Susan Dunklee 4th in Antholz sprint, best women’s biathlon World Cup finish ever for U.S.

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When Susan Dunklee woke up this morning, her outlook was positive, as always, but something felt different.

“I don’t typically buy into gut feelings because you can set yourself up for failure when you want it too badly,” Dunklee said. “But when I woke up and went on my morning jog, I really felt like all of the pieces were going to come together.”

For the first time in her career, everything clicked for Dunklee.

The 26-year-old Vermont native survived the tough skiing conditions at altitude and was exceptional in the shooting range to finish fourth in the women’s 7.5km sprint in Antholz, Italy, the best-ever World Cup finish by an American female biathlete, in the final event before the Sochi Olympics.

The race was won by Anais Bescond of France, her country’s first World Cup winner as an individual competitor since Sandrine Bailly in March of 2008. Bescond crossed in 20:30.2. Germany’s Andrea Henkel finished second in 20:36.9. Darya Domracheva of Belarus was third in 20:40.3, six-tenths ahead of Dunklee.

Behind Dunklee, the next highest American finisher was Sara Studebaker, who came in 57th. Annelies Cook finished 70th while Hannah Dreissigacker was unable to finish.

“Finishing a half second off the podium is probably the most exciting part of the performance,” Dunklee said in a phone interview after the race. “It’s good motivation. As for it being the best finish ever by an American, I think it might be a while before that sinks in. But I always knew I was capable of these types of results.”

Indeed, this wasn’t the first time that Dunklee has flirted with the top of the event standings. In 2012, she finished fifth in the women’s 15km individual in Ruhpolding, Germany.

“Today was similar to Ruhpolding in a lot of ways,” she said. “You’re doing your thing for the first loop and then in the last loop you start getting the splits from your coaches and an awareness of where you stand out on the course. It’s kind of a surreal sensation, especially when your body is hurting like crazy and you’re fighting for every second.

“But I think the experience in Ruhpolding helped me today in terms of being able to handle the pressure of knowing where I was sitting. In Ruhpolding, I remember hearing that I was in first place at one point and I got this shot of adrenaline to the heart that almost stopped me cold. Today, hearing my position, everything felt more routine.”

Where Dunklee was particularly strong in Antholz was with the rifle in her hand. She shot clean through the prone stage, hitting all five targets with no misses, to position herself inside the Top 10. But it was her clean shooting in the standing stage — only 21 of 100 finishers shot cleanly on their feet – which put her in medal contention. She was just three-tenths behind Bescond after the second shooting stage.

“I’ve actually been struggling a lot recently with my standing shooting,” Dunklee said. “I would shoot cleanly through prone and set myself up for a nice result but then miss a couple targets standing and have to ski the penalty loops, which is disappointing. It’s been like that for two or three weeks now, but today I felt more like I was out hunting the targets. In practice the last couple of days I was really relaxed and hitting all of my targets. So I just focused on the process and tried to make things as routine as possible.”

That process – things like taking the rifle off your shoulders, finding a good spot on the mat, feeling the pressure of the trigger – included the added step of taking additional breaths before pulling the trigger because of the physical stress felt skiing at altitude in Antholz. Dunklee said that same principles will apply at the Sochi Games, where the Laura Cross-Country Ski & Biathlon Center is at 5,905-feet of elevation.

Dunklee added that the similarity between these two courses ends there.

“The course is quite different in Sochi,” she said. “The climbs here are not as long and steep as they will be at the Olympics. I am actually better at long grinding climbs that separate the field. Today’s key was more about working on getting transitions right.”

With the start of the Olympics now three weeks away, Dunklee said her performance should provide her with a boost of confidence.

It will undoubtedly also be seen as another positive sign, along with Tim Burke’s silver medal at the 2013 World Championships, that the U.S. might be poised to win its first ever biathlon medal in the sport at the Games. It is the only sport in which the U.S. has failed to do so.

“It’s an interesting discussion I have had a lot with our USOC sports psychologist,” Dunklee said. “It’s nice to be an underdog and not get a lot of media attention, but on other hand it is good to be in this position and get practice dealing with pressure and the confidence of being up there with the best.

“I’m sure this will get people talking again, but I am going to try to be prepared and do the work and not worry about what the result is going to be”

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Justin Gatlin, Tori Bowie win 100m at USATF Outdoor Championships

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Justin Gatlin isn’t relinquishing his U.S. sprint crown just yet.

The 35-year-old overtook young phenom Christian Coleman to win the 100m at the USATF Outdoor Championships (Summer Champions Series) in Sacramento, Calif., on Friday night.

Gatlin, who took silver to Usain Bolt at the 2013 and 2015 Worlds and 2016 Olympics, came back to beat Coleman in 9.95 seconds. Coleman, 21, hung on for second in 9.98, well off his world-leading 9.82 from earlier this month.

