The way some of the Canadians were tossing around the term “Chinook wind” on Friday, one might have thought that gusts hard enough to knock rifles off their stands was a regular occurrence in Canmore, Alberta. It wasn’t, according to one Canmore native, Rosanna Crawford.
“It was windier than I’ve seen it here in Canmore in a long time,” the 27-year-old Biathlon Canada veteran recalled in an in-person interview after the women’s 7.5-kilometer sprint at the IBU World Cup in Canmore. “So it was definitely luck of the draw if you were going to get a calm range or not.”
She wasn’t one of the lucky ones. Crawford started sixth and missed two off the bat in the first prone shooting stage. She wasn’t alone; most of the rest of the top-seeded skiers failed to hit all five prone targets as well.
Early on, it appeared that France’s Anais Bescond, in bib 8, and Italy’s Dorothea Wierer, bib 17, might be fighting for a podium. Both were the only women to clean prone through the first 24 starters.
Then Krystyna Guzik, a 32-year-old Polish biathlete who last reached the IBU World Cup podium two seasons ago in third in a pursuit in Hochfilzen, Austria, entered the mix. In bib 25, she cleaned prone to leave the range in first, 6.7 seconds faster than Wierer. Guzik went on to clean standing as well, while Wierer missed one, to hold a 7.3-second lead after the second shooting.
On the final loop, Guzik stayed ahead of Wierer — who had initially finished first, 21 seconds ahead of Gabriela Soukalova of the Czech Republic— to bump the Italian to second place by 12.4 seconds at the finish.
Meanwhile, Bescond had missed two in standing to slip out of contention and nearly 1 1/2 minutes behind Guzik at the finish. It might not have been her fault; the winds were extremely variable — those Chinook (western interior) winds.
Canada’s Julia Ransom, who has lived and trained in Canmore for the last five years, started 38th and later said she felt the wind in prone and adjusted accordingly.
“I knew the wind. I know Canmore. I know how Chinook winds work and I did correct for prone, a lot,” she told FasterSkier afterward. “Really cranked the sights, and it wasn’t a hurricane for standing so maybe I lucked out a bit there.”
Ransom, who turned 23 on Thursday, cleaned both stages and was one of seven women in the field to do so. Initially 12th at the finish, she ended up 19th, 1:19 behind the winner and the top North American on the results sheet.
Moreover, Ransom tied her World Cup best, which she set two weeks ago in 19th in the pursuit at the last World Cup in Antholz, Italy.
“Double nineteenth!” she exclaimed upon realizing she had secured the result again on Friday.
While she cleaned the four-stage pursuit in Antholz on Jan. 23, this was the first time she hit all her targets in a World Cup sprint.
“I knew leaving standing that my family was in for an exciting race,” Ransom wrote in an email. “I was hoping to maintain 12th, but that rarely happens when you start in the earlier seeds. However I am very excited with another top 20. It is a confidence booster going into world champs. I’ve got my sights on those single digits now!
“19th at home is obviously amazing!” she continued. “It’s always nice sharing personal bests with the friends and community that supports me all year round.
Originally from Kelowna, British Columbia, Ransom celebrated her birthday the night before with “a little wine and some little minion cupcakes from my Dad,” she explained in a Biathlon Canada press release. “It was a perfect pre-race meal. … [On Friday] it was a balance between not being too anxious with everyone here to watch and being so excited I couldn’t even contain myself at the start.”
It appeared that most of the racers who started 25th or later, including Guzik, benefited from the sudden calm once the winds subsided considerably.
“It was crazy windy on my first loop,” Crawford recalled of the late-morning (11:15 a.m.) start. “The wind was so strong that I was almost at a stop on one of the uphills…”
She placed an uncharacteristic 72nd, with four penalties — two in prone and two in standing. But considering she’s been sick for the last week and a half, Crawford said she couldn’t completely blame the wind.
