Starting Saturday’s IBU World Cup pursuit in bib eight, American biathlete Susan Dunklee knew that an even better result was possible. She was racing in Antholz, Italy, a place that had “good vibes” for her: in 2012 it was where she scored her first top-20, and in 2014 she finished fourth in the sprint, getting to the flower ceremony for the first time in World Cup racing.
She just had to focus.
“I pretty much wanted to do what I had done yesterday, which had worked out pretty well,” Dunklee said in a phone interview on Saturday. “Focusing on the process of everything I needed to do to make a good biathlon performance, and not worry too much about what people around me were doing. Trusting that if I did all of my tasks well, it was going to turn out well. That was a lot about shooting, especially with the elevation.”
Shooting carefully, she missed just a single target over for stages for her best shooting of the season “by far”. By the time she left the range after the last bout, she was in sixth place – just seconds behind Kaisa Makarainen of Finland and Marie Dorin Habert of France, who were fighting for fourth (Makarainen would go one step further, turning in an incredible last loop to catch third place; Darya Domracheva of Belarus won the race by over a minute, and Daria Virolaynen of Russia placed second).
It was obvious to the team staff what Dunklee, one of the fastest skiers on the circuit, should do. She should go with Makarainen, who is the fastest.
“Tactically, Bernd [Eisenbichler, the High Performance Director] told me as I was leaving the stadium to get behind Kaisa and pass Marie Dorin,” Dunklee said. “But I didn’t have it in me. It would have been really smart to do that if I could have. But I got dropped by those two. And by the time Kaisa finally dropped Marie Dorin, it was too late for me to catch her.”
Instead, Dunklee held on for a solid sixth-place finish, and got back in the Antholz flower ceremony.
It’s the best result by a U.S. biathlete so far this eason.
“Pretty special,” she said of the feeling of stepping onto the ceremony stage. “It’s definitely something I don’t take for granted. And we have some USBA board members here, so that was pretty special. There was so much excitement from the staff, and from my teammates. It was a really good community feeling with support. It’s great.”
She was initially disappointed to get dropped by Makarainen and Dorin Habert, but with a little perspective realized that she had still turned in a good ski performance. Dunklee had the fifth-best course time of the day; Makarainen had the first and Dorin Habert – who, incredibly, is coming back to the circuit after giving birth to her first child in September – had the fastest and second-fastest times.
“Later I found out they had the fastest times of the day,” Dunklee explained. “I felt bad about it for a while, but now that I know that I feel a little better about myself.”
But the shooting might have been the most satisfying part.
“I think my favorite was cleaning standing,” she said. “It’s so much harder to clean the last stage than it is to clean all the other stages. Especially if you’re in a good position. You start thinking, man, what will happen if I do this? Shit, it’s going to be a good opportunity. If you start asking that question or you stress out, you do something different. It only takes a tiny little different thing to throw everything off. Today I felt like I really focused on the process of what I was doing. It was a good success.
“After I left the range I was like, okay, now where am I, and you worry about it then.”
Teammate Hannah Dreissigacker started the pursuit in an opposite place: 60th, the last woman to make the cut. But she was excited, and turned that excitement into a big jump on the results sheet. With four penalties, Dreissigacker finished 42nd.
“I was just psyched to be racing,” she said. “I love Antholz, there’s so much sun and great fans and it’s just great to be racing here. It’s a beautiful place. I just wanted to move up. Which is really all I could do. And to get another chance to ski with people and shoot. I was pretty happy with how things went yesterday. I felt like I had shot fast, and that’s the way I wanted to do it.”
Dreissigacker had the 38th-fastest ski time, and wasn’t too surprised to move up despite the four penalties.
“I had one miss on each loop, which is obviously not the best, but 80% shooting is okay for me,” she said. ”I figure if you have one, you’ll stay about the same. But when you’re in the back, you’re with people who are shooting badly and skiing slow.”
The highlight of her day was going neck and neck with Germany’s Miriam Gössner on the final loop. Gössner, a former World Cup winner who also competed in cross country skiing in the 2010 Olympics, is just returning to the World Cup after two injury-filled seasons.
“I was leaving the penalty loop [the last time], and I heard someone yell at me from behind me to get out of the way,” Dreissigacker said. “Okay. You’re being kind of aggressive, we’re just going through the stadium. It turned out to me Miriam, so I was like, all right. I’m just going to try to stay with her. I stayed with her that whole lap and thought, this isn’t so difficult, so I’m just going to beat her. So I went past her on the last uphill and I did. It was pretty fun.”
For Canada, Rosanna Crawford finished 26th and Megan Heinicke 29th. The pair had one and two penalties, respectively.
“So close to that 20/20 shooting!” Crawford posted on her Facebook page. “Missed my middle shot on my last standing bout! But super happy with 19/20 and 26th place. I’ll save that 20/20 when I feel good skiing again!! Megan had another good pursuit moving from 40th to 29th, two Canadians in top 30, not too shabby!”
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.