Susan Dunklee

Susan Dunklee
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Susan Dunklee extends decade of surprises for U.S. biathletes

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When Susan Dunklee‘s time held up for second place in Friday’s 7.5km sprint, she became the first U.S. biathlete to win two world championship medals in her career and earned the sixth medal for the U.S. in world biathlon championship history.

Four of those medals have come in the past eight years.

First was Tim Burke, who had gained some fame among biathlon fans with his three World Cup podiums in the 2009-10 season and his relationship with German biathlete Andrea Henkel, who would win two Olympic gold medals and eight world championships before retiring and marrying Burke.

In that season, Burke led the World Cup briefly but faded and didn’t do well in the Olympics. But in 2012-13, he finished 10th in the World Cup overall and ended the American drought in the world championships, finishing second in the individual behind dominant French biathlete Martin Fourcade, who won his 11th non-relay world title Wednesday in the individual.

In 2017, Dunklee became the first U.S. woman to win a non-relay medal, taking the lead in the mass start after quickly knocking down all five targets in the last shooting and holding on for second. She didn’t come out of nowhere, having taken a few World Cup medals. That season, she ranked 10th overall in the World Cup.

Then came the stunner. Lowell Bailey, who had just one World Cup podium in a long career coming into the 2016-17 season, had bib 100 in the individual, a spot usually reserved for non-contenders. But he hit all 20 targets, always important in a race that penalizes athletes one minute per miss, and gutted it out through the last lap to keep a 3.3-second advantage and win the first world championship for a U.S. biathlete.

Like Dunklee, Bailey earned his medal in the midst of a strong season. The individual was won of his four top-10 finishes in the world championships, including a fourth-place finish in the sprint. He wound up eighth overall in the World Cup.

Bailey and Burke each stuck it out to compete in their fourth Olympics in 2018, then crossed the finish line together in their final race at the U.S. championships.

This season is their first in management. Bailey, also a bluegrass musician, is now U.S. Biathlon’s director of high performance. Burke is director of athlete development.

Dunklee, on the other hand, isn’t done. Her results slipped a bit after her 2017 breakthrough, but she has had some top 10s. When she shoots clean, as she did Friday, she’s a contender.

The first U.S. medal was in the first women’s world championship in 1984, when Holly Beatie, Julie Newman and Kari Swenson bronze in 3x5km relay. Swenson also finished fifth in the individual that year and returned to compete in the next two world championships after a harrowing experience in which she was abducted and shot, a story that inspired a film starring Tracy Pollan.

The only other U.S. medal in the world championships before Burke, Bailey and Dunklee was Josh Thompson‘s individual silver in 1987. The only athletes other than Burke, Bailey, Dunklee and Thompson to have World Cup podiums (excluding relays) are Jeremy Teela in 2009 and Clare Egan, who was third in a mass start last spring and is competing in the world championships this year.

U.S. Paralympians broke through with two gold medals on the first day of competition in the 2018 Paralympics.

READ: Kendall Gretsch, Dan Cnossen take gold

Wednesday saw another surprise finish for a U.S. biathlete. Leif Nordgren, whose career-best finish outside the relays is 16th, was the only athlete to go 20-for-20 on the shooting range and placed eighth in the individual.

The championships continue through through Sunday with the single mixed relay on Thursday, the men’s and women’s relays on Saturday, and the men’s and women’s mass starts on Sunday.

WATCH: World biathlon championships TV schedule

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Susan Dunklee takes surprise silver at world biathlon championships

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As Susan Dunklee watched the top biathletes miss shot after shot, she knew that, if she shot clean, something special was possible at the world biathlon championships.

She did just that.

Dunklee, a two-time U.S. Olympian, earned a surprise silver medal in Friday’s 7.5km sprint, the U.S.’ sixth-ever podium finish at a worlds. She finished in 21 minutes, 19.9 seconds — 6.8 seconds slower than Marte Olsbu Røiseland of Norway, the Olympic silver medalist in the event.

Dunklee matched her mass start silver medal from the 2017 Worlds. She is the only American woman to earn an individual world medal. The U.S. has never won an Olympic medal in biathlon for either gender.

Dunklee was the 34th starter in Friday’s interval order. Ahead of her: Italian Dorothea Wierer, last season’s World Cup champion, had two misses and finished sixth. World Cup leader Tiril Eckhoff of Norway had six misses and placed 59th.

Dunklee was one of four biathletes in the field of 101 to shoot clean over 10 attempts on a windy day in Antholz, Italy. Her best individual World Cup finish the last two seasons was seventh.

“I often get off to a slow start [to the season] and don’t have my best results in December,” she said. “I just have to keep the faith and keep believing I’m capable of this sort of result, and that’s really what biathlon’s about. I think there’s 20 or 30 people on any given day that can be on the podium.”

The top two biathletes at the PyeongChang Olympics — German Laura Dahlmeier and Slovakian Anastasiya Kuzmina — retired after last season.

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MORE: World biathlon championships broadcast schedule

Susan Dunklee’s historic silver caps incredible biathlon worlds for U.S.

Susan Dunklee
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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,” said 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 gives 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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