With the 2018 Olympics come and gone, many of biathlon’s athletes are calling it quits. Here’s a roundup of who you won’t see on the World Cup next season – and who’s still on the fence about their future.
2017 Word Champion Lowell Bailey has long planned to retire after the 2018 season, and now that time has come. His first World Junior Championships was in 1999 and he got his first World Cup start in 2002. He raced 2003 World Championships before taking a break to go to the University of Vermont, before returning and competing in the 2006, 2010, 2014, and 2018 Olympics. His eighth-place finish in the 20 k individual at the 2014 Games are the best ever by an American biathlete. Bailey is the Executive Director of the Crosscut Mountain Sports Center in Bozeman.
“I told myself this morning that I just wanted to go out on a high note,” he told FasterSkier in Oslo after leading off a U.S. relay team that finished seventh, in his last World Cup race. “I wanted to go out with a good result. And, I’m really happy to have shot clean in standing, clean from the clip in my last stage as a World Cup biathlete. That feels good. I’ll always remember that — that I went out with a clean stage.”
Longtime teammate and 2013 World Championships silver medalist Tim Burke will also retire. Burke has six World Cup podiums to his name including that silver medal, and led the World Cup partway through the 2009-2010 season. Burke started racing internationally at 2000 Junior World Championships, and made his first senior World Championships in 2004. Like Bailey, he is a four-time Olympian.
“It’s weird, I don’t honestly I don’t know if it’s truly hit me,” he said after the Oslo relay. “It might take weeks… I think it’s going to take a long time for all to settle in and for me to really reflect back on my career. Yeah, it’s a lot of emotion.” Burke says that his post-biathlon plans are not yet certain.
Also retiring is Russell Currier, an off-and-on member of the national team and the Maine Winter Sports Center (now the Outdoor Sports Institute). Currier had two sixth-place World Cup results in 2012, and is a four-time World Championships team member. Since his World Cup debut in 2009, he has contributed to many U.S. relay efforts. He also competed at the 2014 Olympics, with a top finish of 49th, and was a member of the 2018 Olympic team though he did get any starts in PyeongChang.
“USBA nationals will be officially be the last race of my biathlon career,” Currier wrote in an email to FasterSkier this week.
The women’s team likely won’t see three retirements, and will thus have some more stability than the men’s crew, but there is more uncertainty regarding the women’s roster. Clare Egan wrote in an email this week that she was “Undecided!” about whether to continue racing. And in Oslo, after finishing third in the pursuit which was her last World Cup of the season, Susan Dunklee said the wasn’t sure if she would keep competing. “Ask me again in a month,” she said.
Julia Ransom retired in Oslo, as the 25-year-old is planning a career in dentistry and has many years of school ahead of her. “It’s just a good time for my partner and I to kind of move on,” she said after crossing the line in her final World Cup, the pursuit, hand in hand with teammate Rosanna Crawford.. “And it does feel right. It feels right.”
Ransom scored two top-ten finishes at 2014 World Juniors, and made her first senior World Championships team in 2015. This season she had two top-ten World Cup finishes, and went to the Olympics in PyeongChang, where she finished 28th in the pursuit.
She is the only one from the Canadian team who is definitely retiring, but quite a few of her teammates are on the fence and there could be huge turnover on the team depending on what they decide. That includes Rosanna Crawford and Brendan Green, even though Crawford finally bagged her first World Cup podium this season.
“We’re not 100% sure yet,” Green said after the relay in Oslo. “Both Rosanna and I will sit on it a little bit over the spring. We will reevaluate a little bit and see what other opportunities arise. I think we both still love to race and train, and if we continue down that path I know we will still be motivated. But as of right now I’m not sure.”
2015 World Championships silver medalist Nathan Smith – who was also, along with Green, Christian Gow, and Scott Gow, part of a bronze-medal relay at 2016 World Championships – is also unsure. He missed most of the 2016-2017 season with health issues and though he returned to the World Cup and the Olympics this year, did not perform up to his own expectations.
“I’m kind of waiting to see what happens with Biathlon Canada,” Smith wrote in an email this week. “I think some very difficult years are coming for the organization, unfortunately. That will play a big part in my, and I’m sure many other athletes’, decisions. Of course, I’m also not looking to have a continuation of the health problems over the last two seasons, which made competing at the highest level really difficult. So I will be keeping a close eye on how my body is reacting to training. If it’s still not coming around that would certainly not encourage me to continue either.”
2010, 2014, and 2018 Olympian Megan Tandy also struggled with health issues this winter, and is likewise not sure what her future holds.
“Originally it was my intention to retire after this season, however it was literally my worst season ever!” she wrote in an email. “I was sick more in the past 6 months than in the past two years. Anyways, I have taken some time since the Olympics to followup about my health and to consider options for next season. I want to race a final season – one where I feel good and can put up a good fight (not necessarily results dependant, I just want to leave this sector of my life feeling like I gave it all I got), but a lot of things will need to fall into place for that to be realistic: sponsor support, coaching opportunities during the training season, and my health of course.”
