The next time your order a cup of joe, remember to be nice to the person on the other side of the counter; they could just be a World Cup skier. In a press release, Biathlon Canada was quick to point out that one of its national-team members, Emma Lunder, is a Starbucks barista in Canmore, Alberta.
But on Thursday, thousands of miles away at the International Biathlon Union (IBU) World Cup in Antholz, Italy, Lunder raced to a career-best 21st in the women’s 15-kilometer individual race. It was her first time racing that distance. In fact, it was twice as long as the 7.5 k sprint she had done in eight of her nine previous World Cup starts (not counting relays).
The Biathlon Canada B-team member started last on Thursday, wearing bib 99. It’s a tall order waiting around that long in the longest-format race on the circuit, complete with four shooting stages, but the 25-year-old Lunder was generally unfazed.
“I would say this year I am definitely used to starting in the fourth seed, and getting a hang of dealing with the wait,” she wrote in an email after Thursday’s race. “I quickly ski tested with our techs, zeroed my rifle and then headed back to our wax room where I lay on a pile of ski bags and read my book for 45 minutes before warming up.”
Fortunately, the wait played to her favor. Gusting winds across the range gave most of the field troubles. But when Lunder set out on the course, those winds seemed to be less of an issue.
“I had absolutely no wind when I zeroed, which I found made it easier to make corrections during the race,” she wrote of her pre-race target practice. “I think I had fairly consistent wind for both prone and standing, and was happy not to have any big gusts blowing me around!”
Lunder explained that she had been working with her coaches and sports psychologist on improving her focus while shooting. She had struggled with her prone shooting over the last few weekends (including last week’s World Cup in Ruhpolding, Germany, and the IBU Cups in Martell, Italy, before that). On Thursday, Lunder was hoping to execute some new strategies.
With a clean first prone stage, she was already on par with a personal best as she left the range in 35th. (Lunder previously placed 30th in her first-ever World Cup three years ago in Pokljuka, Slovenia. With that result, she qualified for the 10 k pursuit, and went on to place 41st for her second-best result to date — up until Thursday.)
Lunder then cleaned her second shooting and first standing stage to put herself in 10th halfway through Thursday’s race. But she had no idea where she stood. Fortunately, she had plenty of skiers within sight, after race organizers started the fourth seed — which included Lunder — in 15-second intervals (as opposed to 30 seconds between racers).
“Skiing was a fun but extremely tough battle,” Lunder wrote. “… There were way more girls close to me that I could chase and ski with. … I actually wasn’t given any information of where I was until I’d finished in the range and was heading out for my last lap — I think the techs and coaches didn’t want to excite me before any of my shooting bouts, and I’m quite happy for it.”
She missed her first and only target of the day on her second prone, which put her in 24th with two loops to go, and cleaned her final standing stage, moving her back up into 15th. Leaving the range for the last time, she realized she was in a best-ever position.
“I really hoped I was fighting for points, and when I left the range after my last standing … I almost had an ‘oh crap’ moment because I knew I had to ski absolutely as hard as I possibly could for another 3km and I was already feeling the hurt,” she explained.
“We had really competitive skis today thanks to our hardworking wax-tech crew, and they were all over the place for my last lap, screaming for me to fight up every hill and they got me all the way to the finish line!” Lunder added. “I was feeling the pain for my whole last lap, and it turned into just trying to survive rather than really being able to fight, but I know I did absolutely everything I could on the skis today, and I am so, so happy with my race.”
The Vernon, B.C., native ended up 21st, 3:29.7 minutes out of first, with one penalty (0+0+1+0). Lunder was one of just four out of 99 that shot 19-for-20. No one cleaned.
The winner, Laura Dahlmeier of Germany, had two misses (1+1+0+0) — for a total of two minutes added to her finishing time. Dahlmeier secured the win in 44:48.7 minutes, thanks to perfect shooting in the last two stages. It was her 11th World Cup victory.
“It was incredibly difficult today,” Dahlmeier told German broadcaster ZDF after starting 15th. “I tried to make it a little easier on myself. That’s why I twice went to the outmost positions [on the range]. But honestly it was just as windy, I had to fight just the same. It was hard to get into the race after those two misses. I just tried to do my own thing, and shoot clean in the end.”
Dahlmeier’s 11th World Cup win on Thursday gave her the overall World Cup lead and with it, the yellow bib, and allowed her to keep the red bib of the 15 k individual discipline leader.
“It is a dream come true to win in this beautiful setting,” Dahlmeier said of sunny Antholz. “That I can keep the red jersey and get the yellow one back, it doesn’t get better than that.”
Behind her France’s Anaïs Chevalier started 32nd and came within 3.8 seconds of Dahlmeier’s finishing time. Chevalier was one of the four women that missed just one target (0+1+0+0), along with third-place finisher Alexia Runggaldier of Italy (+46.0, 0+1+0+0).
For Runggaldier, it was her first World Cup podium.
“This morning I was a little anxious, and just thought, ‘Give it your best.’ I really wanted to qualify for the mass start [on Saturday],” she told ZDF. “I just told myself to do the best I can, just do that, and now I can’t believe it!”
The 25-year-old Runggaldier qualified for the 30-woman mass start based on that result. On Thursday, she said conditions weren’t easy even as a later starter in bib 59.
