Franziska Preuss picked up her second life in the forest. In the meantime, she had been fought off and seen on the Pokljuka plateau, a few strenuous kilometers behind her. Preuss wanted to run for silver in this relay race, but Olena Pidhrushna from Ukraine seemed to have escaped her on the last long climb. And the track in Slovenia is very narrow, there are not too many opportunities to overtake. But who needs many opportunities when one is enough?
Refueled with new energy, Preuss suddenly shot out from between the trees, sprinted on the final straight, Pidhrushna held on for a tiny moment – and then surrendered, shaking his head. “Somehow my second life came back,” said Preuss happily in front of the ZDF microphone, “it was really cool.”
The last 500 meters to the finish are only downhill and Preuss knew that she could use her advantage: the fast skis. “We had top material under our feet,” she said later, “I trusted in the runs that you would go back a few meters there.” Her swing was so great that she had time before the finish line to throw up her arms to cheer. How much relief this second World Championship medal meant for the German Ski Association (DSV) was also evident in the coaches, who jumped into each other’s arms, overwhelmed. Comment from Florian Steirer: “That was a cool box.”
In the meantime the season was only sixth – but then Preuss came
In the highlights of this World Cup, Franziska Preuss’ last show of strength will definitely go down, also because halfway through the race the German women had not really seen any success. Well, they started the race with starting number one for a reason: no team had competed in the relays as well as they did this season, most recently a victory in Oberhof and a second place in Antholz. But after Janina Hettich handed over the second of the four runners to Franziska Preuß on Saturday, the scoreboard was one minute behind, sixth, medal prospect: well.
Starting runner Vanessa Hinz continued her good World Championship run and made no mistakes at the shooting range. Standing, the first and third projectiles sneaked past the cover, they were edge hits, but luck is also part of it. With a gap of 17.8 seconds to Norway, she handed over to Janina Hettich in third place, who had to get through a difficult phase: Norway’s Tiril Eckhoff, the most successful woman in the World Cup so far, was also on the road with her.
For Hettich it is the first complete season in the World Cup, her strength is prone shooting: No one who has run nearly as many races as she has achieved a hit rate of 96 percent. But now, in her first World Cup run as a relay runner, the 24-year-old suddenly wobbled, two spare rounds cost valuable seconds. “That made me really insecure,” she said later. She also lost a lot of time on the track, but was then able to get up again with five hits in a standing position.
Denise Herrmann, who had lost her position as the last runner during the season to the formally strong Franziska Preuss, fought against the penalty loop with three spare rounds and was initially unable to catch up. But then she surprised in the standing shooting, her wobbly discipline, which the 32-year-old mastered without mistakes. She handed over to Preuss in fifth place, 43.4 seconds behind Norway. When changing, Herrmann initially suffered another mishap, she did not catch Preuss’s shoulder when she was clapped. “ The skis were so fast today that I went in a little faster. Or the arm was just too short,” joked Hermann later, it took a second try to touch it.
Preuss shows a standing insert from the textbook
Now it was up to Preuss to still believe in the chance for a medal, 33 seconds behind the Polish women who had been surprisingly strong up until then, the bronze rank was still in sight. Even in prone shooting, Preuss was able to halve the deficit on Norway because Röiseland, which was already shaky at the World Cup, had three spare rounds. On the track, too, the German made up seconds, and then showed a standing insert that you could find in textbooks. Five hits in 22.6 seconds, while the additional cartridges had to be hurriedly fumbled into the rifles around them.
The athletes from Belarus, Poland, Ukraine and France who fought for silver with Preuss all had problems.
At the World Championships in Antholz a year ago, Preuss had already led the relay – at that time still the third runner – from fourth to second, now she has again confirmed her quality in the team. “That was gigantic. I hadn’t expected that anymore,” said Herrmann in Slovenia, “Franzi is our super slider”.
The Norwegians’ lead was only 8.8 seconds at the finish, the team could afford eleven spare rounds and the German relay team had five. Herrmann, Hinz and Preuß had previously achieved six top ten placements at the Pokljuka, but in some cases they narrowly missed a medal. “You saw again during the week that competitive sport is really tough,” said Preuss, “now it’s mega-cool that we caught the day today and have something to celebrate.”