When the 2017 biathlon world championships began, Team USA had two “nevers” looming that the team could have only hoped to erase in its wildest dreams, on the athletes’ most perfect days. American men had never won a gold medal, and American women had never earned an individual medal of any color at either the worlds or the Olympic Games. Now both have been erased.
Lowell Bailey wiped away the first with his stunning victory in the men’s 20-kilometer individual Thursday, and now Susan Dunklee has given Team USA its first-ever women’s individual medal by taking silver in Sunday’s 12.5-kilometer mass start in Hochfilzen, Austria.
Four days after qualifying for her second Olympic team, Dunklee crossed the finish line in 33:18.4. Propelled by a perfect performance on the shooting range, Dunklee was only 4.6 seconds behind Germany’s Laura Dahlmeier, who has dominated the women’s competition with five golds this meet. Finland’s Kaisa Makarainen took the bronze in 33:33.9.
“It’s a dream come true,” Dunklee, 31, said after the race. “We’ve believed in the U.S. that we can get these world championships medals in the past. A (U.S.) woman winning a world championships medal is a really big thing. We believed that we could get a gold someday, and Lowell did that this week. We just have all this positive momentum going right now.
“I think watching Lowell win his gold the other day really inspired me. A couple of years ago, he got his first (world cup) podium in (Kontiolahti, Finland), and one week later I got my first podium in (Oslo, Norway), and I thought of that a couple days ago when he won. I’m like, ‘Wow, there goes Lowell, he did it again; maybe I could get a world champs medal too."
Both Bailey and Dunklee hope to turn their world championships success into Olympic success in one year’s time. Biathlon is the only sport where Team USA has never medaled at the Games, and that is likely to change with the success the U.S. team has had this week. The two athletes, who are the first two of any sport to qualify for the 2018 U.S. Olympic Team, combined for a total of five top-six finishes.
Dunklee, the daughter of two-time Olympic cross-country skier Stan Dunklee and niece of 1972 Olympic cross-country skier Everett Dunklee, had a previous best worlds finish of fifth earned at her debut in 2012 in the individual race.
Since her Olympic debut in 2014, Dunklee has hit her stride. She won her first world cup medal, a bronze in Holmenkollen, Norway, that season, and followed that up with a silver in February 2016 in Presque Isle, Maine, and a bronze in December of that year in Nove Mesto, Czech Republic. All three medals came in the 7.5K sprint, now proving she is a medal threat in multiple races.
Team USA’s only other women’s biathlon worlds medal is the relay bronze earned in 1984 by Holly Beatie, Julie Newman and Kari Swensen at the first women’s world championships.