Two Small Crystal Globes for Gabriela Koukalová
Martin Fourcade and Laura Dahlmeier dominated the Crystal Globes competitions, claiming 8 of the 10 possible crystal trophies. However in the season’s waning days, 2016 World Cup Total Score winner Gabriela Koukalová swooped in to take home the other two small chunks of shiny glass in the sprint and mass start.
From the first press conference of the season through the short time she was in the Yellow bib and beyond, the Czech star insisted the World Cup Total Score and Crystal Globes were not her focus. Her goal was simply IBU WCH medals; something she missed in the 2015-16 campaign, when she won the Total Score title. Prior to this season, her only individual IBU WCH medal was Silver in the 15K individual at Kontiolahti in 2015. Holding true to her goal, she left Hochfilzen with a sprint Gold, 15K individual Silver and pursuit Bronze, a nice collection by anyone’s standards: mission accomplished.
With that focus and the Total Score pressure off, Koukalová had a very nice season. She was not the model of consistency of the previous year; her shooting consistency was down a bit and there were some results in double digits. However, the redhead had fourteen podiums, winning five times, with six second places and three thirds while keeping the pressure on Dahlmeier for the top spot, even though neither woman wanted to admit they were thinking about winning the Total Score.
Emotions in Nove Mesto na Moravě
The individual highlights of Koukalová’s season probably come down to the stunning mass start win in her pressure packed home stadium in Nove Mesto na Moravě and the equally exciting clean-shooting four-second win over Dahlmeier in the WCH sprint. Both were emotional, but the NMNM win in front of a stadium packed with her adoring Czech fans was one of those career moments only topped by Olympic success. Her eyes filled with tears, she commented, “I was so nervous before the race so it was amazing... I have so many emotions; it's even more emotional than at the Olympics. I would like to say thanks to all the spectators.”
Yet the Czech star’s stunning run of six competitions from that Nove Mesto mass start win through her mass start win at Ruhpolding on January 15 was a showcase of her talent, with three wins, and two seconds. Only one other woman had a streak like that all season and her initials are LD. In that span, Koukalová fired 100 shots and hit 94 of them. She bettered Dahlmeier twice in mass starts, skied very well in every competition and served notice about her podium intentions in Hochfilzen.
Gold Medal Tactics
Koukalová’s WCH sprint title was a brilliant combination of biathlon skill and tactics. Starting with bib number 96 in a field of 101 women, she took advantage of shadowy cooler spots on the tracks and dropping temperatures to claim a clean-shooting four-second win over Dahlmeier. That day, the new Sprint World Champion admitted her late start was an advantage that helped her win. "I think it was very clever tactics of our coaches; I could feel that every loop it is getting faster and faster." Koukalová’s first individual WCH Gold medal left her almost speechless. "I know Laura is fast in the last part of the track. I know she is very fast... I thought I was dreaming when I won, I thought it was not real.”
Oslo Revival Equals Two Small Globes
After Hochfilzen, Koukalová had just a single podium in Pyeongchang and Kontiolahti. However, in Oslo, where she claimed to be thinking about the “closing party” during the mass start, her season was revived. The sprint fourth place combined with Dahlmeier’s 31st turned the tables in the battle for the Sprint Globe. The Sprint World Champion won by a mere five points. With a nice piece of crystal in hand, she “did her job” with a single penalty in the season-ending mass start, topping Dahlmeier again, for the Mass Start Globe by just nine points.
“One of My Best”
WCH medals, a win in front of her adoring Czech fans, runner-up in the Total Score and two small globes all proved it was very good year. Flashing her typical big smile, Koukalová understatedly said after the mass start, “This was one of the best seasons in my career.”