Susan Dunklee is headed to her third Olympics.

The Barton native, Craftsbury resident and St. Johnsbury Academy alumna is among the eight members of the U.S. biathlon team headed to China later this month for the Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games.

The final three American biathletes were named to the team on Sunday — returning Olympians Leif Nordgren (Hinesburg resident), Joanne Reid (Grand Junction, Colorado) and first-time Olympian Deedra Irwin (Pulaski, Wisconsin).

They join previously named Olympians Dunklee, Clare Egan (Elizabeth, Maine), Jake Brown (St. Paul, Minnesota), Sean Doherty (Center Conway, N.H.) and Paul Schommer (Appleton, Wisc).

Three athletes — Brown, Egan and Dunklee — are members of the Craftsbury Green Racing Project. All but Brown and Schommer are returning Olympians. The eight-member team is the smallest biathlon contingent since 2002.

The Americans will be again looking to make history — biathlon is the lone current Winter Olympic sport in which the U.S. hasn’t earned an Olympic medal.

The 35-year-old Dunklee is the most successful U.S. female biathlete in history. Her best individual finish in two Olympics is 11th — in a mass start at the 2014 Sochi Winter Games. At the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Games, Dunklee recorded three top-20 finishes.

The former Dartmouth skier is also the only U.S. female biathlete to win an individual world championships medal. She accomplished the feat twice in 2017 and 2020. Her father, Stan Dunklee, competed in the 1976 and 1980 Olympics as a cross-country skier.

Dunklee is currently ranked 71st in limited World Cup action this winter. Egan (44th) and Brown (47th) are the top Americans in this season’s standings.

Longtime American biathletes Tim Burke and Lowell Bailey, both four-time Olympians, retired after the PyeongChang Games. They are now coaching.

South Burlington’s Hallie Grossman, also a member of the Craftsbury Green Racing Project, was named a first alternate for the U.S. women’s team.

Olympic Biathlon competition begins Feb. 5 at the Zhangjiakou competition zone.

OLYMPICS BIATHLON PREVIEW

Via The Associated Press

A flurry of retirements since the 2018 Winter Games left only a few athletes who will defend their Olympic biathlon titles, and the battle for gold will include a host of talented racers who have shown promise all season.

Hanna Öberg of Sweden took gold in the women’s 15-kilometer individual at the Pyeongchang Olympics, while Norway’s Johannes Thingnes Boe won the men’s race, and both have stood on the podium during the World Cup circuit this season. But all other 2018 gold-medal winners — Martin Fourcade of France, Laura Dahlmeier and Arnd Peiffer of Germany, and Slovakia’s Anastasiya Kuzmina — have moved on.

Boe won the overall World Cup in 2020 and again in 2021, but he has yet to find his top form this season and was sitting seventh in the standings by early January.

Anything could happen with a dozen races before everyone heads to China later this month, but Norway promises to be the team to beat on both the women’s and men’s sides.

PLOT TWISTS

No one nation has dominated the 2021-22 World Cup biathlon season, but several have consistently secured podium spots.

On the women’s side, Norway, Sweden, Belarus and France have taken turns at the medals, and Marte Olsbu Røiseland of Norway is on fire this season, leading the World Cup standings. She won silver in Pyeongchang and is seeking gold this time.

Røiseland’s teammate, Tiril Eckhoff, won bronze in 2018 and was last year’s overall World Cup winner. But, she has had a slow start to the 2021-22 season. The next races will reveal her form.

Sweden’s Öberg continues to be someone to watch, but her younger sister, Elvira Öberg, has grabbed attention this season with impressive ski speed and shooting accuracy. She took the gold in both the pursuit and mass start races in France last month and was second overall in the World Cup standings in early January.

Two Belarussians, Dzinara Alimbekava and Hanna Sola, have taken turns on the podium this season and promise strong performances in Beijing.

Anaïs Bescond of France took home three medals from Pyeongchang, two in relays, and along with teammates Julia Simon and Anais Chevalier-Bouchet, has medaled this season. They won the women’s relay in Oestersund, Sweden, with Belarus taking silver and Sweden bronze.

FRANCE STILL STRONG

While Boe works to find his fitness this season, his teammates have shown Norway’s strength and depth.

Boe’s older brother, Tarjei, along with Vetle Sjaastad Christiansen and Sturla Holm Laegreid, have secured medals in most World Cup races this season, including the team relay gold.

Although Fourcade is no longer France’s ace, the men’s team has fought its way to the top of the podium this season, making them a team to watch. Quentin Fillon Maillet and Emilien Jacquelin are one and two overall in World Cup standings.

Sweden’s Sebastian Samuelsson won silver in the Pyeongchang pursuit race and was on the gold-winning relay team. He finished last season in sixth place in the World Cup standings and was third by January this season.

CHINA’S COACHES

Ole Einar Bjørndalen of Norway dominated the Olympic biathlon scene for years, earning the nickname “king of biathlon” and securing 13 Winter Olympic medals — second overall only to Norwegian cross country skier Marit Bjørgen, who holds the record at 15.

Bjørndalen married Belorussian biathlete Darya Domracheva in 2016 and they became the most successful biathlon couple in history. Domracheva has competed in three Olympics, winning six medals.

They both retired after the 2018 Games and were then appointed to work as head coaches for the Chinese biathlon teams — Bjørndalen overseeing the men and Domracheva the women. Their teams are the only ones to train at the 2022 Olympic biathlon stadium.

THE VENUE

Biathlon races will be held in the Zhangjiakou competition zone. The Chinese teams have trained at the site, but no other nation has seen the trails, meaning everyone will ski them for the first time at the end of January.

“What’s interesting about Beijing, that’s different than any other Olympic Games, is due to COVID,” said Lowell Bailey, a retired U.S. Olympic biathlete and the U.S. team’s high-performance coach. Normally, preview races are held at Olympic venues the year before the event, but the pandemic meant no international races were held in Beijing in 2021.

“We, and really every other team except China, haven’t had a chance to preview the venue,” he said. “I think that could play into our favor for Beijing, because the playing field’s pretty level for everyone there. Kind of an interesting little twist.”

Adding to the challenge is the altitude of the site: 1,665 meters (5,462 feet). High-elevation racing can be more difficult due to less oxygen. Temperatures are expected to be especially cold, but snow isn’t likely.

“The biggest weather-related threats for the Games are cold surges and related wind and dust,” said Jim Steenburgh, an atmospheric sciences professor at the University of Utah who has provided weather support for Winter Olympic Games.

0
0
1
0
0

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.