For a good portion of Friday’s race, Susan Dunklee found herself in first place. Not fourth, not third, not even second. First.
The ninth starter out of the gate in the women’s 7.5-kilometer International Biathlon Union (IBU) World Cup sprint in Pokljuka, Slovenia, Dunklee cleaned the first of two shooting stages — prone — to put herself in second behind Norway’s Tiril Eckhoff, who was leading at the time by a mere 0.9 seconds.
Eckhoff started seventh.
Then there was Finland’s Kaisa Mäkäräinen, in bib 18, who cleaned the first stage as well on a day with little to no wind and took the lead by 3.4 seconds over Eckhoff. But let’s get back to Dunklee.
The standing stage brought a miss for Eckhoff. That sent her to the penalty lap and into second behind Russia’s Olga Podchufarova, who started third and cleaned both stages to take an early lead. Dunklee hit all five of her targets once again and bested Podchafarova’s time leaving the range, taking the lead and holding it on the final loop to the finish. Dunklee crossed the finish 7 seconds faster than the Russian and claimed first — which held up through the first batch of early finishers.
Austria’s Lisa Theresa Hauser came close, hitting all of her targets as well, but came up 5.7 seconds short of Dunklee’s time at the finish. Then there were Dunklee’s most-immediate threats — Germany’s Franziska Hildebrand (bib 15), Mäkäräinen, and a surprise challenger: France’s Justine Braisaz (bib 23).
Hildebrand was the first to bump Dunklee out of the top spot by 16.9 seconds, then Mäkäräinen finished 5.6 seconds faster than Hildebrand to move Dunklee into third. After that, Braisaz topped Mäkäräinen’s time by more than 19 seconds and knocked Dunklee off the podium.
Germany’s Laura Dahlmeier was faster still (by 3.5 seconds) and turned out to be the fastest of the day, with a final winning time of 19:51.7 minutes. Braisaz held onto second place, and Norway’s Marte Olsbu, who started 45th, claimed third (+21.3). All of the top three shot 10-for-10; Mäkäräinen in fourth did not, with a single standing penalty costing her the podium (0+1, +22.8). Then there was Hildebrand in fifth (0+0, +28.4), and Slovakia’s Anastasiya Kuzmina in sixth (0+0, +30.7), ahead of the Czech Republic’s Gabriela Koukalova in seventh (0+1, +39.4) and Eva Puskarcikova in eighth (0+0, +39.8), France’s Celia Aymonier in ninth (0+1, +40.8), Germany’s Miriam Gössner in 10th (0+1, +42.8), and Dunklee in 11th (0+0, +45.3).
Of the top 15 finishers, all of them cleaned the first prone stage and had one penalty or less. Those with the standing penalty were the minority: 11 out of the 15 hit every target.
So on a day with ideal shooting and racing conditions, Dunklee excelled — posting the second- and third-fastest overall shooting and range times of 105 finishers — but so did several others. Dunklee’s course time ranked 29th overall and she slowed on the final loop with the 48th-ranked third-loop time.
Regardless, 11th was her best result this season. But afterward, Dunklee didn’t really want to talk about the race. Instead, she used an email correspondence with FasterSkier as an opportunity to vocalize her thoughts on the McLaren report, the second part of which was released a couple hours before the women’s race on Friday.
“We raced a World Cup today, but that is completely insignificant compared to the news that came out in the McLaren report,” Dunklee wrote. “Today is a sad, sad day for our international biathlon community and the global Olympic movement. We face stunning revelations of systematic doping within our community. I respect my body and I respect my competitors and that is why I compete clean. Today we must all speak up and demand the International Olympic Committee [IOC] and International Federations to take a powerful stance for clean sport.”
Asked specifically what actions she thinks the IBU should take, Dunklee added that it should start with cooperating with the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).
“For clean sport to work, the IBU has a responsibility to work with and support WADA,” she wrote. “Currently the IBU is not in compliance with the WADA code after awarding Tyumen, Russia the World Championships for 2021. This is very concerning to many of us biathletes on the World Cup.
“We need stiff penalties for doping violations and tampered-with samples,” Dunklee continued. “The McLaren report needs to be looked at very carefully and punishments handed out to officials, administrators, doctors and athletes who have cheated. Currently the IBU fines countries with multiple doping violations in an 18 month period a slap-on-the-wrist sort of fee. What things actually matter and would be more effective? Reducing World Cup start spots and banning Olympic participation for federations found to have systematic cheating.”
“We raced a World Cup today, but that is completely insignificant compared to the news that came out in the McLaren report. Today is a sad, sad day for our international biathlon community and the global Olympic movement.” — Susan Dunklee (US Biathlon) after placing 11th in Friday’s IBU World Cup 7.5 k sprint
Dunklee wasn’t the only one with plenty to say about Russia. Her US Biathlon teammate Lowell Bailey, who placed 18th in the men’s sprint, weighed in on how McLaren’s findings should be handled as well.
