Emma Lunder may be a relatively recent addition to Biathlon Canada’s World Cup team, but the 26-year-old Vancouver native has raced her share of International Biathlon Union (IBU) World Cups.
On Saturday, Lunder demonstrated both experience and composure, just as she had done the day before with close to zero visibility in the sprint, in the women’s 10-kilometer pursuit in Hochfilzen, Austria. Despite having started more than two dozen World Cups since the 2013/2014 season, this was only her third pursuit.
“I went into this race knowing that both snow and wind were expected, so I anticipated conditions similar to yesterday’s sprint,” Lunder, who had previously raced to 42nd in the sprint with 9-for-10 shooting, wrote in an email. She had started second of 102 racers in the sprint and had to clear her own path through new snow while trying to stay on course.
On Saturday, she started 42nd, 2:04 minutes behind the sprint winner, Darya Domracheva of Belarus, and within 12 seconds of 32nd.
“With all of the racers starting fairly close together, a nice little track formed right in the middle of the ski trail so I just tried to ski in that path as much as I could during the race,” Lunder explained.
It was snowing as expected on Saturday afternoon, but not as heavily as the day before, and the wind was variable.
On the first prone shooting stage, Lunder missed her first shot but hit the next four. She had to ski a penalty lap and left the range in 45th, 2:35 minutes behind Domracheva, who had cleaned to remain in first place.
“On the range today I had some windy bouts and some calm bouts, so I took the information I had from yesterday about correcting and clicked accordingly,” Lunder recalled.
After missing her first shot, which she attributed to being slightly hesitant with her setup, Lunder went on to hit the next 19 — cleaning the next three bouts. In doing so, she rose to 37th after a clean second prone, then 32nd after the first standing, then 25th after the last stage.
“In standing I ended up on lanes near the start of the range (lanes 7 and 3) so it gave me a few extra seconds to recover from the climb into the range,” she wrote. “I focused on the same cues I’d been using yesterday and tried not to think too much, and that seemed to do the trick for me.”
Lunder crossed the finish line in 27th, 2:31.6 behind Slovakia’s Anastasia Kuzmina who also shot 19-for-20 after an early prone miss (1+0+0+0) to take the win in 34:41.2.
It was Lunder’s best World Cup pursuit result and second-best result of her career after placing 21st in a 15 k individual race last season in Antholz, Italy.
“I was getting splits throughout the race telling me what position I was in, but I just tried my best not to think about it too much, and keep skiing as fast as I could and shooting as well as I could!” she wrote. “Coming into the last standing I felt a little bit shaky, but once I was on the shooting mat I just went for it as if it was any other shooting bout, and I ended up with a good result. I’m really happy with my performance today. … to crack the top-30 in the second weekend of World Cup racing is definitely motivating for me!”
The other Canadian in the race, Rosanna Crawford, finished 39th (+3:44.3) after starting 49th and shooting 16-for-20 with one miss in each stage (1+1+1+1). Crawford had the fourth-fastest overall shooting time out of 56 women in the pursuit.
“I feel like today was a bit more like my normal shooting speed for standing and a little slower than my normal for prone,” she wrote. “I was really taking my time in zero for prone because the snow was making it so hard to see the target. Visibility was slightly better in the race, but I still tried to take my time in the hopes of hitting all 5.”
In placing 39th, she tied her previous season best from the 15 k individual last week in Ostersund, Sweden, and scored World Cup points for the second time this season.
“It’s disappointing to miss one shot every time, and to get into the top 30 I would have had to hit 18 or better,” Crawford wrote. “I’m glad I got a few points today, but feeling frustrated that I can’t put a good skiing and shooting together in the same race. Skiing was pretty good for the first 3 laps, and I slowed down a bit for the last 2, but today was my best skiing so far this year.
“Looking forward to France where I am sure some good cheese will help fuel some good races!!” she added of this week’s upcoming races in Annecy, France. “Also just so happy for Emma Lunder! She really did a great job today, in the range to hit 19 and move up to 27th is awesome!”
The lone American in the women’s pursuit, Clare Egan finished 53rd (+5:21.6) after starting 36th and having to ski seven penalty laps (2+2+2+1).
In the race for first, Kuzmina, who had started second, 22 seconds behind Domracheva, maintained her position for the first half of the race despite a penalty on the first stage. After leaving the range 27 seconds behind Domracheva after the first shooting, Kuzmina was within 9 seconds of her after the second prone stage, which both women cleaned.
The first standing stage that followed proved to be the turning point, with Domracheva missing one and Kuzmina cleaning to take the lead by nearly 13 seconds. Both cleaned the final standing, but Kuzmina skied faster to keep Domracheva at bay, racing to the win while Domracheva was passed by Finland’s Kaisa Mäkäräinen on the final loop to end up third (+11.8). Mäkäräinen claimed second place (+10.2), up from starting 50 seconds back in sixth place, with 18-for-20 shooting (1+0+0+1) and the fastest course time of the field. (In comparison, Kuzmina skied the seventh-fastest overall course time and Domracheva’s time ranked 31st.)
While it was Mäkäräinen’s first podium of the season, it was Kuzmina’s first win since a mass start in March 2014.
“It is always great to be on the podium and especially in first position,” the 33-year-old Kuzmina said, according to an IBU press release. “After yesterday, I thought I had a chance, but it was not easy for me, especially on the shooting range; I could not catch my breath … I just tried to stay positive. I took a long time on the last shooting, but finally it was good.”
“Overall, it was not an easy race with such weather conditions,” Domracheva said. “Like Anastasia, I think I took some extra time for that last shot, but I had 19-of-20 and that is very good.”
Sunday is a relay day with the men’s 4 x 7.5 k and women’s 4 x 6 k wrapping up racing in Hochfilzen. Canada is listed as starting Lunder, Crawford, Megan Bankes, and Julia Ransom, while the U.S., with three women on the circuit, will not be entering a women’s relay.