We had interviews from Canada and from the USA, but we don’t stop to introduce the athletes from North America. Why? Because they are all very sympathic and have real passion for biathlon. Let’s talk now with the promising US talent, Susan Dunklee!
BFH: Susan, let’s move back to the year 2008, your move to Lake Placid
and the US Biathlon’s development program. It was only 5 years ago when
you learnt how to shoot! How do you remember this time? Did you thought
that you will need only 4 years to reach a top 5 position in a WCH (Ruhpolding, individual, 2012)?
Susan: In spring of 2008, I was graduating college with a degree in
ecology and I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. Then I got
an unexpected email from US Biathlon offering me a place on their
development team in exchange for a 100% commitment to training. I had
never shot before but they promised to teach me how. I had a difficult
time deciding what to do. Ski racing had always been important to me,
but in school I had pursued many other interests too. Concentrating all
my resources and energy into racing was scary- I had to put aside those
other interests. It was also exhilarating to try something new- I had
no idea what shooting training would be like or whether I could do it
well. My father, a two time Olympian in cross country skiing, gave me
some great words of advice: "If you don't try it, you are always going
to wonder 'what if?' " I knew he was right. I certainly never expected
to be standing on stage at a World Championships awards ceremony less
than four years later.
BFH: What were your feelings after you
crossed the finish line in that race? You started with bib nr 1: when
you arrived you had to wait a long time to celebrate… Did you thought
that your performance will bring you such a good position (which meant
actually the best result ever by a US woman)?
Susan: When I saw
my name at the top of the start list the night before the race, I
wasn't happy. Earlier in the week, I had been the very last starter in
the sprint (bib 118). I normally prefer starting in the middle of the
pack. However, starting first helped me get in the zone and ski my own
pace. I knew I was shooting well, but I had no idea where I was ranked
until the fourth lap. Skiing under a jumbotron I heard the announcer
say "...surprise race leader so far, American Susan Dunklee..." My
heart jumped up into my throat. All I could do at that point was just
focus on putting one foot in front of the other. The last loop I was
fighting for a medal and it was like skiing through a continuous tunnel
of sound- the cheering had doubled in volume. At the finish I didn't
know exactly where I would end up, but I knew that I had just had the
best race of my life and that felt great!
BFH: What were your best moments of your last season?
Susan: For the second year in a row, my most memorable race of the
season was the World Championships Individual. I wanted to have a
magical day in Nove Mesto- the Ruhpolding result from the previous year
was still fresh in my mind and this year the Individual was on my
birthday. I shot well and was in the top 10 for much of the last loop,
but I was too aggressive and crashed on the big downhill. I broke my
custom rifle stock. It was very disappointing but things turned out
okay. Even though I lost time and didn't finish in the top 10, I placed
15th and met US Biathlon's prequalification standard for the Olympic
Team (2 top 15s). Anschütz and my coach helped me fix my rifle stock
before the relay- we replaced the broken part with a piece of wood from a
range broom handle. It was a unique and interesting project. I didn't
miss any targets in the relay- the broom wood helped me "clean" my
first World Cup race.
BFH: Tell us a few words about Sochi: the
course, the accomodation, the Olympic spirit… You (and also Annelies)
did a great individual there!
Susan: The Sochi course is not a
typical World Cup biathlon course. It has bigger, tougher, more
technical hills. Many athletes didn't approve of it. Our team
approached the Sochi World Cup ready to adapt and to make that course
"our course." I think that showed in our results.
wrote on your site: „Our women’s relay team achieved a top ten finish in
2013 and we know we are still capable of more. To do this, we need
every individual performing at their highest potential. We push each
other in practice all year long in order to bring out each individual’s
best, and we know we must be there for each other during this
challenging but exciting year. We are a strong team.” I am sure that
this confidence in yourself and in your team will bring you a successful
Olympic Games. You think even a medal is possible for you?
Susan: On both our men's and women's team, I believe we have multiple
people capable of medaling if they have a perfect day, myself included.
BFH: We talked already with Annelies that your team is a real family.
Tell us one special thing that you regularly do during the winters as a
team? For example cooking or birthday parties, whatever…
We do cook on occasion and we always celebrate birthdays for all of our
athletes, coaches, wax techs, etc. Last summer in Oberhof we borrowed
Andrea's kitchen to bake a flourless chocolate birthday cake. Baking in
Europe is often an adventure- for example the measuring cups are in
different units than we are used to and there are no chocolate chips (an
American staple) in the grocery store. We have to be creative.
think my favorite team memories come around the dinner table, especially
in a place like Antholz where we all eat together around one big long
table. Those meals are several courses long, so we have lots of time to
get into deep discussions or just joke around. I always leave the
dinner table feeling great because I have laughed so much.
Tell us a few words about your last couple of months! If I know well
you had some very special trip between the trainings: Hollywood, Alaska…
Susan: I had a busy April. I did some cross country ski races in
northern California and got to race against top athletes like Kikkan
Randall and Jessie Diggins. The US women's Nordic program has had
incredible success the last few years and their results help inspire the
biathlon team too. I find it is helpful to race and train with them on
Then I went up to arctic Alaska to teach skiing to kids
in an Inupiat Eskimo village through a program called NANANordic. The
area is so remote that we had to fly in on a small bush plane because
there are no roads. I stayed in a school for a week with other
volunteer instructors. The kids loved the program- they were always
happy to see us (we would get "death by hugging" first thing in the
morning) and it was hard to convince them to take off their skis at the
end of the day. While we were there, we tried all sorts of local foods
like caribou, whale blubber and arctic swan. When that program
finished, I traveled down to southern California for an Olympic media
day in Hollywood. Coming from the arctic, that was a huge culture
shock. It was hard to believe I was still in the same country.
BFH: Where are you and what are you doing now? What is the training plan for the following couple of months?
Susan: During the summer, I split my time training between Lake Placid,
New York (site of the 1980 Olympics and head quarters of the National
Team) and Craftsbury, Vermont (the ski club that I grew up in.) Every
couple weeks, I switch locations. I like training in Lake Placid
because the team and coaches are there, and the facilities are great.
However, Craftsbury is home and it is my favorite place in the world.
It is a small, rural village with farms, green hills, outdoorsy people
and a great sense of community. I am part of a local professional team
of skiers and rowers called the "Craftsbury Green Racing Project." In
between training sessions, we work on projects promoting sustainability
and endurance sports in our local community. It's important to have
something meaningful to focus on besides training all the time.
BFH: You wrote that in Nove Mesto „we were all very surprised by the
number of spectators that came to watch the races- it felt a lot like
Ruhpolding or Oberhof.” Do you have some special memories of the
Hungarian fans? Maybe from your birthday?
Susan: Yes, I
remember the Hungarian fans are very enthusiastic singers. As I left
the finishing pen, they called me over and sang Happy Birthday. Thanks
guys, that was a wonderful end to a special day!
Thank you for your answers and the specially dedicated bib from Nove Mesto!!! We wish you all the best for the preparation!!!