We’re entering the homestretch for the 2015/2016 FasterSkier awards, chosen by our staff based on performances last season. While not scientific, these points of recognition are intended to reflect a broader sense of the season in review.
The following set of honors goes to outstanding North American male and female biathlon performances of the year. Cross-country performances of the year will follow.
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- Susan Dunklee (US Biathlon): Presque Isle World Cup 10 k sprint
Both Susan Dunklee and teammate Lowell Bailey seemed to have breakthroughs after the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia: they had notched best-ever finishes for Americans, with Dunklee 11th in the mass start and Baily eighth in the individual, and then picked up their first World Cup podiums in the weeks post-Olympics.
Heading into 2015, the team (as well as its fans) was giddy with the possibility of more podiums. But none came.
Dunklee delivered this season in Presque Isle, Maine, exactly where those fans could most appreciate it. Shooting a perfect 10-for-10 in the 10-kilometer sprint, she sped past many pre-race favorites and finished second, 17.8 seconds behind Gabriela Soukalova of the Czech Republic (who later won the World Cup Total Score).
“I knew I probably had one of my best races in my life and I’d done it at home and my parents were there,” Dunklee said after the race. “I just felt really good about my performance. I was really happy.”
It was close, with second through fourth place separated by fewer than three seconds. But Dunklee, an early starter, got to watch her time hold despite challenges from the likes of Marie Dorin Habert of France.
“You still need to fight like hell,” Dunklee recalled of heading out on the final loop knowing that times were tight. “When you’re having that sort of race, you don’t want to lose a second anywhere … I’ve just got to fight for the next seven minutes or whatever it takes.”
Dunklee had a solid season, just as she has for each of the last several years; consistency on the World Cup circuit landed her in 14th place in the Total Score, the best ever for an American woman.
But consistency doesn’t breed excitement quite the same way that podiums do.
“It’s unbelievable,” U.S. women’s coach Jonne Kähkönen said. “Just to be able to grab the podium on the home soil, home World Cup, even if it’s not the hometown, but there’s a lot of friends and family and fans that are great support. The local community is just awesome, so it means the world to us.”
Dunklee is now tied for the best performance ever by an American, along with Tim Burke, Anna Sonnerup, Joan Smith, and Josh Thompson, all of whom also won silver at World Cup or World Championships events.
Next up? The U.S. is still waiting on a gold.
- Canadian men’s relay team (Christian Gow, Nathan Smith, Scott Gow, and Brendan Green), World Championships men’s 4 x 7.5 k relay
While Dunklee’s second-place finish was historic, it didn’t send the same shock waves as another record-setting result which came a few weeks later: when the Canadian men’s team broke through for bronze in the World Championships relay in Oslo, Norway, earning their country’s first-ever relay medal.
“In a relay anything is possible,” anchor racer Brendan Green said at the time. “Today we all really put it on the line together. Every single one of us raced really well. When that happens, when things come together like that, it’s really incredible.”
It was easily the most surprising result of the championships, and the athletes themselves said that they hadn’t seen it coming – they had thought a top five was possible. The medal? Maybe in a few years, they had hoped.
Some aspects of the performance were predictable. The Canadians tied with Germany and the U.S. for the best shooting on the day – not surprising because they already were a great shooting team, with Christian Gow the fourth-most accurate shooter on the World Cup and Smith the fifth-fastest.
And seeing Nathan Smith bring the team to the front of the field? He has won an individual World Cup, so that wasn’t unusual.
Seeing Green anchor the team like a pro? He has done it dozens of times, and also has five individual top-10 finishes to his name – although shooting a perfect ten-for-ten when a medal is on the line is a whole different story. Green was stone-cold as the anchor even though he said his nerves were a nightmare.
Perhaps what fans hadn’t been expecting were the stellar performances of the Gow brothers, who are the younger members of the Canadian team. Christian Gow, then 22 years old, tagged off just 14.7 seconds behind the leaders on leg one, handing over to Smith, who skied into a more or less dead heat with the leaders on leg two.
Older brother Scott, 25, turned in one of the best ski performances of his career, casually hanging with Norway’s Johannes Thingnes Bø, a many-time World Cup winner who later went on to take gold in the 15 k mass start.
“Watching Christian tag off really close, and then Nathan obviously moved us right into contention… I thought, OK, I have to [stay with him], I don’t have a choice,” Scott said. “I don’t know if I believed I could, but I had to, to try and keep our team in it. I’m just happy that I was able to stay right behind Johannes for most of it and hang on.”
He did hang on, tagging off in third; Green sealed the deal; history was made.
“Every year you kind of think it’s coming,” National Team Coach Roddy Ward said. “It’s close, it’s close, and we’ve been close for a couple of years. We were close enough, I guess, that on the right day we were there.”
Maybe next time the commentators won’t be so surprised.
- Canadian mixed relay team (Rosanna Crawford and Nathan Smith), single mixed relay at Östersund, Sweden, World Cup
Canada had actually started the year off with a relay “bang”: in the very first World Cup competition of the season, Nathan Smith and Rosanna Crawford teamed up for silver in the mixed relay.
Despite a rocky start and nine spare rounds, they managed to avoid the penalty loop and finished 11.9 seconds behind Norway, claiming Canada’s first ever World Cup relay podium.
“It feels amazing,” Crawford said at the time, before pointing out that she’s still hunting for her first individual podium. “I don’t want to downplay it. Those team events, it feels so exciting and I feel so lucky to share the podium with my teammate who I’ve trained with for so long. But also, it’s probably not the same as an individual podium, which is definitely what I’m gunning for this year.”
- U.S. (Susan Dunklee, Hannah Dreissigacker, Tim Burke, and Lowell Bailey) and Canadian (Rosanna Crawford, Sarah Beaudry, Macx Davies, and Brendan Green) mixed teams, Mixed relay at Canmore World Cup
Perhaps team events were just the thing for North American biathlon teams this season. In Canmore, Alberta, both the Americans and Canadians were in the hunt for the podium until late in the race. The U.S. ended up fourth, less than two seconds off the podium, and the Canadians ten seconds behind them in sixth.
The result was a best-ever mixed relay for the U.S., with Canada tying its previous best in the two-man, two-woman event.
“It’s easy to say, ‘Oh man, if I had known, I would’ve skied two seconds faster,’ but I really don’t think I could’ve,” U.S. anchor skier Lowell Bailey said of finishing less than two seconds out of third. “I put everything I could have into that last lap. It’s bittersweet, but it’s also our best result ever in the mixed relay. … Fourth is where we ended up, and I think we have to be satisfied with that and keep that momentum going forward.”
- 2016 Biathlon Performance of the Year
- 2016 FasterSkier Awards
- 2016 IBU World Championships
- 2016 Oslo World Championships
- biathlon canada
- Biathlon Performance of the Year
- Brendan Green
- Canadian men's relay
- Canmore IBU World Cup
- Christian Gow
- Hannah Dreissigacker
- Lowell Bailey
- Macx Davies
- mixed relay
- Nathan Smith
- Presque Isle
- Presque Isle sprint
- Presque Isle World Cup
- Rosanna Crawford
- Sarah Beaudry
- Scott Gow
- Susan Dunklee
- Tim Burke
- US Biathlon