Thanksgiving was moving day for the seven members of the U.S. Biathlon World Cup Team.
After a training camp that was held in Sjusjoen, Norway, the team spent the American holiday traveling to Sweden and the season-opening IBU World Cup in Ostersund.
Perhaps that was just the first moving day this season for a biathlon team that clearly began to move up internationally last year.
Three-time Olympian Lowell Bailey finished eighth in the men’s 20-kilometer individual race at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games — the best finish for a U.S. biathlon Olympian ever. A month later, Susan Dunklee won her first world cup medal and the third individual women’s medal in US Biathlon Association history when she won a bronze medal at the Oslo World Cup. Dunklee’s 12th place in the 12.5-kilometer mass start event in Sochi also marked the highest individual finish for a U.S. woman.
Tim Burke, another three-time Olympian, has been ranked as high as No. 1 in the world.
Their reward? More work. There is little idle time for a team that is continually battling the best biathletes of Europe for world cup medals.
“After the Olympics we have continued to work and even more tried to work on each athlete’s progression,” national team coach Per Nilsson told TeamUSA.org this week. “We don’t have a really big pool of athletes that some countries have, so we really have to get the absolute most out of each of them.
“To reach results internationally now in any race, you have no chance to slack off.”
Those results began to surface during the summer. Burke and Bailey both medaled in the Blink Festival in Norway. Dunklee also participated in that rollerski event.
|Tim Burke competes in the men's individual 20-kilometer at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games at Laura Cross-country Ski & Biathlon Center on Feb. 13, 2014 in Rosa Khutor, Russia.
Burke, who is a medal contender at the Ostersund World Cup, which begins Sunday with the mixed relay, has emerged as one of the world’s best biathletes. Three podium finishes in the 2009-10 world cup season elevated him to a No. 1 world ranking. At the 2013 World Championships, he won a silver medal in the men’s 20-kilometer race to become just the second American man to win a medal at the biathlon worlds.
Burke has helped the United States post two ninth-place relay finishes at the Winter Games, yet he dropped to a disappointing 44th in the individual race at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games, although that was a career-best individual Olympic finish for him.
Joining Burke and Bailey on the men’s squad are 2014 Olympic teammates Leif Nordgren and Russell Currier.
Rising quickly on the men’s team is Sean Doherty, who was just 20 years old when he made his first Olympic team in Sochi. A three-time junior world championship medalist (the first U.S. biathlete to score a triple at a world championship), Doherty won the men’s trials for the 2014 December world cup team but petitioned to decline his nomination so that he could train in the United States and compete in the North American Cup as he prepares for the 2015 Junior World Championships.
“As the young athlete he is,” Nilsson said, “we think that’s smart and that he has a better chance to perform then. Training first.”
Doherty will travel to Europe at the beginning of January and compete there in both junior- and senior-level competitions. He has already qualified to compete in the IBU Cup, which is the sport’s second-level series.
Dunklee is joined on the women’s team by Sochi Olympic teammates Annelies Cook and Hannah Dreissigacker. Cook won the women’s U.S. trials.
After Sunday’s mixed relay event in Ostersund, the women’s first competition is Dec. 4 in the 15-kilometer individual race.
Three U.S. athletes medaled in biathlon world cups last year and Nilsson is hoping for at least that many this season.
“The expectations for the team is that this year they should have a stable season with solid results,” he said.
One focus during preseason training was shooting. A missed target adds time in individual races and adds laps during sprints and relay races.
“We also have worked more with the shooting and expect that the hit percentage will get better for every athlete,” Nilsson said.
LINEUP IN OSTERSUND: Sunday, mixed relay; Dec. 3, men’s 20-kilometer individual race; Dec. 4, women’s 15-kilometer race; Dec. 6, men’s and women’s sprint races; Dec. 7, men’s and women’s pursuit.
BIATHLON WORLDS: The world championships will be held March 3-15 in Kontiolahti, Finland. The junior worlds are in February in Belarus.
IN THE FAMILY: Dreissigacker comes from a family of Olympians. Her mom, rower Judy Geer, competed in the 1976 and 1984 Games, and was named to the 1980 U.S. team that boycotted that year’s Olympic Games in Moscow. Her dad, Dick Dreissigacker, rowed for the United States at the 1972 Games in Munich. And her aunt, Carlie Geer, was selected to row in two Olympics, including the 1984 Games in Los Angeles, where she won a silver medal in single sculls. Dunklee also follows in her dad’s footsteps. Her father, Stan, was a two-time Olympian in cross-country skiing and was a part of the men’s relay team which finished eighth at the Lake Placid 1980 Olympic Winter Games. While Stan went to the University of Vermont and won an NCAA skiing championship, Susan went to Dartmouth College.
ABOUT THE COACH: National team coach Nilsson is a native of Sweden and was introduced to biathlon when he was 14 years old. He joined the US Biathlon Association in 2006 as head coach and has been credited by Burke as the reason for his rise among elite biathletes internationally.
Paul D. Bowker has been writing about Olympic sports since 1990 and was Olympic assistant bureau chief for Morris Communications at the Atlanta 1996 Olympic Games. He also writes about Olympic sports for the Springfield (Mass.) Republican. Bowker has written for TeamUSA.org since 2010 as a freelance contributor on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.