Seven penalties would normally be enough to take a biathlete out of a race. Not Susan Dunklee.
In the North American Biathlon Championships 12.5 k mass start, Dunklee overcame some sketchy shooting to win a sprint finish with Tracy Barnes-Colliander, who was deprived of her third straight victory.
It was the first North American championship for Dunklee, and it looked impossible after she missed six of her first ten shots—three penalties in each of the first two rounds.
“It throws yourself—you get pretty much last place or pretty much close to it when you do something like that on the first stage,” she said. “You’ve really got to have the attitude that you’re hunting people down, and that can be a lot of fun.”
Surprisingly, the only woman that Dunklee wasn’t hunting after her first three misses was Barnes-Colliander herself.
Barnes-Colliander is normally a very accurate shooter, and Sunday was no different. In her first round, she still put all her bullets in a tight cluster—it just happened to be low, to the right, and off the target.
After getting a correction from her coach, she proceeded to reel off 15 hits in a row. But the damage was done: Instead of leading the race, Barnes-Colliander was now struggling to get back into it.
She and Dunklee both cleaned their third round of shooting, and that, combined with some key misses by leaders Claude Godbout and Annelies Cook, gave them an opening.
On the loop before the final stage, Dunklee got a gap on the rest of the field. She was first into the range, but that was no guarantee—especially the way she’d been shooting this week. She missed eight of ten in Thursday’s sprint, and twelve of twenty in Saturday’s pursuit.
“My last two races, I’ve missed more than I have all season,” she said. “Ridiculous, poor shooting.”
Saturday, though, she performed when it counted, missing just one shot in that final stage. But that still left Dunklee with a twenty-second gap to Barnes-Colliander, who cleaned.
Dunklee’s coach let her know just how much time she had to make up, and she said she knew it would be tough.
She closed quickly, though, and on one of the short, steep hills just before the stadium, she finally reeled Barnes-Colliander in, taking the lead with a few hundred meters to go.
Barnes-Colliander said that she had been trying to save some energy in order to stay in front of Dunklee in case she got caught, because the descent into the finish doesn’t leave much time for passing.
“But she put a little time on me on [the] last hill,” Barnes-Colliander said. “After that, I kind of saved a little bit for the sprint, but it’s tough having this downhill [finish].”
Dunklee led down the hill onto the finish straight, and in a frantic sprint, she just managed to hold off Barnes-Colliander, by 0.2 seconds. Cook trailed in for third, just over a minute back, with six penalties.
The two American Olympians in the race, Haley Johnson and Laura Spector, finished fifth and eighth respectively, hampered by their shooting. Each had nine misses.
Nathaniel Herz is a reporter for FasterSkier, who also covers city government for the Anchorage Daily News in Alaska. You can follow him on twitter @nat_herz.