“It is now time for the IBU to reconsider its decision to hold the Tyumen World Cup in 2017 and the IBU World Championships in Tyumen 2021,” he wrote in an email after Friday’s race. “I expect that the IBU will follow the instructions set forth by WADA and the IOC to halt all competitions in Russia. To do otherwise would show the world that our leadership, the IBU Executive Board, is unwilling to defend clean athletes, the WADA Code, and a fair field of play.
“The WADA Code expressly forbids International Federations, such as the IBU, from holding international competitions in any country whose national federation is non-compliant with the WADA Code,” Bailey, an IBU athlete representative, explained. “WADA declared Russia’s Anti-doping agency non-compliant in November of 2015.”
He added that he agrees with IOC President Thomas Bach, who recently stated that “any athlete who took part in such a sophisticated manipulation system” should be excluded from future Olympics “in whatever capacity.”
“It is a privilege and honor to compete for one’s own country on the Olympic stage,” Bailey added. “For biathletes, and many other winter athletes, it is the most sacred field of play. It takes decades of hard work and sacrifice just to qualify for an Olympic Games, let alone stand on the Olympic podium. Any athlete who is willing to cheat has no place in an Olympic stadium, ever.”
Asked how much feedback he has received, as the athlete rep, on McLaren’s reports about Russia, Bailey wrote, “The overwhelming majority of clean athletes within the IBU are disheartened and appalled at the degree and scope of this recent doping scandal. They expect the IBU to react decisively to both levy consequences for past doping infractions and to revise and enact new anti-doping policies that are much more severe than the current punishment guidelines and will serve to effectively deter further doping in the future.”
Three Canadians, Two U.S. Women Qualify for Pursuit
In terms of the women’s race itself, Dahlmeier was able to take the sprint win with the second-fastest final loop, which moved her from third leaving the range to first at the finish. Overall, her course time ranked fourth.
“I like Pokljuka … it’s very beautiful, the weather here is always very nice. I am also used to altitude because of the Alps,” Dahlmeier said, according to an IBU press release.
But in bib 31 out of more than 100, she wasn’t overly confident her lead would hold.
“Some really strong athletes started late, and I was not sure of my win until after the last athlete was at the finish line,” Dahlmeier added.
For 19-year-old Braisaz, it was her first World Cup podium (after placing fourth in a World Cup sprint in Khanty-Mansiysk, Russia, last season).
“I am really happy about the race today,” Braisaz told the IBU. “I didn’t believe my coaches when they told me I was in the lead. Before the competition, I didn’t want to leave my bed this morning, I didn’t feel confident.”
Even Olsbu was surprised with her podium.
“My goal this season was to fight for the podium, but I didn’t think I could make it before Christmas,” she told the IBU.
On Saturday, she’ll start third in the 10 k pursuit, 21 seconds behind Dahlmeier in first, and two seconds ahead of Mäkäräinen in fourth. Braisaz will head out second, 4 seconds after Dahlmeier.
“It will be a good fight,” Olsbu predicted. “Kaisa starting right behind me, this will be very difficult.”
Aside from Dunklee, another North American had her best result of the season so far, with Biathlon Canada’s Julia Ransom placing 34th (+1:32.8) with clean shooting.
“The course is right up my alley with lots of transitions and fast downhills, and the range is usually pretty calm making for lots of clean shooting across the board,” Ransom explained in an email.
“Östersund was a bit of a mixed bag,” she wrote of last week’s World Cup. “After an abysmal relay performance from myself, I had a great race in the sprint but unfortunately we missed the skis. The pursuit was good on the ski side but a little rough on the shooting side. That is biathlon I suppose! On a whole, I think the team was looking forward to moving on and starting fresh. My goal of top 20’s and top 15’s still remain and I hope to pick up some momentum towards achieving that.”
While she was satisfied with her result on Friday, Ransom added that she had hoped for top 30. Her overall course time ranked 57th.
“After analyzing today, I am going to focus on picking up those extra seconds to move up (hopefully to top 20!)” she wrote.
Canada’s Megan Tandy also finished in the top 60 to qualify for the pursuit in 49th (+1:58.5) with a single standing penalty (0+1), as did American Clare Egan in 53rd (+2:08) with two standing penalties, and Canada’s Rosanna Crawford in 58th (+2:19.6) with three misses (2+1).
Canada’s Sarah Beaudry finished 75th (+2:58.2) with clean shooting (0+0). Joanne Reid (US Biathlon) was 85th (+3:16.8) with four penalties (3+1).
Alex Kochon (email@example.com) 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.