“There’s almost nothing I love more than being in the hunt during a pursuit,” American Chloe Levins wrote in an email to FasterSkier on Saturday. “I’m prepared. I’m hungry.”
Two days after placing sixth in the junior women’s 12.5-kilometer individual on Thursday, Levins, 19, raced to seventh place in Saturday’s 7.5 k sprint, which will put her in seventh (and within 10 seconds of fourth place) for the start of Sunday’s 10 k pursuit at the International Biathlon Union (IBU) Junior World Championships in Otepää, Estonia.
Last year, Levins raced to fourth in the 7.5 k pursuit at 2017 IBU Youth World Championships. So it’s safe to say she has fond memories of that race format.
On Saturday, Levins, a Middlebury College sophomore, started the 7.5 k sprint in 20th out of 70 women. She missed one of her prone targets, having to ski a penalty lap, and cleaned standing to cross the finish line in second place, just 1.5 seconds behind Russia’s Emma Timerbulatova in first. While both were ultimately bumped to sixth and seventh, respectively, by the time all 70 racers had finished, Levins’s course time still held up as the eighth fastest. Her shooting was among the best, too, with only five women cleaning the two-stage race.
“There’s been a consistent stream of wind on this range all week long,” Levins explained in the email. “It didn’t fail to show up today either. Ski conditions were perfect. The snow was cold but fast, and it got faster throughout the day.”
When asked about the course, she recalled a term her coach Algis Shalna used to describe it: “workhorse”.
“That’s exactly what it is,” she wrote. “It’s a traditional course with long hills and few transitions. I don’t really have a course profile preference, but working over the top of these hills pushes me past my limits every time.”
Levins described being able to handle the “steady and relatively calm” wind conditions without many technical adjustments. After hitting all five targets in her standing stage, all she could do was smile as she returned to the course, she wrote.
“It was a very rhythmic shooting that gave me some momentum leading into the last loop,” Levins recalled. “Our staff and even some of the youth athletes were everywhere on course today, which really helped me gain time on a Russian athlete who left the range 15sec ahead of me at the split.
“I had the biggest support system in the entire field today,” she added. “I hope they had as much fun during the competition as I did.”
At the finish, Levins tried to process any time she lost on the course and the time gap between her and first place at the time.
“My brain immediately went to analyzing the race in search of 1.5 lost seconds,” Levins wrote. “Since the temperatures have been so cold this week, they made all the races 20 second intervals. It was unfortunate that I had to maneuver my way around two groups of at least four competitors along the track on my last loop.”
In the end, she ended up seventh, 1:31.7 minutes behind Poland’s Kamila Żuk, who won in 22:32.5 with one standing penalty (0+1). Żuk also won Thursday’s 12.5 k individual.
On Sunday, Levins will start the pursuit 1:32 behind Żuk and just 10 seconds behind Russia’s Valeriia Vasnetcova in fourth place. Markéta Davidová of the Czech Republic will head out of the gate second, 26 seconds behind Żuk, and France’s Myrtille Begue will start third, 52 seconds back. While Davidová made up for two penalties in Saturday’s sprint with the second-fastest course time (behind Żuk in first), Begue shot clean and skied the fifth-fastest course time.
Canada’s Megan Bankes placed ninth for her third-straight race of the championships, after finishing ninth in the junior women’s 3 x 6 k relay and ninth in the 12.5 k individual. On Saturday, she had two penalties, one in each stage (1+1), and finished 1:49.5 minutes out of first with the (you guessed it) ninth-fastest course time.
Bankes will start the pursuit 1:50 back and just 4 seconds behind Norway’s Marit Ishol Skogan in eighth.
Her teammate Nadia Moser finished 21st (+2:46.2), also with two penalties (0+2), Emily Dickson finished 36th (+3:50.5) with two penalties (1+1), and Canada’s fourth woman Zoë Pekos narrowly missed the pursuit cutoff in 66th (+6:22.4) with four misses (3+1).
In the junior men’s 10 k sprint that followed, Canada’s Trevor Kiers achieved his best result at his second Junior Worlds in 16th (+1:34.9) with two penalties (2+0). Kiers, 20, previously broke through in 10th and 11th this season in IBU Junior Cup sprints. Last year at Junior World Championships, his best non-relay result was 39th in the pursuit.
