Mixed Relay to Kick Off Olympic Biathlon Competition in Beijing
by Bill Kellick
New Gloucester, Me.- When the competition begins Saturday, Feb. 5, at the Beijing 2022 Winter Games, the U.S. Biathlon Team will boast a wealth of international experience with five returning Olympians, including three members of the women’s squad. Leading the charge for the American contingent are three-time Olympian Susan Dunklee (Craftsbury, Vt./Craftsbury Green Racing Project & USBA) and two-time Olympian Clare Egan (Cape Elizabeth, Maine/Craftsbury Green Racing Project & USBA). Both biathlon veterans made it known before the start of the 2021-22 season that this campaign would be their last go-around in the sport.
Dunklee, who will turn 36 on Feb. 13, achieved early Olympic qualification last March with back-to-back eighth-place finishes at the IBU World Cup in Nove Mesto, Czech Republic. She joined Egan, 34, who met the early Olympic qualification standards with a pair of top-10 World Cup efforts in December of 2020.
Dunklee was the first American woman to win a world championship medal in an individual event when she took the silver medal in the mass start in 2017. Three years later she became the first U.S. double-medalist at the 2020 IBU World Championships by winning silver in the sprint.
“It's been a real honor to represent US biathlon for all these years,” said Dunklee as she reflected on her career. “And I think my favorite part has been competing alongside an awesome group of women in training every day, with a group of friends. It's a healthy lifestyle, it's about inspiring people, it's about doing something that you love.”
Egan is coming off the second-best finish of her career on January 21 at the IBU World Cup in Antholz, Italy, where she finished fourth in the women’s 15-kilometer individual competition. In March of 2019, Egan raced to a career-best third place at the World Cup in Oslo, Norway, snagging the bronze medal in the women’s mass start. She and Dunklee will be joined on the women’s team by 2018 Olympian Joanne Reid (Grand Junction, Colo.) and Olympic newcomer Deedra Irwin (Pulaski, Wis./National Guard Biathlon & USBA).
Reid, 29, finished 22nd in the women’s 15km individual at the PyeongChang Games and followed that up with a career-best 10th in the mass start at the 2019 IBU World Championships. She was an NCAA champion cross-country skier at the University of Colorado-Boulder before taking up biathlon in 2015. Reid is the daughter of 1980 Olympic speedskating bronze medalist Beth (Heiden) Reid, and the niece of Eric Heiden, a five-time Olympic gold medalist in speedskating.
“We were all excited to get to this course and see it,” Reid stated at the pre-event press conference. “It's really great. It kind of rides like a roller coaster. We really enjoy that a lot. Doing something new can be interesting and awesome, and the wind provides an interesting challenge.”
Irwin, a 29-year-old Wisconsin native, has turned in the top three performances of her career this season on the IBU World Cup circuit, topped by a 36th-place finish in December in the sprint in Hochfilzen, Austria. Irwin competed in Nordic skiing as well as cross country and track as an undergraduate at Michigan Technological University. She made the switch to biathlon after attending a U.S. Biathlon talent ID camp in Lake Placid in 2017.
Irwin addressed the forecasted low temperatures in Beijing on the eve of the opening ceremony.
“Temperature will be one of the biggest challenges,” she said. “A lot of our races in central Europe have been quite warm. We haven't had that many races below 15 degrees in the past two or three years. I see that as a trend of the climate changing and winters getting warmer. But we're a little out of practice for this, blustery, cold, frigid conditions. We've been experimenting with what layers to wear.”
Less than two weeks ago, on January 22, the quartet of Dunklee, Egan, Reid and Irwin combined for the best U.S. women’s relay finish in 28 years with a fifth-place effort at the World Cup in Antholz.
“It's a great feeling to come into the Olympics with some good results under your belt, especially fresh ones, like what we all were able to achieve together at our most recent World Cup,” Egan said. “It gives us good confidence coming into the Games knowing that the preparation that we've put in is paying off.”
Three-time Olympians Leif Nordgren (Hinesburg, Vt./National Guard Biathlon & USBA) and Sean Doherty (Center Conway, N.H./National Guard Biathlon & USBA) headline the U.S. men’s team in Beijing. They will team with first-time Olympians Jake Brown (St. Paul, Minn./Craftsbury Green Racing Project & USBA) and Paul Schommer (Appleton, Wis./Team Crosscut & USBA).
