Susan Dunklee skied a strong leadoff leg for the United States in the 4 x 6 k World Cup relay in Oslo, Norway, on Sunday, tagging off in sixth but just 25 seconds behind the leaders. Dunklee used a two spare rounds in the standing shooting stage, but skied the fastest time of all leadoff skiers to climb from ninth place after standing up to sixth.
“Lately I’ve been feeling physically run down and a little burnt out from a lot of racing,” Dunklee wrote in an e-mail. “However, as soon as the gun went off the skiing felt great and the hunger was there. The first loop was a blast; Andreja Mali [of Slovenia], my 7th row start buddy (way in the back) started passing people like crazy and I hopped in behind her. Halfway around the first loop, she was leading the race.”
From there the team struggled with spare rounds and penalty loops, and dropped to 18th place before being lapped and pulled from the race. Hannah Dreissigacker – coming off a career-best sprint on Saturday where she shot clean – Annelies Cook, and Clare Egan each had two penalty loops.
“It was a tough day for the team and we know we have plenty of room to improve going forward,” Dunklee wrote. “The skills are there for sure; I think the main thing is going to be getting everybody’s confidence levels in a good place. Luckily we’ve got two weeks [before World Championships].”
Dunklee knows a thing or two about getting confidence back. After finishing 11th in the 15 k individual competition on Thursday, she picked up four penalties in the sprint and finished 69th; prior to the sprint, her weakest result all season had been 41st during the very first weekends of racing in Östersund, Sweden.
But picking up the fastest ski time in the relay helped begin to put the sprint in the rearview mirror, Dunklee said.
“I didn’t want to go into the break with the off feeling that I had yesterday,” she wrote. “Today felt much more normal.”
The U.S. men did not enter a relay team today, as they have only three men in Oslo. The IBU Cup team returned to the U.S and Sean Doherty, who has competed in several relays so far this season, is busy preparing for World Youth and Junior Championships, which starts this week.
U.S. Biathlon Association President Max Cobb wrote in an e-mail that the federation will announce its World Championships team selection “early next week”. The World Cup is on break until Championships begin on March 5 in Kontiolahti, Finland.