by Chris Braithwaite
copyright the Chronicle 3-13-13
On Friday, March 8, Barton native Susan Dunklee got a chance to compete on the biathlon course where she will almost certainly represent the U.S. in the 2014 Winter Olympics.
The result was described by her father, Stan Dunklee, as “phenomenal.”
Ms. Dunklee finished seventh in the women’s 15-kilometer individual event. It was her best result, and the third time she has finished in the top 15 of a World Cup race this season.
Friday’s race was high above the Black Sea at Sochi, Russia, where workers are still busy finishing a complex that includes what Ms. Dunklee describes in her blog as “probably the biggest biathlon stadium building in the world.”
Inside the stadium, biathlon racers pause to shoot highly specialized rifles at very small targets. Outside is a cross-country ski course that Ms. Dunklee described to her father as “incredibly difficult,” with punishing climbs and “down-hills that belong in an alpine race.”
The trick in biathlon is to cover such courses very quickly without losing the physical control required to shoot very straight. Penalties of time or distance are imposed for every target missed.
That odd combination of skills, Mr. Dunklee said, is what makes biathlon so exciting. “It makes cross-country racing look boring,” he added.
Mr. Dunklee should know. He competed in cross-country skiing in the 1976 Winter Olympics, and again in Lake Placid in 1980.
In his daughter’s effort to secure a place on the 2014 team, last weekend’s event in Sochi was icing on the cake.
She pre-qualified for the Olympic team on her twenty-seventh birthday with a fifteenth-place finish in her 15-kilometer World Championship race in Nove Mesto in the Czech Republic on February 13. That followed a top-fifteen finish in Slovenia in December. Two such finishes, her father explained, pre-qualify a biathlon skier for the U.S. team.
Ms. Dunklee achieved her seventh-place finish in Sochi Friday with an unusual rifle. Its stock includes a precisely carved chunk of broomstick.
She took a fall on the final loop of her 15-kilometer race in Nove Mesto on her birthday, she relates in her blog, and broke the end of the stock.
Such stocks are custom-made for competitors, her father explained, and designed to be as lightweight as possible. They are correspondingly fragile, Mr. Dunklee noted.
There was no hope of replacing the rifle or its stock in time for the next day’s relay race. But there was a technician named Benjamin on hand for just such an emergency. With no wood supply at hand, he cut the end off the handle of a push broom and restored the stock.
“I think the broom helped me ‘clean,’” Ms. Dunklee quipped on her blog. “I hit 100 percent of my targets in the next race, a first for me on the World Cup.”
She was still using the broomstick rifle in last Friday’s race, she said in an e-mail. She missed just one target in her ski to seventh place.
Ms. Dunklee trains with the Green Team at the Craftsbury Outdoor Center, and she has company on the European race circuit this winter.
Hannah Dreissigacker is racing as a member of the U.S. biathlon development team, and Ida Sargent of Orleans is on the equivalent Nordic team.
contact Chris Braithwaite at [email protected]