Chris Belcher, 23, grabbed the last 100m spot on the London world championships team in 10.06.

“These two young guns trying to make a name for themselves, and I’m just trying to keep coming,” Gatlin told Lewis Johnson on NBCSN.

Gatlin was an underdog Friday, having not broken 10 seconds in four wind-legal races this year going into the final.

He missed weeks of training this season, slowed by a quadriceps/groin problem since February, according to The Associated Press.

USATF OUTDOORS: Broadcast Schedule | Full Results

Earlier Friday, Olympic silver medalist Tori Bowie won the women’s 100m easily in 10.94.

Bowie was followed by Rio Olympian Deajah Stevens (11.08) and Ariana Washington (11.10). Allyson Felix was eighth, but she wasn’t planning on racing the 100m at worlds anyway.

“The goal was to make the [world] team [by finishing top three],” Bowie told Lewis Johnson on NBCSN. “I’m using each race as a training cycle before I get to London.”

Meanwhile in Jamaica, Olympic 100m champion Elaine Thompson won her national title in 10.71 seconds, one hundredth off her shared national record. Bowie is as of now an underdog going into worlds in August.

Yohan Blake won the Jamaican 100m title in 9.90, his fastest time since 2012, when he became the second-fastest man of all time. Bolt skipped the Jamaican Championships as he has a bye into worlds as defending champion.

Gatlin, Coleman, Blake and Canadian Andre De Grasse are looking like the biggest threats to Bolt at the final meet of his career.

In other USATF Outdoors events Friday, Blake Leeper took Oscar Pistorius off the IPC athletics record book by running 45.25 in the 400m semifinals.

Though Leeper didn’t make Saturday’s final, he is the first double amputee to compete at a USATF Outdoor Championships. Leeper raced for the first time since the end of a cocaine ban earlier this week.

Trey Hardee completed his first decathlon in nearly two years and won the U.S. title with 8,225 points. That ranks him 10th in the world this year.

Hardee, 33, captured the 2009 and 2011 World Championships, beating the now-retired Ashton Eaton, plus a 2012 Olympic silver medal. He withdrew on the second day of the 2016 Olympic Trials decathlon after suffering a left hamstring injury on the first day.

Vashti Cunningham, daughter of former NFL quarterback Randall Cunningham, won her first U.S. outdoor title in the high jump.

Cunningham, who finished 13th in Rio at age 18, cleared an outdoor personal best of 1.99 meters on Friday. She ranks No. 2 in the world this year.

London Olympic silver medalist Brigetta Barrett was fourth, just missing the world team.

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Katie Ledecky entered in five events at USA Swimming Nationals

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Katie Ledecky is signed up for five races at the USA Swimming National Championships (Summer Champions Series) next week.

The four-time Rio Olympic champion is entered in the 100m, 200m, 400m, 800m and 1500m freestyles in Indianapolis. Full entry lists are here.

The top two per individual event qualify for the world championships in Budapest in July, plus extra swimmers in the 100m and 200m frees for relays.

Ledecky is slated to race four of five days in Indy, starting with a Tuesday double of the 100m and 800m frees. A full broadcast schedule is here.

At last year’s Olympic Trials, Ledecky raced the 100m, 200m, 400m and 800m frees, when there was no 1500m free on the Olympic program.

The women’s 1500m free will debut at Tokyo 2020, but it has been on the world championships program since 2001.

At this same meet in the last Olympic cycle in 2013, Ledecky contested the 200m, 400m, 800m and 1500m frees, winning the three latter races and finishing second to Missy Franklin in the 200m free. Franklin will miss nationals next week as she continues to return from January shoulder surgeries.

Ledecky goes into this year’s nationals ranked No. 1 in the world in the 200m, 400m, 800m and 1500m frees and No. 5 in the U.S. in the 100m free.

Ledecky showed marked improvement in the 100m free in the last four years. In Rio, she had the second-fastest split on the American 4x100m free relay team that took silver.

Ledecky is ranked No. 1 in the U.S. this year in the 400m individual medley but chose not to race it this summer.

Other headliners for nationals:

  • Ryan Murphy, Olympic 100m and 200m backstroke champion, is entered in all three backstrokes (50m, 100m and 200m) and the 100m freestyle, where he has an outside chance of earning a 4x100m relay berth.
  • Chase Kalisz, Olympic 400m IM silver medalist, is the top seed in the 200m IM and 400m IM and the No. 2 seed in the 200m butterfly.
  • Simone Manuel, four-time Rio medalist, is the top seed in the 50m and 100m frees and the No. 5 seed in the 200m free.
  • Lilly King, Olympic 100m breaststroke champion, is favored to make the team in the 50m, 100m and 200m breasts. She is also entered in the 200m IM.
  • The men’s 50m free is loaded with Olympic champions Anthony ErvinNathan AdrianCullen Jones and Caeleb Dressel as the top four seeds.

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