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Author Archive

A Look Back at Östersund

8.Dec.2014 by Susan Dunklee

Before shifting gears to the next World Cup venue in Hochfilzen, Austria, I wanted to share some pictures from the past week in Östersund, Sweden.

Daylight in Scandinavia is fleeting during December months. The sun never gets very high. However, sunrise and sunset can last for hours and we saw some spectacular colors.

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You’ll notice that winter is late in coming to Sweden; we raced on snow that had been stockpiled from last winter and protected under a big layer of sawdust. A couple days before the athletes arrived, the organizers rolled it out into a 4 km loop. Unfortunately, this has become a common phenomenon in recent years as winter weather around the world has become unrealiable.

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Since many of our races were at night (or late afternoon), the stadium was well lit. The lights brightened the whole sky and could be seen from many kilometers away.

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A distinguishing feature next to the race course is the Arctura tower. It stores hot water for the entire town.

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Before the races, the IBU (International Biathlon Union) asked all the teams do so some photo shoots for media purposes. Here Tim is getting instructed on exactly how to stand.

We had several races in Östersund: a mixed relay, an individual, a sprint and a pursuit. These next five candid race day photos are courtesy of our team doctor Marci Goolsby:

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Waiting for my start.

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Lapping in front of the stadium on my way to the shooting range.

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Throwing my rifle back on my back after completing a stage of standing shooting.

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Exiting the finishing chute post race.

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After each race, athletes are required to go through a “mixed zone” for the media. I rarely get asked for interviews in the mixed zone, but a Russian TV crew honored me with a request on Sunday.

Back at our team wax cabin post race, I made an unpleasant discovery. Snow conditions suffered from warm weather at the end of the week exposing several rocks on the course. I remember feeling some stones underfoot a couple times in the last race that brought me to almost a complete stop. One of my best race skis sustained some serious damage:

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Those two long white lines used to be part of my ski. I’m hoping it can be repaired. Wax tech Tias (above) tells me that even if the gash is patched well (which we will certainly try), water may be able to leak through the side and weaken the core, so it might be a lost cause.

Everyone is hoping for some better snow in the coming weeks.

Race Day Routines

28.Nov.2014 by Susan Dunklee

This weekend marks the start of World Cup racing. On Sunday, we will put on the red, white and blue and represent the USA in the season’s first mixed relay in Östersund, Sweden. Over the winter, we race in about 30 competitions around 10 different countries, but our race day routines always looks the same. Here’s how I approach a race:

The Evening Before

We have a short team meeting to go over race day logistics and discuss strategy. Afterwards I write myself out a detailed schedule for the next day. Among other things, it includes when I plan to wake up in the morning, when I will eat meals, what time I must leave for the venue and when I should start warming up. Having a plan to follow simplifies race day preparations for me. It takes away extra stress, allowing me to focus on only one task at a time. It gives me confidence that I will fit in everything I need to do for the race.

Race Day

First thing in the morning, I go for short walk or jog outside to help the body wake up and to get a feel for the weather.

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Sunrise over the biathlon range in Sjusjøen, Norway

I eat a hearty breakfast (and lunch if the race happens to be in the late afternoon or evening).

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One of my staple breakfast combinations: Yogurt, museli, almonds, banana and blueberries.

An hour before I have to leave I pack a backpack with everything I’ll need, including some dry clothes and a snack for after the race. I warm up the nervous system for shooting by doing some dryfire drills (indoor shooting practice without any bullets).

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You can often tell if a biathlete has been living somewhere if there are rows of little black dots (targets) taped to the wall.

Upon arrival at our team wax cabins I put on my ski boots and race bib and head to the course. I may need to meet up with one of our wax technicians to do a final test of my skis and choose the fastest pair for the given conditions.

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Christian, our newest wax technician comes from Lillehammer.

Rifle zeroing opens an hour before race time. On my way I stop at equipment inspection to get my rifle’s trigger weight checked to make sure it is not too light. I then shoot some magazines on paper to check that my rifle’s sights are accurate. My coach looks at the bullets’ grouping through a scope and gives me corrections if needed.

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Coach Jonne helps zero my teammate Annelies.

I finish with a “confirmation,” a hard loop skied around the stadium followed by shooting one more magazine to make sure my grouping stays centered with a higher heart rate. Then I load my magazines for the race and bring my rifle to the starting pen.

