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Antholz, