RUHPOLDING, Germany – On Sunday, for the first time during these World Championships, the sun went behind the clouds over the Chiemgau Arena here in Ruhpolding.
The same could be said for U.S. medal aspirations, as both Lowell Bailey and Tim Burke fell victim to shooting errors after it seemed like they could be en route to the best World Championships results of their careers.
“Today we’re definitely disappointed,” Burke said in an interview after the finish.
Burke started with bib ten and hovered just below that position for the first half of the race before ultimately slipping to 28th with a total of five penalties. Bailey started 20th but moved up immediately thanks to two clean prone stages; he spent a significant amount of tie in seventh. He missed three shots in standing, however, and ended up back where he started.
“I was right there, right in contention, until I missed those last two shots,” Bailey said. “That hurts.”
The pair of 20th-place finishes here in Ruhpolding actually are the best Championship results of his career, but Bailey had much higher expectations this year after collecting four top-ten finishes in World Cup racing so far this season. He is currently ranked 14th in the overall standings.
Both Americans had told FasterSkier after the sprint that they felt tired and slow on their skis. That, at least, improved today.
“It’s funny how biathlon works,” Burke said. “It was the opposite of yesterday: I felt really good on the skis, I was moving up on every loop, but I just had poor shooting today. In the first stage I missed the wind. It came up and I should have clicked, but I didn’t and I missed on the right because of that. I took the correction on the loop. For the second stage I made the clicks but then the wind died.”
Bailey agreed, saying that his skiing was much better than in Saturday’s sprint, where he was devastated to finish 20th despite shooting clean. On Sunday, he seemed unsettled more than anything else, unable to figure out where he had gone wrong on the range.
“Prone was good,” Bailey said. “I felt good standing. I don’t know. I’ve been pretty confident in my shooting – the last week felt pretty good.”
For Burke, it was another “that’s biathlon” sort of day – something the pair have seen a few too many times this year. It’s not the first instance where one or the other has been in contention late in the race, only to have errors in standing stages dash their hopes.
“The shape is there, but it’s biathlon,” Burke said. “You need to put everything together on the same day… I’ve been there before, so I know what it’s like. It’s biathlon, and that’s just the way it is. I don’t know – I’m a lot more relaxed about it now than I used to be.”
He was looking forward to Tuesday’s individual races, especially now that he feels better about his skiing.
“The way I felt today, I’m really confident that I can be up there skiing, so I’m happy about that.”
Studebaker, Dunklee Show Strengths While Gaining Places
The U.S. women had at least as much pent-up frustration as the men after the sprint, with only Sara Studebaker and Susan Dunklee qualifying for the pursuit, where they started 50th and 55th on Sunday.
Each gained places over the 10 k race, using their markedly different strengths.
Studebaker improved to 41st thanks to hitting all 20 of her targets; she was one of only six competitors to do so.
For the first time all week, Studebaker had a smile on her face at the finish line.
“I cleaned, which was really awesome,” she told FasterSkier. “It’s my first World Cup four-stage clean, so I was really happy with that.”
Studebaker said that she had done everything she could, and as such was happy with 41st even if it’s not what she had hoped for coming into this season.
“Skiing was brutal – these are tough conditions for me,” she said. “Skiing is a little frustrating anyway this year, and in these conditions I have to work really hard. But I executed the plan, which was good. It’s always nice to do that.”
Dunklee moved from 55th up to 36th while accruing three penalties. Her ski time was the tenth-fastest of the day. But while skiing was what she did best, Dunklee was also pleased with her shooting. Her efforts were bookended by a clean first stage and a clean final stage.
“It was really fun to shoot that well on the range,” she told FasterSkier. “In a four-stage race I don’t usually do that well, so I’m pretty psyched. It always helps to clean that first stage. That got me off to a great start.”
After a frustrating sprint where she missed too many shots and was the last starter of the day, skiing with athletes from teams like Turkey, Kazakhstan, and Greenland, she enjoyed herself much more in the pursuit.
“I was psyched because there were people to ski around and people to chase the entire time,” she said. “That’s what I love about racing, is just seeing people and heading out to go and get them. I got to ski with Sara a little bit, and some of the Canadians.”
While it didn’t totally soothe the sting of a frustrating sprint – Dunklee likely could have done even better in the pursuit with a better starting position – she had a calm view of her shooting woes from the previous day.
“I don’t think it was hard shooting the other day,” she said. “I think it’s just that sometimes you do everything right, you think, and things just don’t go down and you have no idea why. The more experience I have the less that happens.”