“I knew that today was not going to be my best race of the season, but it’s still hard to go out there and have a tough race,” she said.
The first U.S. starter in bib 18, Susan Dunklee watched from the start pen while the winds blasted through the stadium.
“When I was in the start gate, the first [competitors] were coming through the range and there were some crazy gusts,” Dunklee said. “We were in the start pen and this huge gust comes up and the rifles started falling off the rack.” They were caught just before hitting the ground.
“I hear this is what they call a Chinook or something like that,” the American added. “It made things interesting…”
Personally, Dunklee found Canmore’s altitude challenging, about 4,600 feet above sea level. Not feeling her usual self skiing, Dunklee placed 35th (+1:58.9) with three misses (1+2). Typically one of the faster skiers in the field, her course time ranked 35th.
“It wasn’t great, but it was OK,” she said of her result.
“It’s pretty nice to be here. I really like being in beautiful places with mountains like this,” she added. “This is my first time racing in North America for a World Cup and that’s something special. I mean, I’ve been looking forward to it for years.”
Dunklee wasn’t alone: Canada’s 33-year-old Zina Kocher, of Red Deer, Alberta, had been waiting to race a World Cup in Canada for at least the last two years, since deciding to continue her career beyond the 2014 Olympics.
“It was a dream I always had to race here and I finally accomplished it,” Kocher said in the team press release. “I was looking for a little inspiration last night and I started pulling out newspaper clippings and looking at photo albums of my career.”
In 2006, she became the second Canadian to reach the IBU World Cup podium when she placed third in Östersund, Sweden.
“I realized I will just miss all of my teammates and coaches. We worked hard at this together, and we were a family,” Kocher said. “It is nice to see the program now getting the results.”
While she told FasterSkier she was “overall not very happy with today’s result,” in 56th with five penalties (2+3), Kocher said she felt good skiing and might have been affected by some nerves on the range.
“But it was awesome to race at home and be in front of the home crowd and have my friends and family out there,” she said.
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Post-Retirement, Pidhrushna Takes the Win
While Guzik appeared to have locked up her first World Cup victory, several other surprises were making charges from behind. Ukraine’s Olena Pidhrushna, back after a one-year retirement, started 43rd and cleaned both stages to finish 7.5 seconds faster and seize the win in 19:56.9. She bumped Guzik to second and Wierer to third (+12.4).
For the 29-year-old Ukrainian, it was her second-career World Cup victory after winning a sprint in Nove Mesto, Czech Republic, four seasons ago.
“This is why I returned,” Pidhrushna told the IBU in a post-race interview through a translator. “A year ago, I couldn’t imagine being back here and being on the podium. Only at the beginning of this [season] I realized how much I miss biathlon and how I need it.”
Behind her, some names of the past and future like Poland’s Monika Hojnisz (bib 65) and Latvia’s Baiba Bendika (bib 63) made a run for the podium to end up fourth (+14.1) and fifth (+23.7), respectively.
“Good joke, wake me up when this dream is over!” Bendika, 24, posted with a photo of Friday’s flower ceremony on Instagram. She had shot clean for her first individual top 40. “I guess there is not much to stay, it’s just- CRAZY!!”
Also 24, Hojnisz previously placed fifth in the 2014 Olympics mass start and took bronze in the pursuit at 2013 World Championships. On Friday, she had one prone penalty and cleaned standing en route to fourth, 1.7 seconds off the podium.
Germany’s Franziska Preuss in bib 40 rebounded from a broken tailbone to place sixth (+33.2) with a single standing miss, just 0.4 seconds ahead of Soukalova in seventh. It was Preuss’s second-best result of the season after placing fourth in the Östersund sprint. She crashed in a race there and missed much of the next two months of competition.
