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Archive for March, 2010

My version of March Madness consists of ski racing through sunshine and slush.  The biathlon season ended last weekend  with National Championships in Fort Kent, Maine, but several of us biathletes decided to hang out in “The County” (Aroostock County in northern Maine) for an extra week to race Spring Series and XC Distance Nationals with the xc ski community.  Between the biathlon and xc races, we signed up to race 7 competitions in 11 days, ranging in distance from a 1.3 km sprint to a 30 km marathon.

Rifle racks in front of the 10th Mountain Ski Lodge in Fort Kent

The final of the 7 races was a 5 km "hill climb," featuring a section of course that went straight up Fort Kent's alpine hill

The first couple of biathlon races at Nationals were some my roughest shooting days of the season.  The targets refused to go down despite my best effort, and I was starting to feel a little discouraged about what I had to show for a year of hard work.   I remember emerging from the penalty loop after skiing several wet slushy circles and being minutes behind most of the field with only one lap left to try to catch up.  It was the lowest point of the week and the finish line couldn’t have come soon enough.  Lucky for me, Tom Upham, a former ski coach and one of the best cheerers in the world, was right there yelling at me from the sideline.  “Smile Susan- remember to smile!”  I half heartedly set aside my grimace of frustration and attempted to smile.  Immediately I felt a little better.  I had almost forgotten to have fun, with is the biggest mistake a ski racer can make.  The week went uphill from there.

During a day off from racing during Spring Series, a group of women skiers, including many US Ski Team members, National Biathlon Team members, as well as professional and college racers from across the county, met at a small elementary school in Madawaska, Maine with a common goal: to share our love and joy of skiing with young girls.  Founded by Canadian xc ski racer Chandra Crawford, Fast and Female is an organization that seeks to inspire young girls to life healthy active lifestyles and help them become confident and empowered through sport (read more at http://fastandfemale.imworks.biz/default.asp).  Kikkan Randall, the United State’s top female skier, arranged to bring Fast and Female to Madawaska during these Super Tour races.  She recruited over half the finishers of the marathon the day before to help.  We spent much of the day on skis playing games with the girls, but also hung out with them and answered their questions.  When we were asked what our favorite part about skiing was, the answers varied from spending a lot of time outside, hanging around awesome people, traveling to cool places, and feeling physically strong and fast.  The common thread in all the answers: skiing is fun and makes us feel good.

The end of the season had several high points, shown below:

Lots and lots of warm sunny days. It's hard not to smile with this sort of weather. (Photo: Haley Johnson)

Endless miles of potato field "crust skiing." In the spring, cold nights and warm days create a hard crust on top of the snow and we can skate over everything without bothering with grooming.

Sprint to finish with Tracy Barnes-Colliander. After two rough races to start the national championships, I ended on a very positive note for the last biathlon race of the season and edged out Tracy to win the national title in the mass start (Photo: Nate Herz, fasterskier.com)

Momma Dunklee, Papa Dunklee and Susan Dunklee, enjoying the races together. (Photo: Kat Howe)

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Nine athletes, two coaches, one wax tech, and four races in six days.  That’s the guest list and agenda for our Estonian party.  I arrived in Otepää, Estonia about a week ago with the other US team members to race in the U-26 (under 26 year-olds) Open European Championships.  Twenty-seven countries have sent their top young athletes to compete with the world.

A view of the race stadium (photo credit: IBU, http://www.biathlonworld3.de/en/)

Our competitions include of a variety of race formats:

  • Individual (15 km with shooting stages; instead of penalty laps each missed target results in a minute added to race time)
  • Relay ( 4 people x 6 km with 2 shooting stages each)
  • Sprint (7.5 km with 2 shooting stages)
  • Pursuit (10 km with 4 shooting stages; we start in the order that we finished in the Sprint and “pursue” the Sprint winner)

So far we have completed the Individual and Relay.  Results can be found at the event’s website: http://otepaa.biathlon.ee/team/.  I finished a little over halfway through the pack in the Individual and our Relay team finished 9th.  These are solid results for now and there is still plenty of room for improvement.

USA team members Hannah Dreissigacker and Grace Boutot outside our waxroom. Race venues usually provide waxing space in the form of small box-shaped rooms tightly lined up like cell blocks. Each door along this hallway leads to a different team's waxroom. There is not much room and you have to be careful when opening a door so that you don't clock someone walking down the hallway.

Competitors racing the first leg of the women's relay. Number 10 is my teammate, Annelies Cook. Biathlon relay teams consist of 4 people who each ski 6 km (7.5 km for men) and shoot 2 stages (one prone and one standing) before tagging off. In relays, we carry extra rounds in addition to the five rounds already loaded in our clip. If we miss any of the five shoots in a shooting stage, we can hand-load up to three spare rounds and try to hit those missed targets. If we still have missed targets after 8 attempts to hit the five targets, then we ski penalty laps.

Estonia is a small country, slightly larger than Vermont and New Hampshire combined.  It sits on the Baltic sea surrounded by Latvia and Russia.  The countryside has gently undulating woods and fields mixed with wetlands.  I imagine it is a perfect habitat for certain types of fairytale creatures.  Perhaps there is a troll lurking under the bridge just outside of town, or a family of gnomes hidden in the hayloft of an old wooden farmhouse.  As I ski through the silent forest, coated in with freshly fallen snow, I glide between birch trees and wonder what small eyes might be spying on me from under the fir boughs.

I like the look of mixed stone and wood on this house in town. If the telephone lines were not there, I could imagine I went back in time.

A couple ladies socialize at the local grocery store

This is my third trip to Europe for biathlon competitions and I am finally starting to recognize and get to know some athletes and coaches from other countries.   One of the things I’ve enjoyed most about ski racing through the years is the sense of community and shared passion among participants.   Race days can be a little nerve-wracking, but they are also fun because you get a chance to catch up with friends from other teams and meet people who understand your lifestyle.  This feeling can be difficult to find on the international race circuit.  Sometimes the language barrier gets in the way and sometimes athletes at this level aren’t interested in developing relationships with their competition.  Luckily for me, I’ve already found a number of friendly competitors and most of them speak at least a little English.  When all else fails, dance seems to be the universal language- after our relay race we mingled with the other teams at the local disco and had a blast.

A view of the pub down the road from our hotel. The wall is signed by famous skiers from a variety of countries. I suspect most of these signatures belong to Olympic medalists.

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