American biathlon team rallies after Dunklee’s spill

POKLJUKA, Slovenia — A fall on the opening leg of Sunday’s mixed relay resulted in a broken binding and dashed all hopes for a Team USA podium finish as the 2018-19 biathlon season began at the BMW IBU World Cup in Pokljuka.

Susan Dunklee, of Barton, Vermont, went down along with Sweden’s Emma Nilsson on a descent during the first leg of the relay and as Dunklee slid her left ski went flying in the air.

“It happened so fast I’m not sure what happened,” Dunklee said of her spill. “Either my binding sheared off and caused the fall or I encountered a particularly nasty species of snow snake. I channeled my inner Bode Miller to ski down the rest of the hill on one ski. The Swiss team graciously provided a spare so I could keep going. Luckily my rifle still worked okay.”

Despite the bad luck that befell them, Team USA battled back to place 15th in the 23-team field, a marked improvement over last year’s 21st-place finish at the opening World Cup event. Dunklee recovered both physically and mentally to use just two spares on the shooting range. Clare Egan, of Cape Elizabeth, Maine, followed Dunklee for the second leg and posted a clean standing stage after needing three spares in prone. Leif Nordgren, of Marine, Minnesota, used just one spare in prone and had a clean round in standing during the third leg, while Sean Doherty, of Center Conway, New Hampshire, brought it home with three spare rounds on the range, crossing the line 4 minutes, 19.8 seconds off the pace.

“I’m really impressed with my teammates today and we posted a respectable result in spite of a rough start to the race,” Dunklee said.

France, with Anais Bescond, Justine Braisaz, Martin Fourcade and Simon Desthieux, won the mixed relay in 1:10:02.8, using five spare rounds. The Swiss team finished second with nine spares, 38.7 seconds back, while Italy placed third with one penalty and eight spares, 52.1 seconds behind.

Earlier in the day, the team of Joanne Reid, of Palo Alto, California, and Max Durtschi (Ketchum, Idaho) competed in the single mixed relay. Durtschi was a last-minute substitution for Paul Schommer (Appleton, Wisconsin) who became ill overnight.

Both Reid and Durtschi used just one spare round from their opening prone positions. However, the team was lapped before the finish of the race and placed 25th.

The Norwegian team of Thelka Brun-Lie and Lars Helge Birkeland won the single mixed relay in 38 minutes, 26.7 seconds. Using four spare rounds they finished 8.5 seconds ahead of Austria’s Lisa Theresa Hauser and Simon Eder who had five spares. Third place went to Ukraine with Anastasiya Merkushyna and Artem Tyshchenko, 20.7 seconds back with the best shooting of the competition, just one spare round.

Competition resumes Wednesday with the men’s 20-kilometer individual race.

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