So far in Otepää, Kiers had finished 77th in the 15 k individual and 17th with his team in the 4 x 7.5 k relay.
“I found it really hard mentally after the relay and individual,” Kiers wrote in an email. “But after a ton of self-reflection, I realised that I put too much pressure on myself to shoot well and perform. I simply didn’t trust myself. After the individual, I had one training session to regain my confidence, and I was able to do just that. I took 60 very focused shots, and only missed 1 prone and 3 standing over the whole session, and the last 30 were clean! I came into today’s race feeling very confident in my shooting, and knew that I could perform, and not allow that pressure to reach me. To go out and have a fun time, and my instincts would kick in, and the shooting would fall into place.”
On the range, Kiers’s shooting and range times ranked 13th and 14th overall, respectively. As he entered his first prone shooting stage, he recalled that he consciously freed his mind of any expectations.
“After I shot off my first, the casing got stuck in my chamber and I feel it through off my relaxed sort of focus, but I know that my last two shots were just me being silly,” Kiers wrote. “I knew that the next bout would be good, I had convinced myself that standing would be a breeze, just let my body do what it knows how to do.”
His next time in the range, he cleaned his standing bout.
“Not only did I clean it, but quickly too!” Kiers wrote. “I was one of the fastest shooters of the day, and can reflect back knowing that I didn’t rush, just that it felt good. Heading out on skis, I knew that I still had a shot at a good result, when I went up one of the first long climbs, out wax tech was yelling at me that I was definitely still in it, that I was still skiing on par, and that I could pull this back together! Having that near the beginning of the loop definitely set me up well mentally for the second loop, to keep the grind on, and that I wouldn’t give up any seconds.”
Based on his shooting, he was confident he could be in the top 20. As the 16th starter, Kiers crossed the finish line in sixth, but some 72 men were still on course. Ultimately, he finished 16th, 1:34.9 behind Russia’s Vasilii Tomshin, who shot clean to win in 25:01.8.
“When I heard that I got 16th I was super happy!” Kiers wrote. “From the previous races I’ve done this year, I knew that cleaning a race could land me in the top 10, and once I finished with 2 misses, I reckoned that it would probably be a top 25, maybe a top 20, but I apparently skied faster than I thought possible! … Today, I held my own on skis, and proved that I deserve to be up here with the big guns!”
Looking back on his progression in the sport, he described it as “insane”.
“… Before two years ago (May of 2016) I had never had a biathlon coach, and did all my training on my own in my backyard range that I built,” he explained. “But I was able to prove myself at the 2016 nationals that February and landed a spot on [Biathlon Alberta Training Center]. BATC has changed a lot about how I had gone about things before, and I think that last year was the time to get used to a full time training lifestyle, and this was the year to start performing, and showing what it has done for me.”
Kiers will start Sunday’s 12.5 k pursuit in 16th, 1:35 behind Tomshin and seven seconds behind Germany’s Tim Grotian in 15th. France’s Martin Perrillat Bottonet (who had one penalty in the sprint) will start second, 21 seconds back, and Norway’s Sverre Dahlen Aspenes (who missed two) will head out third, eight seconds later.
“I am super excited to see what I can do tomorrow, but to be truthful, I don’t have any expectations as far as results go,” Kiers wrote. “My expectations are to simply go out there, have some fun, dance to a few songs during warm-up, and see where that takes me. I am really looking forward to leaving everything I’ve got out on the track, being the last race of the championships, no holding back, have no regrets after I finish.”
Canada had two in the top 30 with Adam Runnalls in 26th (+2:08.3) with three penalties (1+2). Teo Sanchez also qualified for the pursuit by tying for 53rd (+3:19.2) with one penalty (1+0), while Angus Tweedie placed 69th (+4:41.3) with three misses (+4:41.3).
Cody Johnson shot clean to lead the Americans in 37th (+2:31.1). Tim Cunningham finished 71st (+5:13.5) with seven misses, Jacob Pearson was 79th (+6:24.2) with two penalties (1+1) and Cam Christiansen in 86th (+7:52.5) with three penalties (1+2).