During the remainder of my time, I warm up skiing around the course. I use the opportunity to inspect the day’s snow conditions and I adapt my race plan and strategy if needed. 25 minutes or so before my start time, I do three minutes of race-pace effort and several short full speed pickups. 10 minutes before race time I report to the starting pen. I receive my race skis from our staff and bring them to equipment inspection to get marked. I pick up transponder timing chips that must be worn around my ankles.

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With less than five minutes to go, after some last minute jogging to stay loose, I shed my warm-up clothes. I triple check that I loaded all my magazines. Then it is time to line up at the start gate. The race is on! As soon as I am on course, the pre-race nerves go away.

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Lining up for the start during a small race last weekend with the German team in Sjusjøen, Norway.

Our World Cup race season begins this Sunday with a mixed relay in Östersund, Sweden (9:30 am EST in the US). Like all our World Cup races, you can stream it live.

Bags Packed, Ready for Snow!

17.Nov.2014 by Susan Dunklee

Saturday morning I woke up from a dream about packing for the winter. More specifically it was about packing long underwear tops. I was debating whether or not to bring a certain item with me to Europe. There were several factors to consider. “Would this shirt be warm enough to wear under my race suit in sub zero temperatures ? Would the material become reasonably clean with hand-laundering in a bathroom sink? Would it hold up to four and a half months of constant use?” I always have a lot of different things that need to fit in my luggage so I allocate space for four long underwear tops, no more. After finally deciding to reject that particular top (a different wool one would be a better option), I woke up from my dream. All that agonizing and I hadn’t actually started packing yet!

While racing the World Cup circuit, we live out of our duffel bags and we move almost every week to a new country and a new hotel room.

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Our first stop for 2014-15: cozy cabins in Sjusjøen, Norway.

For both logistical reasons and to minimize travel day anxiety it is important not to overpack. Everything must have a purpose. I now have a pretty good idea of what I need and what I can do without, but it did help to make a list of exactly what I was traveling with at the end of last season. I used it as a reference as I scrambled on Saturday to pack for an entire winter.

So far I haven’t noticed anything major that I forgot. However I had a good laugh in the shower today when I realized I brought two bottles of conditioner and no shampoo. At least that’s an easy fix.

This afternoon we arrived in Norway. It’s our home for the next 10 days of training before we head to Sweden to start the World Cup race season. Tomorrow morning we will get on snow for the first time and next weekend we will do a tune up practice race with the German team. After months of skiing on pavement I’m looking forward to the real deal!

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Tonight’s scene in Sjusjøen: stadium and shooting range

Wild Blueberries and World Championships Preparation

31.Jul.2014 by Susan Dunklee

Four years ago, we welcomed a Finn onto the National Team staff when US Biathlon hired Jonne Kähkönen to be our head women’s coach. This summer, he finally got the opportunity to share a full dose of Finnish culture with us when we traveled to Scandinavia for a training camp.

The women’s team spent a week and a half training at next winter’s World Championship venue in Kontiolahti, Finland. Kaisa Mäkäräinen, reigning World Cup overall champion, joined us for most of our training sessions and showed us around while we were in town.

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Training on the Kontiolahti range. Sometimes we had three nationalities represented at practice: Hannah, Katja Yurlova from Russia, Kaisa, myself and Annelies.

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One day we drove to Koli National Park to do some uphill rollerski intervals: 3 times up southern Finland’s biggest “mountain.”

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Mt. Koli wasn’t very high, but it had a gorgeous view. Hannah observed that it felt a lot like Elmore State Park back home.

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Scenic views along the climb. Photo: Jonne Kähkönen

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For a couple afternoon workouts, we did some orienteering. Orienteering is wildly popular in Finland with new courses set up a couple times a week and we decided it would be a good cultural experience. Plus hunting down the controls made a two hour training run go by incredibly quickly.

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Team BBQ night in Joensuu. Clockwise: Hannah, Jani (physio), Kaisa, Erika (Jonne’s wife and our cook this week), Jonne, and Annelies.

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No BBQ is complete without a game of cornhole.

Two factors made it a real challenge to get enough recovery between workout sessions. The first was a blazing Scandinavian heatwave. Our solution to that problem was to swim post workout and any other time the heat started getting to us.

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Annelies enjoying a lakeside swing.

The second challenge was the endless hours of daylight. I had never been in such a far northern place during the summer. The sky stayed light well past my normal bedtime which made me feel wide awake at 11:00. I still haven’t figured out how to adequately deal with that…

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A local newspaper reporter asked me what the best part of summer training camp in Finland was. Wild blueberries of course! Photo: Hannah Dreissigacker