IBU Junior World Championships (Otepää, Estonia): Junior women’s and men’s individual
Three North Americans in the top 10, top nine even. That’s what happened in a single race at the International Biathlon Union (IBU) Junior World Championships on Thursday in Otepää, with American Chloe Levins placing sixth, and Canada’s Nadia Moser and Megan Bankes claiming eighth and ninth, respectively, in junior women’s 12.5-kilometer individual.
According to the three racers, it was another beautiful day in Otepää with steady, sometimes even gusting, wind.
Levins was the earliest starter of the three, starting in the middle of the field in bib 37 (out of 70). Bankes headed out of the gate 45th and Moser started near last in 67th.
Despite the late start, Moser, 20 years old and in her second Junior Worlds, explained in an email that she wasn’t nervous. With temperatures rising to a high of -10 degrees Celsius (14 Fahrenheit) on Thursday morning, she almost preferred it.
“There were also 20 second start intervals which are shorter than the usual 30, so all of the competitors were out of the gate in a shorter amount of time than normal,” Moser wrote.
In neither Thursday’s women’s race nor the men’s 15 k individual that followed, nobody shot clean. In fact, only one woman shot 19-for-20: Slovakia’s Veronika Machyniakova, who ended up 11th. The top-two finishers in the women’s 12.5 k, Poland’s Kamila Żuk (who placed first in 41:36.1 minutes) and Ukraine’s Anna Kryvonos (who finished 3:04.7 minutes back in second place), both had two penalties. Russia’s Irina Kazakevich placed third (+3:20.0) with three misses — which added three minutes of penalties to her time.
“I found the wind in the range today to be fairly variable,” Bankes, the defending Junior Worlds champion in the event, wrote in an email. “It was gusting and then dying quiet significantly and also in the middle of shooting bouts which made things a little tricky.”
At last year’s Junior Worlds in Osrblie, Slovakia, Bankes shot a perfect 20-for-20 for the first time in her career and won gold in the junior women’s 12.5 k individual.
Thursday brought new challenges, and Bankes explained she was happy to clean her first prone. She went on to miss two in the next standing stage, then one in each of the following two stages (0+2+1+1) to finish the race with four penalties, which ultimately put her in ninth overall (+4:59.1).
“I’m not totally sure what happened in my first standing (when I missed 2) but when I came into my 2nd standing the wind was gusting quite a bit, and I was really happy with how I waited for my first 4 shots, but I was a little annoyed to have missed that last one,” she recalled. “Overall I think my shooting today was pretty good, but I could have been better.”
While Bankes figured the wind was giving most others trouble as well, she didn’t think that she’d make it into the top 10 with four misses.
“I don’t like getting splits until the last lap, so I heard Andrew [Chisholm] our wax tech tell me I was fighting for 10th when I passed him, so I really tried to give everything that last lap,” Bankes, 20, wrote. “I was super stoked to see I crossed the line in 7th, and knew I wouldn’t be bumped down too much because I started 3rd seed.
“Coming off of gold last year, I definitely had high expectations for myself,” she explained. “But I tried to use that as more positive belief in myself to know I can be in the top women, and know that I can shoot well, instead of just focusing on the result number. My main goal going into these championships was to have races that I’m happy with, and to ski and shoot to the best of my abilities.”
At the end of the day, Bankes wrote that she was “really happy” with her result.
“I felt like I really held myself together on skis, and kept my technique under control, while also pushing myself to the limit throughout the race,” she wrote. “I’m super stoked to see that the youth women are totally crushing it, and to be right behind Nadia today was also super exciting (also to see Chloe Levins in 6th was fantastic – 3 North Americans in the top 10!)”
One place ahead of her, Moser scored her first non-relay top 20 at Junior Worlds, leading Canada in eighth (+4:18.9) with three penalties (1+0+1+1). Two days earlier, Moser, Bankes and their teammate Emily Dickson placed ninth in the junior women’s 3 x 6 k relay.
“I knew I could get a top 10 finish if I could pull my shooting together,” Moser wrote after Thursday’s individual race. “After my third shooting I had missed 2 targets total and I thought then that my top 10 chances were over. On may last loop I had 3 misses and was not even thinking about top 10 anymore. I realized that I must be doing better than I initially thought when everyone who was cheering me sounded really excited. I definitely got lucky today because no one cleaned their shooting. I was extremely happy to have finished in the top 10, especially since I was sure that I had no chance after missing 3 targets.”
She was pleased to see all of her training over the last year validated on Thursday.
“I tried really hard to improve over the summer and fall because I really wanted good results this season,” Moser wrote. “I think that the best thing I did today was to stay calm, and take my time in the range. I shot really slowly but that paid off in the end.”
