Vaillancourt’s time of 51:33.4 in the women’s 15km individual event, with just two penalties on the shooting range, edged her 2.1 seconds ahead of Belarusian Nastassia Kalina, whose compatriot Irina Kryuko sealed third place to ensure the Slavic nation was represented twice on the podium.
It was Vaillancourt’s first win of the season, her previous best performance being third place in Beitostølen (NOR) last month. It was also the first victory by a Canadian at the Open European Championships.
Speaking after a dramatic victory that was clinched on the last lap, Vaillancourt said: "I was lucky with the wind at the shooting range, but I also concentrated on each individual shot. I was here last year at the World Championships and that might have been also an advantage."
There was also a first European Open title for Latvia’s Andrejs Rastorgujevs in the men’s 20km event, whose fast course time of 49:17.6 saw him defeat Benedikt Doll (GER) by a narrow margin of 0.3 seconds. Maxim Tsvetkov of Russia completed the podium line-up.
Doll was relatively content with a runners-up position that underlines his good form ahead of Sochi. "After crossing the finish line I was really angry because of that small margin to miss the gold medal,” he said. “But now, after a bit of time, I am already happy with my silver medal.”
Rastorgujevs, who finished 50th in the sprint and 58th in the pursuit at Vancouver 2010, will be hoping that his victory helps put him in medal contention when the Games begin next Friday.
Niskanen warms up for Sochi with Under-23 title
Finnish skier Iivo Niskanen raced to a convincing victory in the 15km classic at the Under-23 World Championships in Val di Fiemme (ITA) on Thursday, underlining his status as one of the youngsters to watch at Sochi 2014.
The 22 year-old secured the gold medal with a wide margin of victory, finishing 17.4 seconds ahead of reigning world champion Sergey Ustiugov (RUS). Norway’s Mathias Lundgren completed the podium, 27.6 seconds back in third place.
Niskanen, who is gearing up for his Olympic debut, was thrilled with his achievement. “It’s an unbelievable day,” he smiles. “I kept a good speed and the last kilometres were really hard because I knew that Ustiugov was right behind me. It’s hard to beat a big champion like him and I tried to do my best to do it.”
Meanwhile, the women’s 10km classic was taken by Norway’s Martine Ek Hagen, who finished 15.4 seconds ahead of France’s Celia Aymonier. Elisabeth Schicho of Germany took third place ahead of another Norwegian, Raghild Haga.
It was Ek Hagen’s second gold medal at this level – she previously won the 15km pursuit at the 2012 World Championships in Erzurum (TUR).