“It has already been difficult the last few days,” she said of target practice during training. “Yesterday it didn’t work well for me, so today I just told myself to focus, 20 shots, four series. And my coach told me out on the course ‘be patient!’ and I just tried to execute that.”
As for Lunder, she wrote that she was “extremely happy” with her shooting performance and pointed out that the last time she scored World Cup points was in 2014.
“… To be just out of top-20 today feels pretty amazing,” Lunder wrote. “Today was a huge day for me on the range, and I think there’s still work to be done on the skiing side of things, but I know I’m headed in the right direction.”
As of Thursday, Biathlon Canada had not made any formal announcement about its World Championships team.
“Today I left it all out there so no matter what happens [with selections] I am super proud of what I accomplished in this race!” Lunder noted.
Also on Thursday, Megan Tandy of Biathlon Canada’s A-team (officially the “Eh! Squad”) finished 33rd (+5:02.0) for a season best. She started 69th and shot four penalties (1+1+0+2) with the 61st-ranked overall course time.
“I can easily say this is my slowest season since I was a Junior!” Tandy wrote in an email. “That being said I was really pleased with today’s race because it represented a baby step forward in both skiing (I didn’t feel dead tired racing today and actually enjoyed skiing which is a first this season) and on the result list as well. Finally some points — what a relief!”
She described the wind as “up and down” with more wind for her first and last bouts, but “nothing unmanageable.”
“I made fairly aggressive sight adjustments in prone. The women had quite windy conditions during training the 2 previous days so even though the conditions were challenging at times I felt confident about clicking,” Tandy reflected.
After just two misses in her first two bouts and a clean third stage, Tandy was in contention for a top 30 with one shooting stage to go. In that final standing stage, she missed two, which left her disappointed.
“I am still so angry with myself especially because I missed the last 2 shots and up until those misses the potential for a good race was there!” she wrote. “But thats biathlon for you! I didn’t really think about bouncing back after my last shooting — it was the last loop so I gave everything I had, simple as that!”
Her final loop time was her fastest of the day, ranking 51st. At the end of the day, Tandy was pleased to feel “normal” again during a race.
“It was such a pleasure compared to a lot of races this year where I feel like after the first 1km my only goal becomes to survive until the finish line,” she wrote. “Shooting I think I did good work in 3 of my 4 bouts, particularly reacting to the wind prone so I feel confident and am looking forward to the relay this Sunday! 6km is also going to feel short and sweet after that 15km!!”
The women race a 4 x 6 k relay on Sunday in Antholz.
Canada’s third woman on Thursday, Julia Ransom finished 55th (+6:28.2) with four penalties (0+3+0+1). Rosanna Crawford did not race, but tweeted after, “Well if I had to sit out today’s race and be a fan instead I sure am glad @emmalunds made it an exciting race to watch, finishing 21st for a new personal best! Lucky number bib 99! #gretzky #ANT17 #gocanada”
Four U.S. women competed on Thursday, with Clare Egan leading the team in 59th (+6:58.6) with six penalties (1+4+0+1) that added six minutes to her finishing time. She started 80th and recalled some wind issues on her second shooting.
“I had the fastest skis I’ve ever had in my life today, and three out of four good shooting stages,” Egan said, according to a US Biathlon press release, of her first, third and fourth stages. “Unfortunately, a stupid mistake in the first standing stage foiled any chance I had at a good result. I tried to shoot through gusting wind instead of waiting until I could take a good shot. I made a strong comeback from that point on, but 59th place is hardly what I was hoping for.”
Her US Biathlon teammate Joanne Reid followed in 60th (+7:05.2), also with six misses (2+2+1+1). Reid started 23rd.
“There were definitely some gusts out there today, and what could be tricky conditions if you didn’t adapt correctly to them,” Reid told US Biathlon. “Wind is a lifetime learning experience — every race, every range, every point, and every day is different, so you’ll never know exactly what you’re supposed to do, or what you should have done in any situation. Biathlon is by its very nature sinusoidal, and it’s unfortunate when those troughs hit us all at the same time.”
Also for the U.S., Susan Dunklee started 46th and and finished 71st (+7:58.0) with eight penalties (0+4+2+2), and 21-year-old Maddie Phaneuf in bib 92 finished 81st (+9:18.9) with seven penalties (3+1+1+2).
“I think as a team we displayed some incredible bravery out there,” Reid noted. “It can be mentally very tough to keep fighting when you know how many minutes you lost. I especially salute Susan for her ability to come back from races like this with incredible grace, considering the high expectations constantly placed upon her. And Maddie, of course, our youngest, who is trying to adjust to a whole different level of skiers in an unfamiliar environment. Everyone has to start somewhere, and it’s tough to remember that sometimes with veterans on the team like Tim [Burke] and Lowell [Bailey], who have been starting biathlon races for almost as long as Maddie has been alive.”
“I know the four of us are eager to redeem ourselves in Sunday’s 4x6k women’s relay,” Egan said.
Dunklee will have another individual shot in the last set of races before World Championships (Feb. 9-19 in Hochfilzen, Austria) this Saturday in the 12.5 k mass start, as Dunklee is ranked 17th overall in the World Cup.
The men’s 20 k individual takes place Friday, starting at 8:15 a.m. EST. Watch it live on Eurovisionsports.tv.
— Harald Zimmer contributed