The lone American junior woman at this year’s IBU Youth/Junior Worlds, Levins, 19, finished sixth (+3:37.4) with three penalties (0+1+0+2). At last year’s Youth Worlds, Levins notched fourth place in the 7.5 k pursuit.
“There’s a big difference between youth and junior competition,” Levins wrote in an email. “A lot of juniors have IBU Cup experience, World Cup experience, and a handful even attended the Olympics. Fortunately, there’s also a big difference between the youth athlete I was last year and the junior I am now. I’ve been fortunate to compete in more winter biathlon races than ever this year, which has really helped me up my game. It’s a good feeling to see that I’m prepared to compete at this level.”
She explained that she had one goal on Thursday: “smile no matter what,” she wrote. “The hay is in the barn. Now it’s just time to get out of my own way and focus on one thing at a time.”
While Levins had experienced the rush of being near the front of the race in a pursuit, actually contending for a top result in an individual-start race was a new experience for her, she explained.
“As always, I tried not to let thoughts of my position distract me from thinking tactically about the course or my shooting process,” Levins noted. “Every lap, every corner, every shooting remained an opportunity for me until the finish line.
“A lot of my friends finished their races around me, so I did not even see my standing at the finish,” she continued. “When I finally looked at the board and saw that I was more than three minutes back of the leader, I thought that this result, with three penalties myself, was okay. I didn’t expect it to be good enough for sixth place.”
The race was Levins’s first of the week and she presumably has two more to go — as do Moser, Bankes and most of the other junior women — with a sprint on Saturday and, if they place in the top 60 of the sprint, a pursuit on Sunday.
As the only American junior woman in Otepää, Levins wrote that she was fortunate to have a significant amount of team support behind her on Thursday.
“My skis today were incredibly fast,” she emphasized. “Our wax guys made the fastest skis on the track today. … I can’t thank them enough.”
The U.S. team’s head coach and trip leader, Erik Lewish, pointed out that Levins had the seventh-fastest overall ski time and one of the best shooting performances of the day.
“It’s great to see that she is right in the mix with this very competitive field (2 of the starters today were competing in the Olympics),” Lewish wrote. “1 more hit and she would have finished in 2nd place today, this is very exciting looking forward to the Sprint and pursuit (sat and Sunday) where she will have another chance to get on the podium.”
“There are a lot of good things to take from this race and, as always, a lot of things to learn,” Levins concluded. “What’s my goal for the rest of the week? Keep learning. Keep smiling.”
According to Canada’s head coach and trip leader Jacqueline Akerman, the Canadian techs also nailed the wax.
“The techs hit the wax perfectly allowing for some of the top skis out there, when skiing form and wax meet it sets the scene for great results,” Akerman wrote. “The shooting was a bit tricky today with varying strength and switching winds, but both [Nadia and Megan] managed to keep misses to a minimum. They both hit enough to place in the top ten on a day when no one in the field shot clean and only one athlete managed one penalty. They are both happy with their performance, and the rest of us are too!”
Next on the results sheet for Canada was Dickson in 36th (+8:33.7) with five penalties (2+1+0+2), and Zoë Pekos in 63rd (+15:50.6) with eight misses.
In the junior men’s 15 k, Canada’s Adam Runnalls led the North Americans in 29th (+4:26.4) with five penalties (0+0+3+2). Teo Sanchez followed in 58th (+7:25.2) with four misses (1+1+1+1), Angus Tweedie was 67th (+9:11.8) with six misses (2+0+2+2), and Trevor Kiers 77th (+12:44.3) with 13 penalties.
For the U.S., Tim Cunningham finished 53rd (+6:49.3) with six penalties (1+3+1+1), Cody Johnson was 60th (+8:01.7) with seven misses, Jacob Pearson 83rd (+16:39.6) with 13 misses, and Cameron Christiansen 84th (+16:53.6) with eight penalties.
Russia had two on the podium in the men’s race as well, with Igor Malinovskii scoring his second-straight win after racing to gold in the junior men’s 4 x 7.5 k relay on Tuesday. He has won the last four races he’s contested, including the sprint and the pursuit at IBU Junior Open European Championships before Junior Worlds. Malinovskii finished in 41:48.5 on Thursday with three penalties (1+1+1+0), besting Norway’s Sturla Holm Lægreid in second place by 19.4 seconds; Lægreid also had three penalties (1+0+1+1). Russia’s Said Karimulla Khalili added bronze (+23.0) to his medal collection, with two misses (0+1+1+0), after capturing gold with his relay team.
No one in the junior men’s individual had fewer than two misses.