After twice shooting clean on Sunday, American Susan Dunklee found herself in third place going out on the next loop of the women’s 12.5-kilometer mass start at the International Biathlon Union (IBU) World Cup in Oberhof, Germany, pushing hard to keep up with Czech Republic’s Gabriela Koukalová and Germany’s Laura Dahlmeier.
“I was not skiing a sustainable pace,” Dunklee explained in an email to FasterSkier. “Sometimes it makes more sense to keep yourself in the race as long as you can and worry about consequences later.”
While Koukalová stayed clean also in the next two shooting stages to win the race in a time of 37:20.5 and Dahlmeier only shot one more miss to finish second (0+0+1+0, +31.5), Dunklee had to pay a bit for her tempo when she incurred a penalty in the first standing stage and two more in her last standing bout.
She left the range after the final shooting in ninth position, but was challenged on the long Birxsteig climb by four athletes who shot clean in the last stage: Norway’s Marte Olsbu, Sweden’s Anna Magnusson, Poland’s Magdalena Gwizdon, and Russia’s Tatiana Akimova.
“Skiing hard earlier in the race (e.g. with Gabi and Laura) meant that I didn’t have much fight in me on the first huge climb and I lost time there,” Dunklee wrote about the last loop. “To make up for it, I tried to conserve some energy for the last hills, rely on faster skis than the girls around me (our techs did a fantastic job today) and ski tactically.”
Dunklee fought back, and managed to overtake all of those four skiers again to finish ninth (+1:43.5) with three penalties (0+0+1+2) and the 12th-ranked overall course time. She was passed on that loop only by Finland’s veteran Kaisa Mäkäräinen, who had a rough day on the range with seven penalties, but skied the best course time to finish eighth (+1:39.9).
During the week’s races in Oberhof, Dunklee missed more targets than she usually does to finish 50th in the sprint with four penalties and 44th in the pursuit with nine penalties.
“I created a very specific periodization plan for my shooting this year and I believe in it,” Dunklee wrote. “Each week has its own focus, which creates subtle differences in how I approach the shooting. I have now learned that the type of focus I had for this week (and incidentally, Östersund) doesn’t work well. Today I shifted over early to the speed focus I had planned for next week and that was a good decision. My periodization plan is an experiment and a work in progress that I hope to have nailed for next year.”
“My standing shots all felt good except for my very last shot,” Dunklee said, according to a US Biathlon press release. “I couldn’t get the barrel to stay on the target. Rather than taking an extra breath to reset, I over held it. That is my only regret of the day.”
When the provisional start list was first released on Saturday, Biathlon Canada’s Rosanna Crawford narrowly missed the qualification for the elite mass start field (with starts being awarded to the top-25 ranked athletes in the overall World Cup plus five more not among those with the best results of the competition week). But she was excited to learn the night before the race that she would be “called up” from a reserve standby list to replace a sick athlete.
“I love Mass Start races, there is so much potential!” Crawford wrote in an email to FasterSkier. “The best are nervous and the rest of us are the underdogs wanting to prove we belong.”
After a clean shooting performance in the Oberhof sprint, Crawford was able to shoot well again on Sunday, totaling just two penalties (0+1+1+0), but was unable to keep pace with the leaders with the 28th-ranked course time.
“Like the last two races, it’s skiing that is really holding me back,” Crawford explained.
“So I just went out for a good workout and a chance to work on my shooting. I am really angry at my prone miss, just like yesterday [in the pursuit] that was all me! But 18/20 is still a pretty good day. I can only hope that the ski shape turns around in the next few weeks. Our wax techs again did a good job today!”
Crawford waved to the spectators on the finishing stretch and took a bow as she crossed the line in 25th place (+3:08.6).
“The crowds here are pretty incredible, there was a lot of people cheering ‘Go Canada’ which really helped fuel me around the course,” she wrote.
The spectators were particularly fired up after seeing a double-victory for Germany’s Simon Schempp and Erik Lesser in the men’s mass start earlier on Sunday. And with the return of home-crowd favorite Dahlmeier after a longer rest and training period over the holiday break, as well as her teammate Franziska Hildebrand also fighting for a position at the top, they had every reason to cheer during the women’s race as well.
“I think I did everything right,” Dahlmeier told German broadcaster ZDF of her reason for skipping the sprint and pursuit races. “I did not exactly know good my form would be after the break. Today I had a bit heavy legs from training. But I am happy with the second place and glad that the return worked out like this. It was a lot of fun to ski in front of such an audience today.”
“The first three World Cup weekends were more strenuous, due to the good results and the yellow bib [of the overall World Cup leader],” she added. “When I go to the start, I want to give it 100 percent, not just coast along. So my feeling was that it would be useful to skip a race, and that this happened to be in Oberhof was due to the competition calendar. But I am glad that I could do this one race.”
“I didn’t have so good expectations for this,” Koukalová said at the press conference on her race week in Oberhof, with two victories and a second place. “The main goal of the season is the World Championships in Hochfilzen. So I hope that I am still not in the best shape now, because I know it is more difficult to win there than here.”
Koukalová was also excited that teammate Eva Puskarčiková placed third (+45.4 with no penalties) to stand on the podium with her, and that they were the only two athletes in the field who shot clean. It was the second World Cup podium of the career for Puskarčiková, after a third place in the pursuit in Pokljuka, Slovenia, earlier this season.
“I don’t know how to say it, but I have many times deeper feelings than to stand there alone,” Koukalová said at the press conference. “It’s very positive and I am very happy for Eva, because she was still sick around Christmas and so she is something like a hero for me. It’s amazing, she is crazy.”
“I hope so, I hope it will be better and better,” Puskarčiková said with a smile when questioned if her confidence is increasing with each success now.
In a three-way sprint finish, the fourth place went to Kazakhstan’s Galina Vishnevskaya, the best result of the 22 year old’s career (+1:11.6 with one penalty), ahead of Ukraine’s Yulia Dzhima (+1:12.6 with three penalties) and Germany’s Hildebrand (+1:14.0 with two penalties).
If the IBU, which likes to stress its “biathlon family” motto, had a fair-play award, it should have gone to Austria’s Lisa Theresa Hauser, who voluntarily gave up a pole to Germany’s Vanessa Hinz after accidentally breaking hers by stepping on it. Hauser’s good deed was not rewarded, as she soon after fell on a steep downhill turn, clogging the sights of her rifle with snow and had to pull out of the race. Hinz finished 21st.
The IBU World Cup resumes with a men’s relay on Wednesday, Jan. 11 and a women’s relay on Thursday, Jan. 12 in Ruhpolding, also located in Germany.