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SOCHI, Russia – If Susan Dunklee doesn’t slow down, she’s going to own every Olympic record in the U.S. Biathlon books by the end of this Games.
Setting a best sprint result for a U.S. woman in Sunday’s 7.5 k sprint, Dunklee was in position to earn a medal in today’s 10 k pursuit. It didn’t happen, but her eventual 18th-place finish still improved the U.S. women’s mark for the discipline by more than 20 places.
And Dunklee didn’t even realize how close she came to real history: in the final shooting stage, she was in fifth place, in a pack with several other skiers fighting for third place.
“I had no idea where I was sitting going into that fourth shooting until I came into the range, and I landed in lane five, and obviously it’s file in, so I knew that I was in fifth with two girls right ahead of me,” she said.
Would knowing ahead of time have prepared her any better? Who knows, but in that moment, Dunklee had a hard time putting a possible medal out of her head.
“You start thinking what if, and you can’t start thinking that,” she admitted. “So I tried to re-focus. I hit the first shot, which is a good sign, and I don’t know what happened after that. I felt pretty relaxed, I think.”
After missing three shots and skiing three painful penalty loops, the Vermont native skied her way from 20th place up to 18th. Overall, her ski time was the fourth-fastest in the field – and yet she said she wasn’t constantly on the attack.
“I felt like I was skiing very patiently out on the course,” Dunklee said. “I didn’t blow up or do anything stupid. I just waited. And I think that went well.”
Part of Dunklee’s speed came from a deliberate strategy of matching her technique to the snow conditions. After yesterday’s men’s pursuit, where at least three men had serious crashes including one where the race leader broke a ski, officials decided to salt a few sections of the course: the tough uphill out of the stadium, and two downhill corners.
That made skiing a little easier in some ways, but left the course as a patchwork of different snow conditions, which was difficult.
“You’re going from skiing on ice cubes to skiing through mashed potatoes,” Dunklee said. “So you just have to always be on your toes, adjusting your style a little bit. I skied a loop beforehand with my coach Per Nilsson, and we were talking about which type of skiing would be best for each section, so I had a very specific strategy in mind.”
Of course, implementing that strategy when surrounded by other racers wasn’t so simple.
“Like I said, my key word for today was ‘be patient’,” Dunklee said. “You really have to be patient because there are places where I really meant to push and gain some time, but if you’re stuck in a pack you just have to sit there until an opening presents itself, and then take advantage of that whenever it comes.”
Despite the disappointment of so many missed shots on the last stage, Dunklee can be confident in her ski form and, she says, confident in her ability to come through the next time she’s so close to the podium. Earlier this season, she finished fourth in a sprint, and was in podium position in the pursuit before botching her standing stages.
“The thing that I have been telling myself the last month or so when I’m in a position where I’m doing really well, I remind myself, this is exactly where I want to be,” she said. “I want to feel comfortable being in this position. Knowing that it’s where I want to be, it does make me feel more relaxed.
“The cool thing is that I know I can be there on a solid day,” she concluded. “That was not true in the past, and that’s a really good thing to know. It’s huge. And we have lots of races left.”
Teammates Sara Studebaker and Annelies Cook finished 50th and 54th with five penalties each.
Zina Kocher led Canada in 25th place with four penalties, after starting in 32nd after the sprint. Megan Imrie was close behind in 28th with two penalties, and Rosanna Crawford dropped from 25th to 45th with seven penalties. Megan Heinicke was lapped and pulled from the race after accumulating 12 penalties.
Chelsea Little is FasterSkier's Editor-At-Large. A former racer at Ford Sayre, Dartmouth College and the Craftsbury Green Racing Project, she is a PhD candidate in aquatic ecology in the @Altermatt_lab at Eawag, the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology in Zurich, Switzerland. You can follow her on twitter @ChelskiLittle.