Burke, Bailey struggle through 20K
PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — A day after being postponed due to high winds, the women’s 15-kilometer individual race took place Thursday ahead of the men’s 20K individual at the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Games.
All four U.S. women shot 80 percent or better on the range at the Alpensia Biathlon Centre, led by Susan Dunklee with two penalties in 19th place and Joanne Reid in 22nd with just one penalty.
Disappointment was evident on the faces of the U.S. men’s team following the 20k individual which took place after the women’s competition. None of the four American had fewer than three penalties with Tim Burke, of Paul Smiths, turning in the top finish in 41st place, with four penalties.
“The strategy is always the same, just execute the game plan,” Burke said. “Tonight I struggled with that on the range. I felt like I was decent on the skis … not great, but not bad … but too many penalties.”
Sean Doherty, of Center Conway, New Hampshire, who was 44th with three penalties, has cleaned all 15 standing targets during his two races at these Games, but in prone he has hit just eight of 15.
“Prone continues to have a few gremlins in it for me,” Doherty said. “Standing was great, felt super solid, skied well, but prone just continued to plague me.”
Lowell Bailey, of Lake Placid, the defending world champion at this distance, struggled to find words after starting the race by missing his first two targets in prone. He would go on to finish 51st with four penalties.
“I think shock is the only way to describe it,” an emotional Bailey said. “Completely shocked to miss those two. I’ve never started an individual like that. There’s two paths to choose at that point … you can decide to give it your best because you’re representing your country, or you can throw in the towel. If there’s one thing I can take away from this race is that I never gave up.”
The fourth member of the men’s team, Leif Nordgren, of Minnesota, had five penalties to place 66th and echoed the disappointment felt by Bailey and others.
“Intense disappointment,” Nordgren said. “This is just a super frustrating sport sometimes and the whole week kind of sums this up.”
Johannes Thingnes Boe brought Norway its first biathlon gold medal of these Olympic Winter Games, winning the men’s 20k in 48:03.8, despite two penalties. Silver medalist Jakov Fak of Slovenia made a late run with clean shooting and a gritty last loop, but finished 5.5 seconds back. Dominik Landertinger of Austria, also with clean shooting, captured the bronze medal, 14.2 seconds behind Boe.
The U.S. teams failed to qualify anyone for the mass start races being held Saturday and Sunday, so they will now prepare for next week’s relay races.
“We have a couple of relays left and I think the mixed relay will be a lot of fun,” Dunklee said. “It’s one of the only events in the Olympics where you have men and women competing together. And we also have the women’s relay. That’s something we’ve been looking forward to all year. I know this group of ladies is really excited to get out on the tracks and put together a good relay.”
The mixed relay will take place on Tuesday, followed by the women’s 4x6k relay on Feb. 22 and the men’s relay to close out the competition on Feb. 23. All three races are scheduled for 6:15 a.m. EST
For both Dunklee and Reid, their performances were a nice turnaround from disappointing finishes in Saturday’s sprint where they placed 66th and 86th, respectively. On this day, Dunklee cleaned both prone stages and Reid had her only miss in her first standing.
“I’m so bummed about that day,” said Dunklee referring to Saturday’s sprint. “But I think one of the things that biathlon does is train you how to be resilient and how to pick yourself up over and over again. It’s certainly not the first day that sort of thing has happened to me. Maybe the first day on a really big, big stage like this, but I think I’ve had lots of experience over the years for refocusing. You have to let yourself be sad for a few hours, but then you kind of have to set a deadline and say okay, by this time of day I’m going to start only allowing myself to focus on the positives again and move forward.”
With a minute added to a racer’s time with each miss on the range, Dunklee finished 3 minutes, 26.3 seconds behind the winning time of clean-shooting Hanna Oeberg of Sweden, while Reid was 3:34.1 back.
It was a particularly huge rebound for Reid from her sprint race. In that event, Reid missed seven of 10 targets on the range. On Thursday, she posted a career-best finish for any of her world cup or Olympic races.
“There was a lot less wind today and it’s a lot warmer which makes it easier on the hands for shooting,” Reid said. “I’ve actually been shooting really well in practice so I thought if I can just execute that when I came in for each bout, I had a chance at doing fairly well.”
Reid wasn’t initially scheduled to start the race but was inserted into the start list after teammate Maddie Phaneuf, of Old Forge, woke up Thursday morning with a sore throat.
“I’m really happy that I had a good race just because I took Maddie’s spot here and I didn’t want to go out there and have a bad day,” Reid said. “She’s really disappointed that she didn’t get to race, so this one’s for her.”
Rounding out the U.S. efforts in the women’s individual, Clare Egan, of Cape Elizabeth, Maine, finished 62nd and Emily Dreissigacker, Morrisville, Vermont, was 67th, both with four penalties.
“I’m happy with my performance. I had three good stages and just one bad one,” Egan said referring to three penalties at the opening standing stage.
Dreissigacker suffered a slow start with two misses on the range but settled down to hit 13 of her remaining 15 targets.
“I started out with two misses in prone which I really wasn’t happy with,” Dreissigacker said. “That’s kind of unusual for me, usually prone is my stronger position. My skis were really fast again today. Our wax techs did an amazing job again, so that was awesome.”
Oeberg surprised all of the big name favorites in the women’s race with her first career victory and podium, crossing the line in 41:07.2 to win the gold medal. Anastasiya Kuzmina of Slovakia, with two penalties, won her second silver medal of these Games, 24.7 seconds back. Sprint and pursuit double gold medalist Laura Dahlmeier of Germany won the bronze medal, 41.2 seconds behind Oeberg.
After Wednesday’s postponement, the women were treated to a daylight start with clear skies, temperatures at freezing and a lighter breeze than in the previous races.
“It’s kind of nice actually to be able to dress in normal layers and not feel like you’re going out into an Arctic windstorm,” joked Dunklee after the race.