished 36th in the sprint in Kontiolahti despite still getting over (another) illness, then came to Oslo and placed fourth in the sprint and third in the pursuit, in a podium that only appeared thanks to clean shooting in the final stage where others faltered.
“It doesn’t really matter what everybody else is doing, you just have to try to put the best race you can,” she said of landing on the podium despite two penalties. “Sometimes you have a perfect race and five other people do too, and then you are sixth. But some days you don’t have a perfect race and you end up third.”
Like Crawford, Dunklee hasn’t announced whether she will keep racing next season. If not, her last World Cup memory will be sharing the podium with Anastasiya Kuzmina and Darya Domracheva. Not bad.
Honorable Mention: Scott Gow, Biathlon Canada
Canada’s Scott Gow just keeps improving, and this season was no exception. Early on he had two career-best performances: 16th in the sprints in both Östersund and Annecy.
But the biggest career-best also came on the biggest stage. At the Olympics, Gow shot 19-for-20 in the 20 k individual to finish 14th, the best performance by any North American in PyeongChang.
He had started the Games with 61st in the sprint – maybe the worst place to finish, just one spot (in his case one tenth of a second) out of the pursuit.
Gow re-tooled and started focusing on the 20 k.
“When it’s this calm, relatively as calm, everyone can shoot well,” he said after that race. “So that puts a little extra pressure and emphasis on myself to shoot well. So going into today I knew that would be have to the focus, to hit targets, because even if my skiing is a little off I can make up for it with a really good shooting. And that was what was going through my head the last few days preparing for this.”
Plan achieved, mission accomplished. Except that one shot.
“I was very happy with it,” Gow said, noting that even a career-best at the Olympics wasn’t perfect. “A little disappointed to miss that one standing shot, especially when everything was going quite well in the range. Skiing was pretty good, and so overall I am very happy.”