While the shifting winds of Pokljuka, Slovenia, represented an opportunity for the Canadian women’s biathlon team, the American ladies were not so lucky.
There were of course highlights: Sara Studebaker shot a strong competition, missing only a single shot to lead the team in 35th. It was the best World Cup result of the season so far for the team’s most veteran athlete.
“Today was definitely a tough day on the range,” Studebaker said in a U.S. Biathlon Association press release. “Some people got lucky with the wind, and some people had super windy conditions while they were shooting. I definitely was lucky, but I’ve also been really working on my shooting since Sochi did not go as I had hoped on the range. I was really happy to have a solid race today and score some World Cup points! It was a good race for me to have right now and I’m looking forward to improving in the Pursuit.”
But Annelies Cook missed five shots total for 79th place, and Hannah Dreissigacker collected eight penalties for 83rd. Neither will compete in Saturday’s pursuit race.
Susan Dunklee, meanwhile, had a good thing going after she cleaned all five prone targets and was skiing easily within the top ten. But when she came onto the range for standing, she realized that the back end of her rifle’s sight had somehow fallen off while she was skiing – “one of the more frustrating situations I have encountered as an athlete,” Dunklee wrote in an e-mail to FasterSkier.
Waving her arms to range officials in an attempt to receive a spare part (she didn’t), Dunklee attracted the attention of commentators and was featured both in the broadcast and even in online news in biathlon-hungry countries.
“The coach looks dejected,” Swedish commentator and former biathlete David Eckholm noted.
As Dunklee explained it, Studebaker noticed the piece on top of one of the hills, so it must have come off of her rifle there.
“It occasionally comes loose on my rifle and the piece starts to unscrew a little, but to have it come off entirely… I never expected that,” Dunklee wrote. “I had just checked it yesterday too.”
She was left trying to shoot more or less without a sight.
“Rather than peering through a pin sized peep hole, I was looking through more of a centimeter sized hole,” Dunklee wrote. “I could still see through to the front sight but without the eyepiece I had very little chance of lining it up correctly to hit anything.”
She missed four of her five targets – and actually that one hit was impressive. Despite the penalty loops, Dunklee had the fifth-fastest course time of the day and finished 38th, living to fight another day in the pursuit.
In cases of rifle malfunctions, she explained, athletes have a few options. One is to receive help from a range official. For instance if a magazine falls out of the rifle in a crash, athletes can raise an arm and ask for ammunition to be brought to them.
If the rifle breaks, all teams actually have one spare rifle that they keep on the range. Atheltes can ask to use it by, again, raising an arm and making the request to a range official.
“It is difficult to make snap decisions weighing how much time you might lose trying communicate and waiting for the necessary aid against the probability of hitting targets and the time you might spend in the penalty loop,” Dunklee explained. “Unfortunately I totally forgot about the spare rifle as option until I was done shooting. associated the spare only with broken stocks and snow-jammed sights and I didn’t make the obvious logical conclusion that it might be a good option in a case like this too.”
The women’s pursuit will start at 1:25 pm. local time on Saturday, or 7:25 a.m. EST.
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.