Just a few days after Lowell made history by becoming the first American ever to win gold at the World Championships (or at any senior-level international biathlon race, for that matter), Susan Dunklee made history as well. She is the first American woman ever to win a medal in an individual event at World Championships! Like Lowell, Susan shot a perfect race– 20 for 20– and did so faster than any other woman in the 30-person field. But with the World Cup overall leader, Laura Dahlmeier of Germany, also shooting clean, Susan missed the top step of the podium by just 4 seconds. It was a thrill to watch.
I highly suggest you check out the Highlights or Replay. I will too, since I didn’t get to watch… I was too busy racing in my first mass start competition! I was a bit distracted I must say, as I heard on the stadium loudspeaker that Susan was winning the race as we left the shooting range for our final lap. I shot 1, 0, 1, 2 and finished 24th. It was great experience to race with the best in the world and I look forward to more.
On Thursday at the 2017 World Championships in Hochfilzen, Austria, my teammate Lowell Bailey shot 20-for-20 and out-sprinted Czech’s Ondrej Moravec in a heroic and historic finish. He is the first American ever to win any biathlon race at the senior international level, and he is the World Champion. Congratulations, Lowell!
I highly recommend watching the race replay or at least highlights. Hearing the Star Spangled Banner at the medal ceremony is something I will remember for the rest of my life!
After World Cup 6 wrapped up in Antholz, Italy, my teammates and I remained there for two more weeks of high-altitude preparation for World Championships. It’s a heavenly place, but true to form, the Isolation Station got the worst of me and I had a mental breakdown just in time for World Championships. A change of venue, the arrival of fresh faces among our staff, and a heightened sense of purpose associated with upcoming races brought me out of the hole.
My first race at World Championships was the mixed relay, where I joined Susan, Lowell and Sean. It was one of the more brutal failures of my biathlon career. Susan tagged me in 4th, just seconds out of the lead, and I tagged Lowell in 17th, over two minutes back. It is a horrible, horrible feeling to let your teammates and staff down.
With my next race just one day away, I couldn’t waste any time dwelling on the mixed relay. As I said in an interview with TeamUSA.org, “I have to be diligent immediately about shifting my focus” forward to the 7.5k sprint. If you don’t approach a race with confidence and a positive outlook, there is no chance for success.
One factor that proved critical in my mental rebound was a message I got on facebook from my cousin, Liz Egan. She reminded me of something that I wrote on this very blog: “how you do one day has no bearing on how you do the next.” Those are my own words, yet how easily we forget! I really needed the reminder.
Only one day after my epic biathlon failure, I achieved one of my greatest successes. I hit all 10 targets and finished 20th in the 7.5k sprint. It was my 2nd-best result ever at the World Cup level, and a 20-place improvement from my previous best at World Championships. It was only the 3rd time I’ve ever “cleaned” (hit all my targets) in any race. Fast forward to 56:30 in this race replay to see my smiling face.
The 7.5k sprint was followed two days later by the 10k pursuit. I was happy with my shooting 17/20, but I didn’t have the energy to keep up on skis and dropped 21 places to finish 41st. This was one of those days where my auto-evaluation of my race did not match my rank on the results sheet.
Biathlon is a volatile sport characterized by much higher highs and lower lows than I was used to as a runner or cross-country skier. It’s what makes it so exciting, but learning to manage those ups and downs has proved one of the greatest challenges of becoming a (sane, successful) biathlete.
Another way biathlon differs from many other sports is that being results-oriented gets you absolutely NOWHERE. In fact, it’s a direct path to the penalty loop. The drive to win is as powerful on the track as it is destructive on the range. My high school running coach used to cheer to great effect, “Who wants it more?!”, but wanting to hit the target never helped anyone. (If you have ever tried bowling then you may understand this principle.) To hit the target you have to forget the result entirely and focus on the process. Biathletes have to make this major mentality adjustment each time they transition between skiing and shooting. To clarify the point, I give you effective self-talk for skiing: “I’M GONNA CATCH THIS BITCH NOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” and shooting: “Inhale… Exhale… gently pull trigger.”
No wonder it’s so hard to maintain emotional stability!
I’m lucky that the non-biathlon parts of my life are stable, like my friends, family and boyfriend. Happy Valentine’s Day!