POKLJUKA, Slovenia — When the result board turned to the next page and showed her final result in the biathlon World Cup 15-kilometer race, Haley Johnson could not help but cry.
The 21st-place finish of the Maine Winter Sport Center athlete was the best result for the U.S. women this season in Cup biathlon and a direct qualification for the U.S. Olympic Team. She’s the first woman to qualify for the team.
“I made it,” Johnson screamed, “I made it. Unbelievable!”
After missing her last target, she left the shooting range in 16th place, but not knowing where she stood in the field.
“The team manager Bernd Eisenbichler doesn’t give me any splits as I am approaching the shooting range, because he doesn’t want to add to the pressure of the moment,” she said.
On the last lap though he finally told her the position.
“I tried to go faster to stay up front there but I just couldn’t. I was just empty and probably skied slower than the laps before,” she said.
When Johnson crossed the finish line, she couldn’t stop shaking after a career-best finish in the 15K.
“It is nice to know that you gave everything and did not just end up in a 70th place or something like that,” she said. “With that result it feels especially good to be so empty.”
Johnson was 3 minutes, 41.8 seconds behind winner and the current best biathlete of the world, Helena Jonsson of Sweden.
Jonsson did not miss a target as she beat Anna Carin Olofsson-Zidek by 22.6 seconds to clinch her second individual victory. Olofsson-Zidek was off target with one shot.
Anastasiya Kuzmina of Slovakia finished third, 27.3 second behind Jonsson.
“I am very impressed with Haley’s race. We did know that she is able to finish in a good position but it was only during the last days that Haley really calmed down,” head coach Per Nilsson said. “She was confident of herself and her ability on the shooting range and what she showed today seemed just like a normal and perfect training race. It’s just amazing how she pulled that off.”
Max Cobb, the executive director of U.S. Biathlon, added, “Haley put together a fantastic performance today hitting 19 of her 20 targets and finishing 21st in the WC. She has worked so hard this year and it’s really wonderful to see her have this breakthrough. She’s our first woman to make the qualification for the Olympic Team.”