Special thanks to John Lazenby for providing photos from 2017 US Biathlon Rollerski Championships in Jericho. For a full gallery, click here.
Note: This article has been updated to include comments from Lowell Bailey, Susan Dunklee and Bernd Eisenbichler.
This past weekend, the US Biathlon Association (USBA) Rollerski Championships returned to Jericho, Vt., for two days of racing at the Ethan Allen Firing Range inside a National Guard military base. Just as it has in the past, the format included men’s and women’s sprints on Saturday followed by mass starts on Sunday, and this year, the races drew nearly 100 competitors from across the U.S. and even some from Canada.
A perennial winner at Jericho, Lowell Bailey won the senior men’s 10-kilometer sprint on Saturday in 24 minutes, 58 seconds with a single standing penalty (0+1).
“Summer nationals is a good chance to assess where you are in the training season,” Bailey wrote in an email. “Of course, roller skiing is quite a bit different than on-snow skiing, and it is important to keep that in perspective when assessing the results. However, I’m happy with the way the weekend went and I feel like I am on track in terms of where I want to be in the training season.”
Fellow US Biathlon A-teamer Sean Doherty placed second, just 5.2 seconds back, with two prone misses (2+0). Rounding out the top three, Biathlon Canada’s Nathan Smith (the lone Canadian in that race) placed third, 21.4 seconds behind Bailey with a single standing miss as well (0+1).
Another 0.2 seconds back in fourth overall, Travis Cooper of National Guard Biathlon was the third American after shooting two prone penalties (2+0). A total of 23 racers competed in the senior men’s event on Saturday, compared to 11 in the senior women’s sprint. (Other categories included girls, boys, youth, junior, and masters.)
In the women’s 7.5 k sprint, Susan Dunklee, of US Biathlon and the Craftsbury Green Racing Project (CGRP), won despite five penalties (2+3) in a time of 22:10.7.
In an email, Dunklee described the conditions as “very hot and muggy.”
“Between that and the uphill range approach, these races have some of the most difficult shooting conditions we see all year,” she explained in an email.
“I’ve been working on learning new wind shooting skills this summer,” Dunklee wrote. “It has been going well in practice but truly trusting those skills under race pressure is a mammoth challenge. The goal is to build that trust before winter. My shooting percentages weren’t great this weekend, but I am happy about the way I stuck to my work plan on the range.”
Dunklee finished 46.9 seconds clear of her teammate and runner-up Joanne Reid (USBA/Colorado Biathlon), who had a miss in each stage (1+1).
A minute behind Dunklee, Kelsey Dickinson, representing Craftsbury’s Collegiate Summer Team, placed third with four penalties (3+1). No Canadian senior women competed on either day.
On Sunday, racers returned to the range for the men’s and women’s mass starts, where Dunklee proceeded to take another victory with a time of 40:12.8 and seven penalties (1+2+2+2).
Her teammate Clare Egan (USBA/CGRP) placed second, 23.6 seconds back with five misses (1+0+2+2), while Dickinson repeated in third (+33.8) with five penalties as well (2+0+1+2).
In the men’s mass start, Smith cleaned two stages and tallied three penalties (1+0+0+2) en route to the win in 38:09.8. Bailey finished 21.3 seconds back in second after three misses (1+0+1+1), and his teammate Tim Burke (USBA) took third (+1:09.8) with five penalties (2+1+2+0).
“I was happy with how the first day of racing went, but I definitely could have been more aggressive in the Mass Start’s standing stages,” Bailey reflected. “The wind came up during the shooting and I let that distract me a little bit when I should have stayed with my planned cadence and shooting speed.”
“With faster shooting, I may have been able to catch Nathan’s wheel and contended for the win on the last loop,” he continued. “As it was, those two standings left me with an insurmountable gap for the final loop.”
Paul Schommer was the third American in fourth overall (+1:23.0) with six misses (2+1+2+1).
The USBA Rollerski Championships typically serve as the first of two weekends of trials (the other being in October) for US Biathlon in selecting a pre-World Cup training camp group. From that group of athletes, the U.S. usually fills out its early season International Biathlon Union (IBU) World Cup roster.
In an email, USBA Chief of Sport Bernd Eisenbichler explained that two athletes particularly stood out with their performances this weekend.
“On the women’s side Kelsey Dickinson and on the men’s side Travis Cooper made a big improvement compared to last year and even last season and both will get rewarded for that with a camp invitation to [Lake Placid] in mid-September to work with the A Team and the National Team Coaches,” Eisenbichler wrote.
“I was happy to see a very competitive men’s field and a growing women’s field as well,” he continued. “We could see, that it was the first real races this summer and as Jericho is a pretty hard range to shoot at, we saw a good reminder what to work on still, especially on the shooting side. The A Team comes from a really long and hard block of training, so they weren’t fresh at all going into the races, so for sure, you make a few mistakes more, as if you would be preparing fully for a race weekend like you would e.g. do for a [World Cup] weekend.”