—Canadians place ninth in Team Mixed Relay event to kick off World Cup season—
OESTERSUND, Swe.—A new season, a rare race format, but Canada’s top biathletes made a statement to the world to make no mistake – the Canucks will be a force to reckon with on the World Cup this year.
Canada’s Rosanna Crawford and Nathan Smith teamed up to win the silver medal in the season-opening single mixed relay. Crawford (Canmore, Alta.) and Smith (Calgary), clocked a time of 36:40.5.
“This is a really great way to start the season,” beamed Smith. “There is always uncertainty and extra nerves at this time of year until you get to see how you actually stack up against the competition. The first race after travel can be more painful so the shorter relay formats are the perfect way to warm up for the 20km individual in a few days.”
Norway finished 11.9 seconds ahead of the Canadians in a seesaw affair to take the top spot on the podium with a time of 36:27.3. Canada’s Smith won the sprint for the silver, forcing the Germans into the bronze-medal position with a time of 36:40.5.
The result is early validation the 29-year-old Smith’s breakthrough season, which saw him win his first World Cup race and become the first Canadian male ever to win a World Championship medal in biathlon when he claimed the silver last year was no fluke.
Crawford, 27, was also knocking on the door of her first World Cup podium last year with a fourth and fifth place finish to go along with a handful of top-10s.
“We knew there was lots of potential in this race so it feels good to deliver,” said Crawford. “This race is pretty different from any of our individual events, but it is a good confidence booster to know we are skiing and shooting with some of the best.”
Designed to be more spectator friendly, the action-packed single mixed format is a shorter version of the mixed team event, sending athletes out on shorter loops and shooting prone-prone-standing-standing. The women start with prone before handing off to the men for their round of prone. Athletes tag off between each round of shooting.
When all is said and done, the women ski a total of six kilometres, while the men complete 7.5-kilometres on the course. The penalty loop is 75 metres.
The Canadians were well back early in the race with Crawford using four spare rounds in her first leg and Smith having to use two of his own, dropping them to eighth spot.
Demonstrating quickness on the skinny skis, with quick, sharp shooting, the Canadian duo rebounded after a slow start thanks to Crawford shooting clean in her final prone and standing, along with Smith cleaning his final prone. Smith then hunted the Germans down in the finishing stretch to claim the sliver in the windy conditions.
“We got off to a bit of a bumpy start, using too many spares in the first four shootings but then settled down and took the pressure off. I enjoyed the race format. It is a bit shorter to make things even more exciting,” said Crawford.
“I am one of the faster shooters, which is a great advantage when the ski loops are only 1.5km,” added Smith. “Rosanna is well known to be super strong in short races. I wasn’t surprised in the least at her performance.”
Smith was part of a single-mixed relay test event in Oslo, Norway two years ago. This is the first time it has been used to open the World Cup season.
“It’s an interesting take on biathlon and allows for even faster and more unexpected changes through the race. I like the format, and obviously getting a great result doesn’t hurt.”
Smith stuck around to watch four of his Canadians teammates suit up for the mixed team relay event.
Led by 22-year-old youngster, Julia Ransom of Kelowna, B.C., followed by veterans Zina Kocher (Red Deer, Alta.), Scott Perras (Regina), and Brendan Green (Hay River, N.W.T.) skiing the anchor leg, the Canadians combined to clock a solid ninth-place time of 1:14:51.2.
The relay consists of each athlete skiing 6 kilometres (women) 7.5 kilometres (men), with two bouts of shooting. The first starter of each team begins in a simultaneous mass start with other participants, and complete their leg before handing off to the next teammate. Competitors in the relay each carry three spare rounds. If all five targets are not knocked down with the first five rounds, the spares may be used, which takes more time because they are loaded by hand.
“The team race was also a great result, especially for our rookie Julia,” said Smith. “Both races today were super motivating for our team, and will give us the right momentum for the rest of the week that we hope to carry with us throughout the season.”
Norway also won the mixed team relay event with a time of 1:11:42.6. Germany was second at 1:12:16.2, while the Czech Republic won the race for the bronze with a time of 1:12:54.1
The World Cup continues in Oestersund on Wednesday with the men’s individual 20-kilometre race. The women will hit the start line for a 15-kilometre race on Thursday.
Top-Five Single Mixed Relay Results:
1. Norway, 36:27.3; 2. Canada (Rosanna Crawford/Canmore, Alta., Nathan Smith/Calgary), 36:39.2; 3. Germany, 36:40.5; 4. Sweden, 36:51.7; 5. Russia, 37:09.1
Top-Five Mixed Team Relay and Canadian Results:
1. Norway, 1:11:42.6; 2. Germany, 1:12:16.2; 3. Czech Republic, 1:12:54.1; 4. France, 1:13:30.8; 5. Sweden, 1:13:31.1
9. Canada (Julia Ransom/Kelowna, B.C., Zina Kocher/Red Deer, Alta., Scott Perras/Regina, Brendan Green/Hay River, N.W.T., 1:14:51.2