A lot of people on the Canadian biathlon team thought that Julia Ransom was going to have a breakthrough this year.
But few, including the 22-year-old herself, seemed to have thought that it would be this big, or happen this fast.
After shooting a perfect 20-for-20 in the 10 k pursuit in Antholz, Italy, Ransom was one of the biggest movers on the day, skiing from 46th up to 19th. She crossed the line 1:30.8 behind race winner Katja Yurlova of Russia.
“Top 20 is just… that was a pretty big stretch goal for me this year,” she said in an interview after her race. “Going into the season I wanted to get points, wanted to get my first-ever World Cup point [from being in the top 40], and then it happened. And then I thought last week ‘yeah, top 20 would be sweet. We should open some champagne for the top 20. That’s a champagne race.’ So then it happened. Woah that’s crazy.”
Those World Cup points came early in the year, in the sprints and pursuits in Östersund, Sweden, and then in the sprint in Pokljuka, Slovenia, all before the Christmas break.
Until Saturday, Ransom hadn’t broken into the top 30, much less the top 20.
It’s her first full year on the World Cup circuit. World Cup and World Championships starts in 2014-2015 gave her experience, which she’s happy to draw on now.
“I like to just be out there and have fun, and that’s no different than last year,” she said. “But it’s definitely nice to be skiing a little quicker. Making pursuits is also quite nice. So in that sense, yeah, that’s different, but I guess mentality towards racing is the same. Trying to do my best, but also enjoying the mountains, the spectators, and the energy and all of that in all the venues.”
So what, besides knowing what to expect, allowed Ransom to jump into the top 20?
In the past few days, she had gotten some good advice from teammates and coaches.
“In the Ruhpolding relay when it took me three spares to hit one target, I felt kind of shaken up,” Ransom said. “After the sprint when I was cooling down with Rosanna [Crawford], I was just like, ‘what do you do, how do you do it?’ And she kind of helped me out with a few things. She has definitely provided a lot of mentoring.”
Crawford wasn’t happy with her own race in the Antholz pursuit, where she missed six shots and finished 44th.
But she was thrilled to see Ransom succeed.
“It’s been really exciting to watch Julia, she is such a strong athlete and has really impressed me with her ski speed,” Crawford wrote in an email. “I knew that she was capable of a result like this, she just needed the shooting and skiing to come together at the same time and that was today! We had a chat about what I find works for me when I am shooting well and talked about what might help her in the range.”
The second key to success, apparently, came from a simple suggestion from National Team Coach Roddy Ward.
“Julia is a big time coffee fan,” Ward explained in an email. “After a sub-par practice yesterday (not focused enough) I found out she only had one cup of coffee that morning. In our pre-race meeting last night I advised she drink two today, as she did before the Sprint [where she shot 9 out of 10). I think we found the sweet spot for pre-race coffee intake.”
Ransom confirmed: it was a welcome suggestion.
With that renewed focus, she was one of only two athletes in the field to shoot a perfect race.
“It was a little windy, for sure,” Ransom said of conditions on the range. “I made wind corrections in both of my prone bouts. And I mean, I remember Antholz last year was crazy windy. So to just have a few clicks here and there was pretty good. I think a lot of the time the altitude can affect a lot of people because you don’t quite recover as well as soon as you come into the range.”
It was touch and go: the last shot was a split bullet, meaning that it hit the edge of the target with part of the bullet hitting the target and part the frame around it. But despite that, the target turned white and Ransom could head off to the trails without ever seeing the penalty loop.
“Cleaning 20/20 takes a great deal of focus and concentration,” Ward wrote. “She has been working on this a lot and its cool to see it pay off for her. I cheered quite loudly after her final shot was a hit… [a split] can go either way but you just need the target to go down! Doesn’t need to hit the middle…”
With Saturday’s result, the best 10 World Cup results of Ransom’s career have all come this season. She credits her teammates for a lot of the improvements.
“This year has been going really well, and I think a lot of it has to do training with some of the best guys in the world on this team,” she explained. “With Rosanna of course, and Nathan, and we’ve got a great group of girls, and we are all gelling, and trying to push each other and to create a good atmosphere. So I think that and the summer has really paid off this year.”
But Ward, who is Ransom’s main coach, said that she should be giving herself some credit too.
“Julia has worked very hard all training year,” Ward wrote. “I started to feel around August that it was paying off. She made a big jump this fall. I am still surprised by this result. This was beyond any of my expectations. She is a great athlete to coach, she is so driven and has a fantastic worth ethic. She also has a very good head on her shoulders… She has been quite consistent this season, which is impressive for a young athlete.”
Crawford agreed, saying that Ransom brings more than speed and straight shooting to the team.
“It’s been great having someone like Julia on the team,” she wrote. “She always looks at the positive side of things, which I have a hard time doing, and it’s been rubbing off on me.”
Up next for Ransom and her teammates is the 4 x 6 k relay on Sunday. In Ruhpolding they finished ninth and were close to the top six, and they hope to improve on that result.
“I absolutely love relays,” Ransom said. “It’s a time for all the girls to get together, kind of get fired up about everyone’s performances. It takes the selfishness out of racing a little bit, which I like. I like the team aspect. And we were so close to top six last relay, that I think it’s definitely doable. Definitely doable.”
“I think this will give our team a boost going into tomorrow’s relay,” Crawford added. “When someone has a [personal best] it really brings an exciting vibe to the team!”
And after that it’s home to Canmore for World Cups on the team’s home turf.
Ransom said she doesn’t have any specific results goals to thrill the Canadian crowd with, but she hopes she can get the community pumped up.
“Oh man, I am so excited to go back home,” she said. “I obviously want to perform at my best, and make the home-crowd excited to cheer for all the Canadians. Of course everyone is doing really well this year. And it’s just exciting to be home, and in your bed, with your friends, and get to see my boyfriend and my family. So that’s really exciting.”
And about that champagne to celebrate the top 20?
“We will find out,” Ransom laughed.
-Harald Zimmer contributed reporting