Olga Podchufarova stood atop the International Biathlon Union (IBU) World Cup podium on Thursday in Antholz, Italy, for the first time in her career. The 23-year-old Russian biathlete shot clean in the 7.5-kilometer sprint to claim her first-ever win in 21:01.9, saying that it was something that she has been looking for all season.
“I understood [this year] that I became stronger, not only physically, but mentally,” she said in an English interview with Eurosport. “And I understood that I was ready for better results than previous year.”
The 17th starter, she established a pace and finishing time no one else could match. Overall, her course time ranked ninth, and she was one of five women in the top 20 (and two in the top three) to shoot clean. For Podchufarova, it was her second-career IBU World Cup podium; earlier this season she placed third in the mass start in Pokljuka, Slovenia.
After starting immediately behind her in bib 18, Italy’s Dorothea Wierer took second in front of an enthusiastic crowd, finishing 8 seconds off Podchufarova’s time with one miss in standing. She was happy with her performance, saying that racing in Italy is stressful due to increased press coverage and pressure.
“Of course it hurts when you make one [penalty] … I was good on skis today…,” Wierer said in a post-race interview, implying that she knew that that one penalty was what kept her from the top spot on the podium. “I was also happy that I missed only one because I was shaking so much in standing. I am happy with this,” she concluded with a laugh.
The third spot on the podium went to another Russian, Ekaterina Yurlova (+22.1), who started 40th and shot clean to land in the top three. She bumped France’s Anais Bescond, in bib 23, to fourth (+24.7), after Bescond had a single prone penalty. When a Eurosport announcer asked Bescond if she was the “queen of fourth place” after her third fourth-place finish this year, she laughingly agreed, noting that fourth is “better than fifth, or 30th, or 60th.”
Canada’s Rosanna Crawford was the top North American in 33rd (+1:24.6) after cleaning prone but missing one in standing. American Susan Dunklee was not far behind in 37th (+1:30.1) with one miss in each stage. Neither of the two women were very pleased with their results:
“Even though I train and live at altitude, I don’t seem to be able to race at it very well!” Crawford wrote in an email, referring to Antholz’ relatively high elevation of 1600 meters (5200 feet). “I’ve always had a hard time with ski speed here and today was no exception. My first two laps were ok, but I lost a lot of time on my final 2.5km loop.”
“I love racing here,” Dunklee wrote in an email. “It’s a place where I have often done well. I usually start to come alive towards the end of the trimester when everyone else is starting to struggle, but today I was the one struggling. My skiing felt extremely flat and I couldn’t hold my normal pace.”
“It was a nice sunny Italian day,” Crawford added. “No wind and fair conditions. It’s a hard course here with not a lot of rest, you always have to be working.
“Shooting has been solid this year and I was confident going into the race,” she continued. “I took a couple extra breaths before my first prone shot but still was able to hit them relatively quickly. Girls really slow down it seems here, because of the altitude, but I practiced the range entry quite a few times in the two days leading into the race and was confident I could keep my normal range rhythm. My standing miss was disappointing, I just hadn’t quite moved onto the target when I pulled the trigger.”
“Antholz brought out its best today: sunshine, hard packed conditions, and an animated crowd of spectators,” Dunklee concluded. “I’m going to put this one behind me and enjoy the challenge of pack racing in the pursuit.”
The top-60 finishers in Thursday’s sprint qualify for the pursuit on Saturday. Crawford and Dunklee will be joined in that race by Canadian Julia Ransom, who finished in 46th (+1:47.2) on Thursday, who shot 9-for-10 with one standing penalty.
Also in Thursday’s sprint, Canadian Zina Kocher finished 66th (+2:29.0) with three penalties (2+1), American Clare Egan was 67th (+2:31.8) after a clean prone but three standing penalties, Canadian Megan Tandy in 72nd (+2:49.1) with three misses as well (1+2). Also for the U.S., Joanne Reid, in her second World Cup weekend, placed 74th (+2:51.1) with three standing misses (0+3) and Annelies Cook in 75th (+2:51.4) shot 70 percent as well (2+1).
— Alex Kochon contributed reporting