After Strong Start, U.S. Fades to 13th in Women's Olympic Relay

By Bill Kellick | Feb. 22, 2018, 9:35 a.m. (ET)

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (February 22, 2018) – The U.S. women’s relay squad made its presence known early by leading most of the opening leg in Thursday’s 4x6-kilometer race, but the team faded in the later stages to finish 13th. It was the final women’s event of the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Games at the Alpensia Biathlon Centre.

Susan Dunklee (Barton, Vt.), the only Olympic veteran on the squad, cleaned all five targets in the opening prone position, moving her to the front of the field by 2.9 seconds.

“I’m really happy with it,” said Dunklee about her leg. “I feel like I’m kind of back to where I wanted to be all season. When it goes well like this it’s a lot of fun. The second loop I was just trying to ski in control and just pretend I’m doing my own thing and not get overwhelmed by the idea of people hunting me down.”

She would expand her advantage to more than seven seconds as she came into the standing shooting stage amid tricky winds and swirling snow. Undaunted, Dunklee would need just one spare round to knock down all five standing targets.

“It was the last shot and I think I overthought it a little bit,” Dunklee said of her one miss.

The first exchange was made with Clare Egan (Cape Elizabeth, Maine), who got to watch Dunklee lead the race for a lap as she waited, but wasn’t at all surprised to get tagged off to in second place.

“I expect that from Susan,” gushed Egan. “I expect to be tagged in first and I’m ready for that. There’s nowhere else I’d rather be tagged.”

Egan kept the American team at the forefront of the race, holding her own on the skis alongside some of the big names in women’s biathlon…Wierer, Kuzmina, Eckhoff and Dorin Habert.

“Most teams put their fastest skiers in the second legs, so I tried to stay with them and keep fighting,” she said.

Egan cleaned from both prone and standing, and with seven days having passed since her last race, she was raring to go for today’s relay.

“I was really due for this,” Egan said. “It’s by far my best race of the season so I couldn’t be more happy. I’ve had a week to sit here and prepare for this race. Having to sit out (the mixed relay) just made me want to make sure that I was even better prepared for this race.”

When Egan made the second exchange with Joanne Reid (Palo Alto, Calif.), the U.S. team was still in fourth place, just 16.8 seconds out of first and only 0.7 seconds from medal position.

However, when Reid used all three spares in prone and still left a target standing, she had to ski the team’s only penalty loop of the race which pushed them back to ninth place.

“My first prone it was a little disappointing to miss two right off the bat,” Reid said. “When I looked up to load my spare I realized it was a particularly difficult stage. I think all the people around me were missing and then I calmed down quite a bit because it looked like everyone was kind of missing left and right.”

Reid rebounded in standing with only one spare round, and was quick to compliment the wax techs on the US Biathlon staff for producing fast skis for the team.

“We had unbelievable skis today. It was like riding Apollo’s chariot into the sun,” she said.

The strong standing round by Reid moved the team back up to sixth place as she made the final exchange to Emily Dreissigacker (Morrisville, Vt.) for the anchor leg. Dreissigacker would need two spare rounds in prone and three more in standing.

“I didn’t feel that great skiing,” she stated. “I might have gone out a little bit hard and the shooting just wasn’t good either. Standing, especially, I took all three spares and the wind came up like crazy right before I started shooting my spares, so I had to stand there and wait out the wind, which cost me a lot of time.”

Dreissigacker would cross the line in 13th position, 2 minutes, 1.9 seconds behind the gold-medal winning time of Belarus. Sweden took the silver medal with France claiming the bronze.

With their Olympic racing now complete, the U.S. women’s team members reflected on their memories from these Games. For Dunklee, her best memory occurred 24 hours earlier when the team watched cross-country skiers Jessie Diggins and Kikkan Randall win a historic gold medal for Team USA in the sprint relay, a race they could see from the top of a hill during their training on the biathlon course.

“Yesterday was my favorite moment of the Games,” Dunklee said. “We were watching every tag off for the women’s sprint relay. We’d do a short loop and get right back up there so we could watch the next tag off. All the teams were lined up watching it. The Norwegians were there, the Swedes were there, the Swiss were there, and we were all watching it. It was so exciting I was crying at the end. The Norwegians came up to us and congratulated us, the Swedes came up. It was such a special moment and was so wonderful to see.”

“I’m just so happy that my family could be here,” said Egan. “I realize that the Olympic experience is not only mine. It belongs to my family, my friends, my community, my country, and that’s the best part.”

“Totally wild ride…unbelievable,” added Reid. “Everyone said it would be a different year, a strange year, it would be different from what you imagined, and pretty much everyone was right. It was really an honor to be here, really happy I made it.”

“I had some good races and some not so good races,” said Dreissigacker. “But I think overall it’s an upward trend for me so I’m happy with that.”

Olympic competition concluded in PyeongChang on Friday with the men’s 4x7.5km relay beginning at 6:15 a.m. EST. The race will be streamed live at http://stream.nbcolympics.com/.

Women’s 4x6km Relay results

1.

Belarus (Skardino, Kryuko, Alimbekava, Domracheva)

1:12:03.4/0+9

2.

Sweden (Persson, Brorsson, Magnusson, Oeberg)

+10.7/0+12

3.

France (Chevalier, Dorin Habert, Braisaz, Bescond)

+17.6/0+14

13.

USA (Dunklee, Egan, Reid, Dreissigacker)

+2:01.9/1+10