FINLAND – One shot and one second were the difference in two world cup medals for Emma Lunder.
Under the bright lights of the season opener, Canada’s top biathlete had her best world cup ever in Kontiolahti, Finland (Nov. 29-Dec. 4), with remarkable fourth and fifth place finishes.
Being so close with major league results early on is a huge motivation for Lunder and what’s possible this season.
“This weekend was awesome to see just how close the podium is,” said Lunder, 31. “Of course, anything can happen in biathlon, which is what keeps this sport exciting, but I'm definitely hungry to improve from a personal best of fourth.”
Among superstars Dorothea Wierer and Lisa Vittozzi, everything came together for the Canmore biathlete who showed in Finland that her endurance, speed and precision are shoulder-to-shoulder with the best. On range, Lunder was sharp as ever, picking off targets with 92 per cent accuracy overall (94 per cent in prone, 90 per cent standing).
Coming into 2022-23 healthy, Lunder felt strong on course in Kontiolahti.
“Starting the season with a personal best is a great feeling, and it’s cool to see all of the hard work our team put in this summer really paying off,” said Lunder. “I’m hoping we’re able to keep building the momentum as a team, especially with our younger athletes who are just getting their first exposure to the world cup. We have a good vibe going, and I’m excited to see what we'll be able to accomplish this winter.”
Biathlon Canada’s head coach Justin Wadsworth said Lunder’s off-season training was interrupted by injuries and it showed in the world cup opener. He said the podium is there for Lunder, but he wants his pupil to focus on the positives she’s done and less about the results.
“We hate to put expectations or whatever, but I mean, she now has shown herself more than anybody that she can ski [and shoot] with the best in the world,” said Wadsworth. “With that confidence, hopefully she can just keep putting together really good solid performances. I think if she does that, sooner or later she’ll end up [on the podium].”
Currently ranked eighth in the world, Lunder’s vertical jump up the standings started Saturday when raced to a world cup best fourth place and was a part of her second-ever flower ceremony – given to the top six finishers.
She shot clean (10/10) in the sprint and finished at a time of 21:04.9 – narrowly missing bronze by 1.2 seconds to Sweden’s Linn Persson. In first place was Austria’s Lisa Theresa Hauser (20:39.5) and in second was Italy’s Vittozzi (20:56.8).
The next day, the Canadian followed up with a fifth-place effort in the 10-kilometre pursuit, shooting 19/20 at 31:46.2. Had Lunder shot clean – a perfect outing at the range – she would have likely been in contention for silver, which was won by Italy’s Wierer at 31:24.9.
Lunder also finished 20th in the 15 km individual.
“I think for [Lunder], the motivation is really to see if she can stay in the top overall with consistent performances, which obviously she’s done in three races,” said Wadsworth. “That and showing to herself that all the hard work she’s done not just this last year, but the last six, seven years of her career is starting to pay off.”
Meanwhile, Canada’s Adam Runnalls raced to a personal best, placing 19th in the men’s 10 km sprint while shooting 9/10.
Coming off two high-stake victories at the biathlon trials in Canmore, Runnalls handled the mental pressure well early on.
“He’s right in there with Christian [Gow] with both the skiing and shooting," said Wadsworth, giving Runnalls high praise. "Those two have had some nice battles in summer and fall in time trials and stuff so they’re both very capable of the results Adam has shown and Christian has shown in the past."
Consistently one of Canada’s top biathletes for years, Gow had a forgettable season opener. His highest placing was 36th in the men’s 20km individual. However, Wadsworth isn’t too concerned with the lacklustre performances and said Gow just needs to shake off the cobwebs and he’ll return to form.
The next world cup is from Dec. 8-11 in Hochfilzen, Austria.