“It was the first race of the new year for me,” Preuss told German TV broadcaster ZDF. “I am just happy that it worked so well, that felt good for my psyche. Those were some hard weeks. … sitting in the gym on the ergometer and having to watch the others race. But you learn from every situation and get stronger. Of course you ask yourself, ‘Why does this have to happen?’ but yeah… tick it off and now I am happy that the re-entry went so well.”
One athlete who didn’t get a chance to race on Friday and will be out the rest of the season with a wrist injury was Canada’s Megan Tandy, who fell running two days ago.
“Itʼs just been a weird season for illness and injury,” Tandy said on the phone Friday. “In Pokljuka, I passed out on course, and I struggled over the next weeks to feel fit and energized again. Then in Antholz, I finally had a day where I was like, OK, Iʼm starting to feel back in shape, the ski speedʼs there,ʼ and then this happened.
“Iʼm making the best of it, or trying to,” she added.
Dreissigacker 28th; Beaudry in the Points
Sarah Beaudry, who shares Tandy’s hometown of Prince George, B.C., started the sprint and rose to the occasion in her absence. The 21-year-old Beaudry notched her first World Cup points in 38th (+2:02.3) with Canada’s second-best result after Ransom.
In her fifth-ever World Cup, Beaudry started 77th, cleaned prone and had one standing penalty to set a new career best by 16 places.
“I was happy that I managed to hit nine, especially on this windy day,” Beaudry said. “Overall I’m happy with how I performed and to get a personal best, first points at home, and especially when you never know when the next opportunity to race at home will be, it’s exciting to be able to do well.”
She’s lived in Canmore the last four years.
“I’m excited that Julia and Sarah were able to represent with some good shooting today,” Crawford said. “Overall, the team seems to be a little bit flat ski-speed-wise so that’s unfortunate. There’s so much excitement around these races…”
Next week, she explained that the B-team will represent Canada at the next Word Cup in Presque Isle, Maine, while most of the team’s World Cup regulars recover and train in Canmore.
The top American on Friday, Hannah Dreissigacker of US Biathlon’s A-team had received the call back up to compete at the World Cup in Canmore, where she placed 28th (+1:42.8) with one penalty in each stage.
“I got off to a really slow start this year, especially skiing-wise,” Dreissigacker noted. “I’ve been struggling to really get going on the course, and I think today I may have gone too fast on the first loop, but that’s better than never going fast at all.”
She spent the last several weeks racing the IBU Cup, where she’s been working to find her speed again.
“Today, two misses was good because it was windy and I got a little lucky with the shooting,” Dreissigacker wrote. “To be honest, I should’ve hit more than I hit. I gave one away in prone, my last shot, I just pulled the trigger too early I wasn’t even on the target. That was a bit of a bummer, but on the whole, I think 80 percent [shooting] was good today.”
Behind her, U.S. teammate Annelies Cook finished 47th with three penalties, all in prone.
“I’ve had a really rough string of racing so my confidence has gotten really low,” Cook said. “I missed three prone which was too bad, but for me, looking at how I shot, it was actually OK. I had a good group and I just didn’t take enough clicks that I needed. What was really important to me is that when I came back in standing, I cleaned and I cleaned fast, and that felt really, really good.
“I think three was kind of average shooting today,” she added. “It wasn’t great but it wasn’t terrible, either.”
Dabbling in biathlon for the first time this year, Joanne Reid of the U.S. explained she just learned how to “click,” or adjust the sights on her rifle, one day before the race.
“I’d love to blame it on the wind but … I think I got a little overexcited about clicking,” Reid said after placing 57th, exactly 5 seconds back from Kocher and 2:33.2 behind the winner. Aside from her six penalties (3+3), her overall course time ranked 16th.
On Saturday, men’s and women’s mass starts will be held (at 10 and 11:30 a.m. Mountain time, respectively) with Dunklee qualifying in the overall World Cup top 30. Crawford and Ransom were listed as reserve athletes based on a provisional start list.
— Seth Adams, Harald Zimmer and Chelsea Little contributed reporting