U.S. biathlon team takes 14th in single mixed relay at Soldier Hollow
February 19, 2019
The U.S. biathlon team was close to notching a top-five finish.
At the IBU BMW World Cup at Soldier Hollow on Sunday, the single mixed relay team moved up the race standings in strides, thanks to skilled shooting from Susan Dunklee and Sean Doherty.
In the penultimate lap at Soldier Hollow, the team was standing as high as fourth after pushing from the startgate in 21st, second to last. With just one lap and one shooting bout to go the team was peering in on the medals positions.
"We were right in it until the very last stage," Dunklee said.
In the final shooting round, it all fell apart.
Dunklee missed five times – using the five cartridges in her clip, plus three spare rounds loaded by hand to knock down three targets, which caused her to race two penalty loops.
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After her two penalties, she emerged in 13th and raced the last lap to finish in 14th out of 22 teams – 2 minutes and 3.1 seconds back from first.
The Italians, Lukas Hofer and Dorothea Wierer, earned top honors with a time of 35 minutes, 27.9 seconds, followed by Austria's Simon Eder and Lisa Theresa Hauser, then Antonin Guigonnat and Julia Simon of France.
Germany's Roman Rees and Franziska Preuss took fourth, finishing 1:06.9 back from the Italians.
"I think the altitude got to me," Dunklee said after the race, the venue for which sits just below 6,000 feet. "It's really hard to pace just right. I think I went a little too hard early in the race and blew up a bit."
Dunklee, who turned 33 years old four days earlier, said that going into the last shooting with a high position was a situation she had been in before.
"You definitely know at that stage that if you have a good race you could be on the podium or pretty close," she said. "And you also know there's a couple teams right behind you, and they are going after you. It's all about staying focused on the process – trigger squeeze or follow through or whatever key word helps you stick with a normal shooting routine. I think I did a good job, I was just a little too torched from the altitude."
She said she felt her heart rate was a little too high, and that her nervous system was too starved of oxygen to smoothly execute her routine.
"If you're off by just the slightest fraction of a second with the timing, that makes a huge difference with the shot."
Dunklee said securing the fourth-place position would have been "a pretty fun cap to a good weekend," especially for Doherty, who had notched his highest career World Cup finish the day before, but Dunklee added that the team still has other opportunities to perform.
"We have the biggest events of the season yet to come," Dunklee said, referring to the World Championships in Östersund, Sweden, on March 7-17.
Looking back on her time in Midway, Dunklee said the event had been "fantastic."
"The energy has been absolutely phenomenal, the crowd has been supporting and inspiring for me, the sunshine is beautiful, you can see the whole course," she said. "And it was well-organized, everything was smooth. That's unusual for a new (World Cup) venue to do it so well."
A change in order
Sunday's single mixed relay was the first time the International Biathlon Union had switched the gender order of the relays. Usually, the women start the race, then race the penultimate lap, with the men going second and anchoring the race.
At Soldier Hollow, the women went second in the nine-lap race, finishing the event with a final three-lap stage – two laps followed by shooting rounds, then one more lap around the 1.5K course.
The change was well received by the athletes, including USA's Susan Dunklee, who said it appealed to her sensibilities.
"I thought when they switched it to this format they would have the guys do an extra loop after the last shooting, so we would both ski 7.5K, but they actually had the guys ski 6K and us 7.5K, which, I'm a bit of a feminist, so I have no problem with that whatsoever," she said.
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