OSLO, Norway– Both Susan Dunklee and Lowell Bailey came into today’s 10 and 12.5 k World Cup pursuits with podium finishes fresh in their minds. The two Americans each earned their first top-three finish ever in the last week.
For Bailey, a third-place finish in Kontiolahti, Finland, last weekend was followed up by a sprint race here on Thursday where he was frustrated by two penalties which negated the high level of his skiing. As he has been saying ever since the podium, he is just trying to stay focused and do what he has been doing for years.
For Dunklee, things were even fresher in her mind: her own third-place finish came in Thursday’s sprint, and she started the pursuit today in third place.
She also started off with a crash on the first loop, which knocked her back a few places and many seconds.
“I got off to a little rough start,” Dunklee said. “I was thinking about how I wanted to take that downhill, and I wanted to swing myself out wide because the snow is a little better on the outside coming out of it. I took a funky line and I was going to go off the edge, and then I got scared, and then I just fell.”
She had been holding her time gap to sprint winner Darya Domracheva of Belarus, but dropped back to sixth or seventh place after losing her momentum. She also lost several clips worth of ammunition for her rifle.
“They were laying in the snow and I thought, ‘shoot, maybe I should grab them’,” Dunklee explained. “So I picked them up, which cost me a couple seconds, which was stupid, but then I was like, well now what do I do with them? So I put them in my pants, thinking I could bring them to the range. But then they slid all the way down to my boot. It was pretty stupid.”
Nevertheless, the crash did accomplish one positive thing – it broke the tension of wondering if she would be able to stay in podium position.
“That whole next kilometer and the shooting, I was just laughing at myself,” Dunklee said. “The second loop I felt really relaxed. I had already messed it up a little bit, it’s not a perfect race so it takes the pressure off. I was just able to focus on doing what I needed to do after that.”
On the fourth loop, she found herself back where she started: in third place. With just a single penalty up to that point, she had been able to climb her way back. But then Dunklee missed the very last shot of the race.
“I was extremely surprised in that last shooting to be on that third mat,” she said. “And then I left the range, even after I’d had a penalty loop, and I was still in fourth with third just ahead of me. That really surprised me. I guess the people ahead of me didn’t shoot perfect.”
Even after getting passed by Domracheva and Kaisa Makarainen of Finland, Dunklee’s efforts were good enough for sixth place and the flower ceremony.
“I could certainly get used to this,” she said after the race.
Racing a few hours later, Bailey moved from 19th up to 14th place with three penalties.
“It was a solid race,” he said. “It wasn’t amazing, but I’m happy with where I’m at and looking forward to tomorrow.”
As was the entire field, both men and women, Bailey was plagued by wind on the shooting range. Just two men, pursuit winner Simon Eder of Austria and sixth-place Alexey Volkov of Russia, shot clean. Bailey had a penalty in each of the first three stages before cleaning the final standing stage.
“Both my prone stages had quite a bit of wind,” he said. “So it kind of sucked to have one each time, but I just tried to keep my head in it. And especially in standing today, I really wanted to be focused. It has been really windy the last couple of days, so I expected quite a bit of wind. It wasn’t so bad today, but I was really happy with standing because I was able to take ten quality shots. I missed one, but that’s the way it goes.”
The final stage was a good one to clean, though, as it sent him out on course with a group of other fast skiers.
“It was a really exciting race,” Bailey said. “It was really close between everyone. The last lap was a pretty fun fight between me, [Norway’s Johannes Thingnes] Bø, [Russia’s Anton] Shipulin, and Fredrik [Lindström of Sweden]. It’s fun to mix it up with those guys.”
Bailey ended up 14th and is now looking forward to the final race of the season tomorrow, a 15 k mass start. And then, home.
“For sure it’s the last World Cup,” he said. “My focus is really just trying to stay focused for three races, which gets increasingly hard as you get closer to the end. But I’m really just – I have my sights set on tomorrow, and that’s really what I’m trying to do, to stay in it.”
The third U.S. starter, Sara Studebaker, slipped from 41st to 44th with four 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.