With eleven athletes already racing in Europe – that’s more than the U.S. Ski Team can say – what could the U.S. biathlon community possibly ask for from their governing body?
Well, if some is good, then more is better. After a second series of trials races in Mount Itasca, Minnesota, the U.S. Biathlon Association (USBA) named four more athletes to the IBU Cup roster (the series one level below the World Cup), as well as reconfiguring the teams across the pond.
Going into the Mount Itasca trials, USBA had said that they would name up to two more men and two more women. For the athletes, the pressure was on: there was a distinct possibility that only the winners would be sent to Europe, so standing atop the podium would be extremely important.
Wynn Roberts (USBA B-Team) did just that, winning all three trials races in convincing fashion. In Thursday’s 15 k mass start competition, he had the best shooting in the field and skied to a three-minute victory over Raleigh Goessling of the Maine Winter Sports Center (MWSC). In Saturday’s 10 k sprint he beat Goessling by 15 seconds and in Sunday’s 12.5 k pursuit he led by a minute.
Roberts was a no-brainer to add to the IBU Cup team, and was named based on his trials results.
The other man added to the roster, though, didn’t even compete at Mount Itasca. Jay Hakkinen, a member of USBA’s A-Team, was a discretionary selection due to “force majeur” – he was sick for a long time this fall, and missed an entire training block. USBA decided to give him the benefit of the doubt and name him to the January IBU Cup squad without disrupting his December training.
“Normally this time of year I am traveling and racing on the World Cup,” Hakkinen said on his blog. “However, with the World Championships in March this year, I am glad to be in one place doing good solid training so I am in good shape at the end of the season when it counts.”
In the women’s races, Haley Johnson (USBA B-Team) got off to a strong start, winning the opening 12.5 k mass start by a minute over Susan Dunklee (USBA B-Team / Craftsbury Green Racing Project). Then in the 7.5 k sprint, she bested MWSC’s Bethann Chamberlain by 22 seconds. It was obvious that Johnson would be heading to Europe.
“I actually felt great [at the first trials races] in Canmore and knew that absolutely everything was where I needed it to be to start the season, except for hitting the targets,” Johnson told FasterSkier.
“The primary change I made was with my rifle. I am using the team’s spare barrel. I was able to transfer over all of my custom pieces to make this temporary set-up work seamlessly. Changing my barrel enabled me to get back to positive shooting training and helped me rebuild my confidence on the range.”
Last year, Johnson was USBA’s golden girl early in the season, skiing to a top-30 World Cup result in December. This year, she didn’t even make the initial IBU Cup squad; things had changed. Now, Johnson is relieved to be back on track.
“I see being back in Europe as the next step, which is just one rung of many in this competition season. World Cups and World Championships still remain higher up in the ladder. I have raced in Nove Mesto before, so it will be familiar territory.”
But if Johnson was going to the IBU Cup races, who would join her? Would it be Dunklee or Chamberlain, or, perhaps, Lanny Barnes (USBA B-Team / Durango Biathlon), who had finished third both days? If Johnson simply skied to another decisive win, would USBA bother naming another woman?
The last day of competition would prove to be decisive. For the first time, “Johnson” wasn’t the first name on the results sheet. Instead, Dunklee skied to a 13-second victory in the 10 k race. She missed only three targets in four shooting stages, tying for the best shooting of the day.
“I had the ideal starting spot in that last race,” Dunklee said in an e-mail. “I love chasing people down and with only 15 second start intervals I could practically see everybody that I wanted to catch. I knew that I would have be deliberate about turning that mentally off once I got into the range so I would focus on hitting one target at a time and not be thinking about the people around me.”
Dunklee was a discretionary pick for the IBU Cup squad based on her second-best points ranking from the trials.
“The women’s team has so much positive momentum right now, and I’m excited for the chance to contribute to that,” Dunklee said. “Our entire group has been very close in races and time trials all fall, and so seeing the other girls tear it up on the World Cup and IBU Cup already has been very inspiring. On any given day, any of us can vie for those high finishes.”
Besides adding to its roster, USBA reorganized the teams in Europe. Russell Currier and Jeremy Teela were moved from the World Cup squad down to the IBU Cup circuit. Only five athletes will remain on the World Cup squad: Tim Burke, Leif Nordgren, Lowell Bailey, Sara Studebaker, and Laura Spector.
Even though Annelies Cook and Tracy Barnes had been bumped up to the World Cup circuit from the IBU Cups for one weekend, they will now return to the IBU Cup team, rejoining Zach Hall and Bill Bowler.
The World Cup will start the new year in Oberhof, Germany on January 5, while the IBU Cup will resume in Nove Mesto, Czech Republic, on January 8.