No skiing? No sweat, according to US Biathlon’s Susan Dunklee.
Earlier this week, after leaving the first IBU World Cup venue in Östersund, Sweden, Dunklee and her team found the skiing in conditions in Hochfilzen, Austria, well — non-existent. Organizers were working on transporting snow great distances to hold the race.
“Considering how uncertain we were last week about whether these races would happen, the organizers have done a fantastic job,” Dunklee wrote on Friday. “They brought in all the necessary snow for a nice clean 2.5 km loop.”
But before that, the U.S. skiers prepped with some trail running.
“We did some running when we first arrived since the ski loop wasn’t ready yet and it was beautiful up in the mountains,” Dunklee explained in an email. “The great thing about not having natural snow is that the hiking trails are all still open so we got to explore more than usual.”
Dunklee’s an avid hiker, so that worked for her. Come Friday, when a 2.5-kilometer loop was ready to go for the women’s and men’s 7.5- and 10-k sprints, so was she.
“I feel like I already have all the pieces I need to be earning top tens,” she explained. “I am starting the season with top-end ski speed, a huge improvement from last year. I’ve been consistently hitting higher percentages of targets in practice than ever before.”
On Friday, she missed one prone and one standing for 80-percent shooting: not perfect, but something she made up for with the 11th-fastest course time. Dunklee finished 29th overall, 1:29.3 behind Finnish winner Kaisa Mäkäräinen.
“So far I have had solid results but nothing big,” Dunklee wrote. “I am a little disappointed it hasn’t come together for me yet, but the season is young.”
“I feel like I already have all the pieces I need to be earning top tens. … So far I have had solid results but nothing big.” — Susan Dunklee (US Biathlon) after placing 29th in Friday’s 7.5 k sprint
For Mäkäräinen, Friday’s victory was her second straight after she topped the Östersund pursuit last Sunday. The defending IBU World Cup champion started 23rd and missed one in prone, but cleaned standing and consistently posted the fastest loop times to take the win in 20:55.6. Italy’s Karin Oberhofer cleaned for second, 10.4 seconds back, and as the 15th starter, her time remained ahead of Mäkäräinen until the last lap. But it gave Mäkäräinen a time to beat.
“I felt good on the first loop and the second loop, but I do not know where I got that power on the last loop,” Mäkäräinen told the IBU, referring to her illness earlier in the week. “My legs were feeling really tired … The sickness this week did not affect me on the shooting range, but it did on the tracks. I was not able to do my normal training all week, just a lot of slow skiing.”
She was pleased with her shooting, even with a penalty.
“I am quite happy and a bit surprised to win. My level is quite high now, so that helped me,” she said.
Norway’s Tiril Eckhoff in bib 18 was primed to take the lead from Oberhofer heading into the last stage before missing one, her only penalty of the day. She fell off the pace to place third, almost 20 seconds after Oberhofer and 29.9 seconds behind Mäkäräinen.
For Oberhofer, 29, who was fourth in the sprint at the Sochi Olympics last winter, it was her first individual podium.
“I trained a lot, hoping that maybe I might get to the podium at least once,” Oberhofer told the IBU. “In the last loop, I just concentrated on the tracks, did my best and it turned out good.”
While Dunklee will start 1:29 back from Mäkäräinen in Sunday’s 10 k pursuit, she predicted she’d have opportunities to move up with seven women starting within seven seconds ahead of her.
Five seconds behind her, Canada’s Rosanna Crawford will head out 34th, 1:34 behind Mäkäräinen, based on Friday’s result.
“Today was a tough day on the skis for me,” Crawford wrote in an email. “Right from the start I just didn’t feel I had that snap I needed and it warmed up quite a bit right before start which made for suction on the skis. On my last loop I just didn’t have the same energy I had last week. But you can’t expect to be fast all the time.”
The top Canadian in 34th, Crawford cleaned prone and missed one standing. She was pleased to shoot 90 percent — especially considering it was “blustery” during zero, then calm, then windy again during the race, she explained.
“I made a pretty big correction, so I was happy that I hit them all [on the first stage],” she said. “I seem to be having a lot of one misses so far this year, but 90% is still good.”
After fresh snow arrived Thursday, Crawford described the course as packed and fast — until the sun hit it on Friday afternoon. “[Then] things really slowed down,” she wrote.
The lone Canadian woman to advance to the pursuit in the top 60 (Megan Heinicke was 61st, Sarah Beaudry placed 63rd in her World Cup debut, Audrey Vaillancourt was 66th, and Zina Kocher finished 82nd), Crawford was hoping for a top 30 in the pursuit.
“For Sunday, hopefully I will be feeling better on the skis and able to move up some positions. The goal is to stay in the points,” she wrote.
Before that, she’ll race in the women’s 4×6 k relay on Saturday morning with Heinicke, Beaudry and Vaillancourt.
“I think if we each have a good leg that a top 10 is possible,” Crawford wrote. “Right now Audrey and Megan are just getting over a cold, I’m not skiing like I would like to be and it’s Sarah Beaudry’s first World Cup, so the focus will be some good shooting on all parts.”
“You can’t expect to be fast all the time.” — Rosanna Crawford (Biathlon Canada) after placing 34th on Friday
While Heinicke missed three (1+2) to finish 2:39.2 behind the winner, Beaudry, 20, who earned her World Cup starts last weekend in Canmore, Alberta, had a single standing penalty.
“Sarah had a great day on the range today, and I am sure things slowed down a lot by the time she hit the course [after starting 94th],” Crawford explained. “It’s always really exciting to be with someone who it’s their first World Cup, they bring so much energy to the team! Sarah is a blast to have around!”
Vaillancourt also missed one (1+0) and Kocher finished with five penalties (3+2).
American Annelies Cook qualified for the pursuit in 50th (+2:04.9) with a single prone miss.
“After a rough start in Östersund, I had to reevaluate my training a bit,” she explained in an email. “Clearly, I am lacking the high-end speed and lactate tolerance that I need to have to keep up on the World Cup. It’s easy to look back and try to figure out what went wrong, but it can be hard to let it go and just focus on what you can control. So that is what I am trying to do now.”
“It’s easy to look back and try to figure out what went wrong, but it can be hard to let it go and just focus on what you can control.” — Annelies Cook (US Biathlon), 50th on Friday
Cook added that she’s been working on speed, and since placing 79th in last weekend’s sprint and missing out on the following pursuit, she did some intervals and pushed as hard as she could on Friday.
“I am glad I can race in the pursuit and get one more hard session under my belt,” she wrote. “I have to say, I was actually pretty sore today … I must be getting old! But I felt good once I started to race. But I can’t hold on to that speed for the entire race yet, which is frustrating. I was really happy to clean standing after missing prone because that is one of my demons. I told myself I had to relax and I was going to clean, luckily it worked.”
While the Americans are one woman short for the relay, Cook and Dunklee will race on Sunday.
“It’s another opportunity to push hard, to ski with other girls and to challenge myself in the shooting range. Plus, it’s fun!” Cook wrote.
The third U.S. woman, Hannah Dreissigacker placed 78th on Friday (+3:12.7) with three penalties — one prone and two standing. Last weekend, she was 81st in the Östersund sprint.
Alex Kochon (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the former managing editor at FasterSkier. She spent seven years with FS from 2011-2018, and has been writing, editing, and skiing ever since. She's making a cameo in 2020.