By Craig Bohnert and Brandon Penny | Feb. 15, 2017, 12:20 p.m. (ET)

 

Susan Dunklee became just the second athlete to qualify for the 2018 U.S. Olympic Team after finishing sixth in the women’s 15-kilometer individual Wednesday at the 2017 IBU Biathlon World Championships in Hochfilzen, Austria.

"It’s huge. I have a lot of dreams for what I want to do in the next year or so, and it’s a big step toward those dreams,” Dunklee told TeamUSA.org after qualifying for the team. “There’s a lot of work to do and I’m going to stay very focused. It’s going to give me the freedom to be able to put my training 100-percent towards being at my best next February, so I’m super excited about it.”

Dunklee crossed the line in 42:53.4, 2:06.8 behind the winning time of 41:30.1 by Laura Dahlmeier of Germany.

It marks the American’s best finish at worlds since her first world championships in 2012 Ruhpolding, Germany, where she was fifth in individual, matching the best result ever by a U.S. woman.

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She joins teammate Lowell Bailey as the first two athletes to punch tickets for next year’s Games in PyeongChang, South Korea. Up to two men and two women could qualify for the U.S. Olympic Team at the world championships, and Dunklee said it’s a welcome relief to have achieved her goal so early in the process.

“In a sport like ours where it takes people 10-15 years to train full-time to get to their best capacity to be at the best in the world, it really does help to be able to plan a year out,” she said.

Dunklee, who turned 31 two days prior to qualifying for the Olympic team, hopes to make history next year by becoming the first U.S. biathlete ever to medal at the Olympic Games.

“That would be huge,” Dunklee said of medaling in PyeongChang. “I would love to see somebody on our team – whether it’s myself, whether it’s Lowell, whether it’s Tim (Burke), whether it’s anyone on our team – really make that milestone. It’s something that we’ve all dreamed about doing for a long time, and we’ve been awfully close on a few occasions. You don’t get there by fixating on the result; you get there by dedicating to the process and performing well.”

Dunklee has learned that over the past few years, during which she’s stood on the world cup podium three times.

She is the only American to medal on the world cup circuit so far this season, a feat she also accomplished last season. Dunklee picked up her third career world cup podium on Dec. 16 in Nove Mesto, Czech Republic – a 7.5-kilometer sprint bronze. Her other world cup medals are a sprint silver earned last February in Presque Isle, Maine, and sprint bronze taken at the 2014 season finale in Holmenkollen, Norway.

“I know that if I have my best day on any given day, I can be on that podium,” she said. “It’s just a matter of having the best day on the right day. I’ve taken a lot of time off my shooting times the past year and a half, and now I’m one of the fastest shooters in the world. That gives me a lot of confidence, too, to know I’ve made those improvements.”

A 2008 Dartmouth College graduate who transitioned from cross-country skiing to biathlon her senior year, Dunklee qualifies for her second Games, matching her father, Stan, a former NCAA cross-country skiing champion who competed at the 1976 and 1980 Games.  Her uncle, Everett Dunklee, was a member of the 1972 Olympic cross-country team.