Susan Dunklee capped the U.S.’ best-ever biathlon world championships by becoming the first American woman to take an individual medal, a silver, at an Olympics or worlds on Sunday.
Dunklee also became the first woman in any sport to qualify for the U.S. Olympic team and the second overall. Lowell Bailey previously qualified after winning the first U.S. Olympic or world biathlon gold medal on Thursday.
“It’s a dream come true,” Dunklee, a 31-year-old who raced at the Sochi Olympics. “We’ve believed in the U.S. that we can get these world championships medals in the past. A [U.S.] woman winning a world championships medal is a really big thing.”
Dunklee missed gold by 4.6 seconds in the 12.5km mass start, clocking 33 minutes, 18.4 seconds in Hochfilzen, Austria, on Sunday.
German Laura Dahlmeier took gold for the fifth time in six races at worlds. Dahlmeier has now earned medals in all 11 world championships races she has entered the last two years.
Dunklee led Dahlmeier after each of the four shooting stages — both shot clean — but Dahlmeier erased a 5.1-second deficit in the final 2.5km skiing loop.
“Oh my gosh, we’ve never had anything like this,” Dunklee, the daughter of two University of Vermont cross-country skiers, told Dahlmeier as they waited for the podium ceremony. “It’s so cool.”
Dunklee has never won a World Cup race but did finish third and fourth this season, plus sixth in the worlds 15km individual last week.
Her fifth-place finish from the 2012 World Championships was previously the best individual result for a U.S. woman. The U.S. women’s relay team took bronze in 1984.
Dunklee earned her first World Cup podium one month after the Sochi Olympics, a third place, the first time an American woman made a top-level international podium since 1990.
The success of Bailey and Dunklee give the U.S. hope that it can win its first Olympic biathlon medal in PyeongChang. Biathlon is the only Winter Olympic sport where the U.S. has yet to earn an Olympic medal. Its best finish was sixth in the 1972 men’s relay. Its best individual finish was Bailey’s eighth in the 20km individual in 2014.
Between Bailey and Dunklee, the Americans picked up six finishes at worlds that were better than their best-ever individual Olympic finish.
“We believed that we can get a gold someday, and Lowell did that this week,” Dunklee said. “We just have all this positive momentum going right now.”
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