Weronika Nowakowska is calling it a career. The 31-year-old picked up two World Cup podiums in the 2015 season before taking a break from competition to give birth to twins. She made a successful return this season and represented Poland in PyeongChang, with a top finish of 21st in the individual. She also had sixth- and fourth-place finishes on the World Cup this year and contributed to four different top-eight relay efforts, including one at the Olympics.
“I leave happy, fulfilled and cheerful,” she wrote on her Facebook page, according to a translation. “I was not outstanding, but so far no Polish biathlete has done better”
Back in Oslo, French star Marie Dorin Habert ended her career. Dorin Habert – then simply Marie Dorin – competed in her first senior World Championships in PyeongChang in 2009, where she had a top individual finish of 18th and was part of the bronze-medal relay team. Fast forward and she had racked up a sprint bronze at the 2010 Olympics, seven World Cup wins, ten more World Championships relay medals, and four individual gold, one silver, and one bronze medal at World Championships, four of which were from the 2016 edition where she did not finish a single race without a medal.
She found herself back in PyeongChang for the 2018 Olympics, where, despite a frustrating season until then, she was fourth in the sprint, bronze in the women’s relay, and gold in the mixed relay.
“It’s so nice to end this way, to share it with all of the team, and the beautiful sun, and all the French people,” Dorin Habert said after winning the women’s relay in Oslo along with her teammates. “It’s a wonderful day for me. I would like to thank a lot, well, everyone, for being there in the biathlon family. I’m really happy to have this career, and I’m really happy for everything.”
Jean Guillaume Beatrix he told is also retiring. Beatrix was a World Junior Champion in 2009, before going on to be a five-time World Championships team member and a 2014 Olympic bronze medalist in the pursuit. He was part of three silver- and one bronze-medal winning men’s relay teams at World Championships. But this season, he did not perform well enough to make a very competitive French team for the 2018 Olympics. His retirement was “a decision precipitated by my results”, L’Equipe, according to a translation.
Jaroslav Soukup, the bronze medalist in the sprint at 2012 World Championships, where he was also part of the silver-medal mixed relay team, is retiring. Later in 2012, he suffered a horrendous accident while biking, including open fractures in his arm and neck and back injuries. By 2014, he made it back and won the same medals at the Olympics that he had at World Championships two years before: bronze in the sprint and silver in the mixed relay. Soukup qualified for the 2018 Olympics but only competed in the relay, which finished seventh. He had one World Cup top-30 this season.
Hilde Fenne, a staple of the Norwegian women’s team, retired after the last race of the season in Tyumen, Russia. Fenne never found breakout success as an individual; she had three top-15 finishes in her career. But she was an integral part of the women’s team and contributed to numerous World Cup relay podiums, as well as the gold-medal winning women’s relay at 2013 World Championships in Nove Mesto, Czech Republic.
In that final race, her teammates wrote her name on their cheeks. “She has been a very important piece for me,” teammate Synnøve Solemdal told NRK, almost in tears. “We have stayed in a lot of hotel rooms together. I’m going to miss her very much.”
On the men’s side, there is uncertainty as to whether some veterans will stick with racing or not. One is Ole Einar Bjørndalen, who was left off Norway’s Olympic team, who for the first time since 1992 this season. And yet, the 44-year-old has not stated that he will retire, and some who know him are speculating that he may try to stick it out one more year and go out with better results than he saw this season.
Also with no stated plans is Emil Hegle Svendsen. Bjørndalen is the winningest athlete in World Cup history; Svendsen is number four. He won the World Cup overall title in 2010, and is a four-time Olympian. He won gold in the individual in 2010 and in the mass start in 2014, after which he suffered a total collapse anchoring the Norwegian men’s relay. In the past seasons he has been off and on, and he has only won two races since then. But this season he showed flashes of brilliance, and he was third in the mass start at the 2018 Olympics as well as anchoring the silver medal men’s relay and mixed relays.
“What Emil has done is absolutely fantastic,” teammate Tarjei Bø – who won the overall World Cup the year after Svendsen – told NRK two weeks ago. “He has won everything, and in addition done it several times, and he has come back again and again after being down. He has had a fantastic career and I hope he continues.”
She just won the overall World Cup crystal globe, but Kaisa Makarainen is not sure whether she will continue racing. In several previous years she had already discussed potentially retiring, but now she is reportedly waiting to think it over more as well as to discuss with the new team staff. U.S. Biathlon Women’s Coach Jonne Kahkonen, himself a Finn, was just announced as the new Head Coach for Finland.
Florian Graf, an athlete who finished as high as fourth on the World Cup in 2013 but has more recently been racing on the IBU Cup, is calling it quits at age 29.
Several other top athletes are suspected to be considering retiring, but there hasn’t been much on the record discussion by them. Stay tuned.
— Harald Zimmer contributed