OSLO, Norway—After showing good form all week, Susan Dunklee was hungry going into her last race at World Championships: the 12.5 k mass start.
But the American biathlete didn’t have a good start on Sunday, missing two shots in the first bout and immediately heading to the penalty loop. Twice.
“It was disappointing,” she said of coming out of the loop in 28th place, third from last in the elite 30-woman field.
But Dunklee was able to work her way back up. After making up ground on the trails, she calmly knocked down all the targets in her next two shooting bouts and moved into the top ten.
“I’ve had a lot of practice over the years with biathlon, even if you get off to a bad start. You never know what can happen. A little bit of the pressure is off, but it also means that you have a lot more hard work because you’re skiing by yourself… In some ways it’s better to miss one early, because the pack is still skiing together and people aren’t usually making breaks that early.”
It had seemed like her chance of a medal was gone after those first two missed shots, but by the final stage Dunklee found herself all of a sudden in seventh place, with the leaders in sight.
Then she missed one more target.
“On the last bout I think I was shooting on point seven or something,” she said. “So it was right there. I had one miss in that last stage, so it was close, but I could have really been right there.”
Once out of the penalty loop, she attacked on the trails, able to move from 14th up to 11th and crossing the line one minute and four-tenths of a second behind race winner Marie Dorin Habert of France.
She was also just a few seconds behind Nadezhda Skardino of Belarus.
“I didn’t know where I was standing until the last hill, when Jonas told me that the top ten was right there, and to go after her because she was getting tired,” Dunklee said. “So I tried. But she rallied at the end and I didn’t quite catch her.”
In a way, the race was disappointing, she said. Dunklee had the third-fastest ski time of the field, and has had comparable speed all week. With three misses, she somehow still managed to be near the top ten.
“I was certainly dreaming of medals here, and I feel like my level is high enough that I’m capable of being on the podium at an event like this,” she said. “It didn’t come together this week, but one of these years it will.”
Still, she was able to call it a successful World Championships, with individual finishes of eighth, 10th, 11th, and 18th as well as two strong relay legs.
She wasn’t able to match her career-best Championships result of fifth back in 2012, but as a group of results, it was her best Championships yet.
And there’s still one week of World Cup racing to come, in Khanty-Mansiysk, Russia.
“I want to have a little bit of fun today,” Dunklee said. “But I definitely have some motivation left, probably more than some of these ladies, so we’ll see what happens next week.”
Following an opposite trajectory to a similar result was Rosanna Crawford of Canada, who cleaned the first stage and was skiing in the lead group. But then she missed one shot each in stages two and three.
“One miss would have been okay,” she said. “For sure, the prone, both of them I shouldn’t have missed. I think I just jerked the trigger for my second shot in prone. The skiing felt good, but just not quite as good as the relay.”
Still, Crawford cleaned her final standing stage and crossed the finish line in 15th, +1:25.7.
“You always want to make big gains every year,” Crawford said. “But the reality of the sport is that as you get older, the gains get smaller and they are harder to get. We’ll have to put in that extra couple percent to make it next year.”
To try to stay grounded, she had set “realistic” goals for the Championships: to make a top fifteen, and to qualify for the mass start (qualification goes to the top 15 athletes in the World Cup standings, with the field filled out with medalists and athletes with the best combined results from the Championships).
“I achieved the realistic goals,” said Crawford, who also finished 14th in the 15 k individual on Wednesday. Before this season, her best Championships result was 17th in the individual in 2013.
So like Dunklee, she had to be happy with the sum and total of her week, even if she wished she had hit one more shot.
Hannah Dreissigacker also toed the start line for the U.S., crashing on the first loop and then collecting three penalties to finish 27th.
It was her last international competition before retiring; teammate Annelies Cook, also retiring, was done after the relay, as was Canada’s Zina Kocher.
“Big hugs to Zina and Annelies and Hannah,” Crawford said. “We’re going to miss them very much. It won’t be the same.”
Sixth Medal for Dorin Habert as French Biathlete Takes Gold
Dorin Habert capped off a perfect week by shooting 20-for-20, the only woman in the field to do so. She earned gold, which was her sixth medal in as many start.
Those results had exhausted her, and the mother of an 18-month-old said she was relieved to have shot clean.
“I think today was hard for me,” she said. “I am happy to be the only woman with no misses behind the rifle… I didn’t think that I could have no misses in a mass start. Because all of the starts of the season I make some misses on the standing shooting. So today was very perfect. I tried to do my best today, but on the loop it was very hard.”
Three women with a penalty apiece left the range on the final stage together behind Dorin Habert. They were Gabriela Soukalova of the Czech Republic, the overall World Cup leader; Laura Dahlmeier of Germany; and Kaisa Makarainen of Finland.
Dahlmeier and Makarainen attacked and Soukalova could not keep the pace, slipping to fourth over the course of the 2.5 k loop. For the other two, it was a tough battle as both said they were tired from the week so far.
“Perhaps I don’t look very tired, but I am tired, I’m really tired,” Dahlmeier said in the press conference. “We had a really hard fight on the last loop, Kaisa and me. I thought I had to be directly behind her and then perhaps it would be possible to win the bronze medal.”
Makarainen had a bit of a disadvantage as the German had faster skis, and the finish of the Holmenkollen course is downhill into the stadium.
“My only plan was that I try to make the gap in the uphills, and I wished that the gap was big enough that nobody would pass me,” she said.
She did lead Dahlmeier up the last big hill, Hellnerbacken, as well as up the steep hill behind the range. But the German stuck to her tails and was able to pass her just before the finish line to claim silver.
“I just could take more speed with me, you can see that she has to start pushing earlier, I could just create more forward drive,” Dahlmeier told German broadcaster ZDF. “It’s absolutely gigantic that it was enough for silver. I really wouldn’t have thought that would be possible while the race was going on.”
With the medal, Dahlmeier nearly matched Dorin Habert: in five starts (she sat out the mixed relay), she earned five medals.
Makarainen, a former World Champion and World Cup Total Score winner, was happy with bronze.
“I had no chance against Laura on the last downhill,” she said. “I am sure that our wax team worked really hard these last two weeks, and today they only made skis for me, so I don’t want to blame them. It’s a big thing for our small team to win a medal… We have seen that it’s only the big teams who win most of the medals, the ones with a lot of athletes and support, so this is great for our small team.”
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.