Nordgren, 32, competed in three individual events at both the 2014 Sochi and 2018 PyeongChang Olympic Games, with a best finish of 44th place in the sprint in Sochi. He has also competed on nine world championship teams for the U.S., with a career-best eighth place in 2020 in the 20km individual race. However, the Olympic Games are not the only thing on Nordgren’s mind this week as he and his wife, Caitlin, back home in Vermont are due with their first child on Feb. 4, the date of the Olympic opening ceremony.
Said Nordgren on the eve of the opening ceremony: “Leaving home and in early November, I had the goal of getting home for Christmas to see my wife. But because of the way that Olympic Trials worked out, I wasn't able to go home. So I haven't seen my wife since early November. And the next time I'll see her will be after the Olympics and we'll have a baby. So that's something that's really exciting. And it's definitely nice to kind of have something besides the sports to have my mind on.”
Doherty, 26, is the all-time leader in individual medals at the IBU Youth/Junior World Championships and became the first American biathlete to reach the podium three times at a single world championship when he did so at the Youth/Junior Worlds in 2016, bringing his career medal total to 10. Doherty was the youngest member of the 2014 U.S. Olympic Biathlon Team at the age of 18 and last season teamed with fellow three-time Olympian Dunklee to win the bronze medal in the single mixed relay at the IBU World Cup in Nove Mesto, Czech Republic.
“It is a distinct honor to represent our country as a member of the military,” said Doherty who is a member of the National Guard Biathlon. “To be able to carry that here to the Olympics and to be able to have that extra sense of pride, and to represent the U.S. team but also the team that is the army, I think that's a really special thing. It’s a cool feeling.”
Brown and Schommer, both 29, qualified for the Olympic Team in the same race - the men’s 20-kilometer individual event on Nov. 27 in Oestersund, Sweden, which was also the opening race of the IBU World Cup 2021-22 calendar. Brown’s 23rd-place finish was the fourth-best of his career, while Schommer posted a personal-best finish at the time of 22nd. He set a new personal-best finish on Jan. 20 with a ninth-place effort in the men’s 20km individual at the Antholz World Cup.
Brown came to biathlon by way of cross-country skiing and looked up to a certain current teammate of his.
“My benchmark was Sean Doherty,” Brown stated. “I was just a cross-country skier, I never thought I would end up being doing biathlon, let alone at this level. Now we're on the team it’s pretty special. It was something cool to be able to see that I can do it there. At least on the ski side, it took a while on the shooting side.”
Heading into his first Games, Schommer sees a challenge in the course layout in Beijing.
“It's an underrated track. People don't think that there's really big climbs, but I think it's deceptive,” said Schommer. “It's going to sneak up on a lot of athletes. We're at high altitude, it's cold, the snow’s not going to be as fast. There's potential of skis getting dirty from sand blowing in with the wind. It's a course that is really going to help the world see who is the best biathlete.”
Serving as first alternates for the U.S. team are Vasek Cervenka (Grand Rapids, Minn./National Guard Biathlon & USBA) on the men’s team and Hallie Grossman (South Burlington, Vt./Craftsbury Green Racing Project) for the women’s team.
The biathlon competition in Beijing begins with the mixed relay event on Feb. 5 featuring Dunklee, Egan, Doherty and Schommer combining forces for Team USA.
Check out the Watch Olympic Biathlon schedule for viewing options of all the races from Beijing. You can also follow all the action on the IBU app - download it today!
Biathlon Event Schedule for Beijing 2022 Olympic Games (all times EST)
Saturday, Feb. 5
4:00 am – Mixed relay
Monday, Feb. 7
4:00 am – Women’s 15km individual
Tuesday, Feb. 8
3:30 am – Men’s 20km individual
Friday, Feb. 11
4:00 am – Women’s 7.5km sprint
Saturday, Feb. 12
4:00 am – Men’s 10km sprint
Sunday, Feb. 13
4:00 am – Women’s 10km pursuit
5:45 am – Men’s 12.5km pursuit
Tuesday, Feb. 15
4:00 am – Men’s 4x7.5km relay
Wednesday, Feb. 16
2:45 am – Women’s 4x6km relay
Friday, Feb. 18
4:00 am – Men’s 15km mass start
Saturday, Feb. 19
4:00 am – Women’s 12.5km mass start
(Photo: Courtney Harkins)