Entering this season, members of Biathlon Canada had everything to gain and not a whole lot to lose. They had already had their funding reduced to zero by Own The Podium, save for a $50,000-dollar provision that paid for a coach, and its athletes were left to determine their offseason plan: stay home to train or self-fund training camps elsewhere. Many chose to spend most of their summer at the team’s base in Canmore, Alberta, and most started the season on the fly — without any preseason tuneup races in Europe — this week in Östersund, Sweden.
Julia Ransom was one of those athletes. After prequalifying for Canada’s International Biathlon Union (IBU) World Cup Team for the first trimester of racing, Ransom, 24, jumped into the 2017/2018 season with the Östersund mixed relay this past Sunday — three days after flying over from Canada.
There, she raced the second leg of the relay and tagged off in 15th, down two spots from where her teammate Emma Lunder tagged her in 13th. The team ultimately finished 15th, with teammates Scott Gow and Brendan Green.
“Today was a tough day for me. My legs were lead on the course,” Ransom wrote in a post-race email to FasterSkier on Sunday.
Three days later on Wednesday, it was another ballgame. With little to lose in the women’s 15-kilometer individual in Östersund, Ransom raced to a career-best ninth, which stood as her team’s best non-relay result in two seasons.
In the first individual race of the season, Ransom is well on her way to securing a spot on Biathlon Canada’s 2018 Olympic team, meeting half of the team’s “Priority 2” Olympic criteria standards. She needs another top 16 to fulfill that second-tier criteria. Priority 1 is one top-eight result in a World Cup (or World Championships, in a championships year like last season) or a top-three in a World Cup relay.
So far, she is the only one on her team who has cracked the top 16 in two seasons. Last winter, her best result (and her previous personal best) was 18th at 2017 World Championships in the 15 k individual. Canada’s best non-relay result in 2016/2017 was Scott Gow’s 17th place in a 20 k individual World Cup race.
And again, it’s the first race of the season.
“I am still in shock with how well today went,” Ransom, a Penticton, British Columbia, native in her fourth World Cup season, wrote in an email to FasterSkier on Wednesday.
“It is such a relief to start racing again,” she continued. “I wasn’t too nervous today; I had a race plan that I had confidence in and I was excited to give it a go. I also was looking for redemption after my painful relay leg on Sunday.”
Conditions were chilly, at -12 degrees Celsius (10 degrees Fahrenheit), but calm, accounting for clean shooting for seven out of the top-nine finishers. Ransom was one of them.
She started 20th (out of 102) and cleaned all four stages in the longest-format women’s race on the circuit. In individual races, shooting is weighed heavily; a minute is added to a competitor’s final time for each missed shot. Fortunately for Ransom, she hit all 20 targets.
“I was getting some pretty exciting splits during the whole race (top 5, second place, catching the leader etc) so I had an idea this was going to be a good day as long as I kept my shooting together,” she reflected. “I took a sigh of relief after the 20th target went down and just tried to ski as well as I could to the finish. I did take look at the big screen as I left the range, just to make sure I was hearing the techs right!”
Ransom initially crossed the finish line in third, 28.8 seconds behind Sweden’s Mona Brorsson in first and 9.8 seconds behind Eva Puskarčíková of the Czech Republic in second. Both Brorsson and Puskarčíková also shot clean.
The 55th starter, Nadezhda Skardino of Belarus, ultimately posted the best shooting and skiing performance of the day, racing to her first World Cup win (and first podium in three years) in 42:57.4 minutes with 20-for-20 shooting. Norway’s Synnøve Solemdal started 75th and shot clean but came up 2.9 seconds short at the finish to place second, bumping Ukraine’s Yuliia Dzhima to third (+12.0). The top-four women all cleaned with another Ukrainian, Valj Semerenko, placing fourth (+30.1).
Slovakia’s Paulina Fialková finished fifth (+32.2) with a single penalty (0+0+0+1), while Brorsson ultimately placed sixth (+49.6) and Puskarčíková seventh (+1:08.6).
Ransom ended up ninth for her best World Cup level performance by nine places, ahead of Norway’s Marte Olsbu in 10th and about eight seconds behind France’s Justine Braisaz in eighth.
“Starting off the season with a top ten has validated the hard work our team has put in and also given me a lot of confidence going forward. It’s a great building block to say the least,” Ransom wrote.
Asked what she thought made the difference with her training this year, she explained that she’d honed in on increasing her shooting speed.
“It’s still a work in progress but I am happy where I am so far,” she wrote. “I also did a ton of extra strength work and core stability and it has proven to make a big difference on the skis.”
On Wednesday, Ransom’s overall shooting and range times ranked in the middle of the pack, around 50th, while her overall course time was slightly faster in 42nd.
Biathlon Canada Head Coach Matthias Ahrens praised Ransom’s ability to perform under pressure.
“Especially as the tension mounted, with each clean bout, Julia was closer the podium and she managed the pressure very well,” he said, according to a team press release. “She didn’t get too excited or too nervous, executing clean shooting each time.”
Four Canadians started Wednesday’s 15 k, with Rosanna Crawford finishing 39th (+3:32.6) with three penalties (0+0+1+2), following her crash in Sunday’s single mixed relay.
“Rosanna, considering the crash of Sunday, had a really nice race,” Ahrens said in the press release. “It wasn’t certain if she’d race today, and we went in with a strategy not to risk any further injury. She managed a very good race, with a quite good ski time. Her rifle also required repairs from Sunday’s race. Overall, not knowing how she would hold up, particularly on one of the hardest Individual courses on the circuit, it was a nice result for her, in the World Cup points.”
Megan Bankes finished 75th (+6:28.9) with three misses (2+1+0+0) and Lunder was 83rd (+7:06.3) with five penalties (0+0+2+3).
US Biathlon started three women, with Susan Dunklee leading the team in 53rd (+4:12.7) with four penalties (1+0+1+2). Clare Egan finished 79th (+6:52.5) with five misses (0+2+1+2) and Emily Dreissigacker was 81st (+7:03.5) with three misses (0+0+1+2).
The men start their season with a 20 k individual on Thursday at 11:15 a.m. Eastern Standard Time.