Dozens of German biathletes from all parts of the country descended on the small town of Langdorf (Arber) in the Bavarian Forest mountain range last weekend for their national championships. Since guests are allowed to compete in the races (a sprint and a pursuit), a number of international biathletes — including a handful of North Americans — made use of this opportunity during a training block in Europe for a performance test against some tough competition.
The American contingent of national-team members and a few more representatives from the Craftsbury Biathlon Club of Vermont was led by 2017 IBU World Championships silver medalist Susan Dunklee and fellow national-team veteran and 2013 silver medalist Tim Burke.
“It was a great event,” Dunklee wrote in an email to FasterSkier. “The large crowd of spectators and high level of competitors made it great practice for the winter.”
Last season’s World Championships gold medalist Lowell Bailey did not travel with the rest of the men’s team, neither did World Championship participants Clare Egan and Maddie Phaneuf of the women’s team.
Joining Dunklee were national-team members Joanne Reid, Emily Dreissigacker (Craftsbury Biathlon Club/US Biathlon B-team), as well as Hallie Grossman (Craftsbury/ US Biathlon National Development Group).
On the men’s side, Burke was joined by multi-time youth/junior world champion Sean Doherty, fellow Olympian Leif Nordgren, national-team rookie Paul Schommer (A-3 team), Michael Gibson (Craftsbury), and Alex Howe (Craftsbury/US Biathlon National Development Group).
The Canadian national team did not make the long journey overseas this summer, opting to prepare at home instead, but team member Megan Tandy (who lives and trains in Germany for large parts of the year) joined Dunklee, Reid and a group of other international athletes for a short training camp and the two races.
“I train mostly alone so to have coaches and teammates for a week was awesome,” Tandy wrote in an email. “Great for some friendly competition, coaching feedback, some laughs and I learned a few things, too. I always appreciate the chance to train with other athletes!”
New Biathlete Herrmann Tops Women’s Races, Dunklee Leads Americans
Germany’s Denise Herrmann, who switched from being a cross-country sprint specialist to biathlon only a year ago, was the standout female athlete of the weekend, winning the national title in both the sprint and pursuit.
In the sprint on Saturday, Sept. 9, the German biathlon B-team member shot clean on her way to the victory in a time of 18 minutes, 2.5 seconds on the 7.5-kilometer course, ahead of national-team members Maren Hammerschmidt (+30.9 with zero penalties) and Laura Dahlmeier (+36.0 with zero penalties). Finland’s biathlon star Kaisa Mäkärainen placed fourth after shooting two penalties (+42.2, 1+1).
In a field of 44 starters, Dunklee led the North American women in 15th place (+2:29.6) with three penalties (2+1). She was the fourth-best non-German woman.
“Of course every time you toe the line you want the win but I wasn’t among the fastest there this weekend,” Dunklee explained. “My goal is to be at my best in February and my focused work at these races will help get me there. The course had a nice flow with rolling terrain which made it great for practicing uphill V2 and transitions.”
Reid placed 18th (+2:45.8) with one penalty (0+1), while Tandy finished just behind her in 19th (+2:48.7) after having to circle three penalty laps (2+1). Dreissigacker placed 31st (+3:57.4) also with three penalties (1+2), and Grossmann was 40th (+4:57.9) with five penalties (2+3), out of 44 finishers.
In the following 10 k pursuit on Sunday in rainy conditions, Herrmann was able to rack up her second title in as many days in 30:17.5 after shooting three penalties (0+1+1+1). Dahlmeier, by her own account not a big fan of rollerski races, was unable to catch her despite another flawless shooting score and she finished second, 43.4 seconds back. Third place went to Mäkäräinen, who overcame five penalties (+1:37.8, 3+1+1+0), while Nadine Horchler in fourth overall claimed the bronze medal among Germans, moving up from sixth at the start after a solid performance on the range (+1:48.5, 0+0+0+1).
“I am really happy for her, that she now has been able to execute her abilities in both races,” Dahlmeier, a seven-time world champion, said of Herrmann to German broadcaster BR. “Her shooting, her racing, keeping her nerves in check. That demonstrates she has really taken another step forward. Still, this was a summer race without big pressure, but things are clearly moving in the right direction for her.”
The newly crowned national-champion, Herrmann was invited to a TV sports talk show hosted by the network later that evening for a more wide-ranging interview about her career, transition from cross-country to biathlon and the upcoming Olympics.
“I was hoping to be able to translate my training performances into a good result, but I really wouldn’t have expected two titles this weekend,” Herrmann said. “When I made the switch [to biathlon] the Olympics in PyeongChang were my big stated goal, and I knew this wouldn’t be easy, also because this team might be the most competitive in the world. I am on my way now. Of course this was only a summer competition, but I can finally execute my shooting performances from training. I know what is left to do the next two months, and am looking forward to the winter.”
The program showed her training diligently on the shooting range, even doing “dry fire” practices at every opportunity while steaming coffee in her home kitchen. So far, Herrmann has pre-qualified for Germany’s IBU Cup team, but she started a few World Cups last season, including the Olympic test events in PyeongChang, South Korea, where she was part of the winning relay team.
“Being able to race in that relay made me incredibly happy,” Herrmann explained, remembering that day from last March. “Shooting in the first lane there, I had a few other distracting thoughts in my head. But that is the mental challenge and the allure of biathlon, and I would like to create more experiences like that.”
Clean Pursuit for Tandy on Her Birthday
Dunklee again led the North Americans in 12th place in the pursuit (+3:42.1, fourth-best international) moving up three places from the sprint, with three penalties (0+1+0+2).
Seven seconds behind her, Tandy of Canada finished 14th (+3:49.1), just 0.1 seconds behind Germany’s Marie Heinrich (+3:49.0 with two penalties), after moving up from her starting position of 19th thanks to four clean shooting stages. She did so on her 29th birthday.
“The sprint was quite disappointing,” Tandy wrote in an email to FasterSkier. “Not the result I was aiming for… During the pursuit I really pulled the shooting together: for me it was a perfect day on the range with solid shooting times and 20/20 – it doesn’t get much better than that! To top it off, Sunday was my [29th] birthday so I was pretty pleased.”
Tandy was also happy with her performance considering she lives about an hour away from the nearest biathlon range. She estimated she had accumulated several thousand fewer shots in practice than most of her competitors this year.
“I had two 20/20 races on the World Cup circuit during the 2015-16 season, but I think this is the first time since then… so it has definitely been awhile!” she wrote. “The plus side is that I really value my time on the shooting range and I am approaching shooting training with such an intense focus that I am sure this summer has been some of my highest quality shooting training ever.”
“My race form is not where it needs to be yet, but I am feeling stronger than I was at this time last year and I believe I am making good progress,” Tandy wrote of her skiing. “The potential for a great season is there, but I still have a lot of work to do before the snow flies!”
Reid finished the pursuit in 21st place (+6:10.3) with three penalties (0+2+1+0), Dreissigacker moved up one spot to 30th (+7:34.6) with three penalties (1+0+2+0), and Grossman repeated in 40th (+12:21.9) with nine penalties (2+2+3+2).
Nordgren Leads North American Men in Sprint
The men’s 10 k sprint title went to Germany’s Benedikt Doll in a time of 24:33.3 despite two penalties (1+1) for his first national title. In a bit of a surprising outcome, Doll won the sprint at the 2017 World Championships in Hochfilzen, Austria, last season. On Saturday he prevailed over teammates Matthias Dorfer (+17.6, 0+1) and Simon Schempp (+24.2, 2+1), respectively. Switzerland’s Mario Dolder was the top non-German in fourth overall (+29.0, 1+0).
Leif Nordgren placed 15th with a single standing miss to lead the North American men in the sprint, finishing 1:21.3 back from Doll. Nordgren was the third-best international guest behind Dolder and his Swiss teammate Benjamin Weger, who was ninth overall.
“It was a fun weekend at the German summer championships in Langdorf, the race shape is not there yet though!” Nordgren wrote on Instagram.
Just two seconds behind him, Burke placed 18th (+1:23.4, fifth-best international) with three penalties (2+1). Doherty was 27th (+2:14.3) with four penalties (2+2), Schommer finished 34th (+2:54.0) with five penalties (4+1), and Gibson placed 48th (+4:32.5) with five penalties (3+2) in the field of 54 finishers.
Howe did not start, but posted on social media about supporting his wife Emily Dreissigacker:
Burke 7th in Pursuit
In the men’s 12.5 k pursuit on Sunday, Germany’s Schempp improved from third at the start to claim the championship in commanding fashion in a time of 30:41.1 with a single penalty (0+1+0+0). His fellow senior national team member Erik Lesser moved up from seventh to claim the silver medal (+1:14.5 with two penalties), while Doll swapped positions on the podium with Schempp, coming in third place (+1:22.0 with four penalties). Sprint silver medalist Dorfer fell back to fifth place (+1:43.2 with four penalties).
“Totally satisfied with my performance the first weekend of the nationals,” Schempp posted on Instagram.
For the U.S., Burke moved up from 18th to seventh place with three penalties (0+0+2+1). He finished 2:16.9 minutes after Schempp and battled with local juniors David Zobel and Lucas Fratzscher to the line. Zobel placed sixth (+2:16.1 with one penalty) and Fratzscher eighth (+2:17.2, moving up from 23rd with clean shooting). Burke was the top non-German in the pursuit.
“These races were a good opportunity for me to see where I am at after the spring/summer training season,” Burke wrote in an email. “The races over here definitely have more of a ‘winter feel’ with bigger crowds and larger start fields. Overall, I was satisfied with my results. I felt like I did well in the areas that I have been focusing on this summer, and I now have clear areas of focus heading into the winter.”
Nordgren finished 18th (+3:33.5) slipping three positions and incurring two penalties on the shooting range (1+0+0+1). Schommer came in 29th (+5:06.1) improving by five places despite five penalties (3+1+1+0). Doherty was 30th (+5:22.0) after starting 27th, also with five penalties (1+3+1+0). Gibson finished 42nd (+8:17.8) improving by six places while registering six penalties (1+1+2+2), and Howe was unable to start after missing the sprint.
The German athletes will continue their national championship races with mass start and relay events in Ruhpolding next weekend. Meanwhile, the US athletes planned to use the week for testing and on-snow training in a ski tunnel at the World Cup venue in Oberhof, Germany, before returning to the U.S., according to Dunklee and Burke.
“Hopefully there will be a few more weeks of sunny fall training [in Germany] before it is time to hit the snow, before heading home to Canada for National team trials in early November,” Tandy wrote of her next plans.
The Hohenzollern Ski Stadium venue at the Arber will host another IBU Cup in January, when some of the German and North American athletes competing last weekend might return there.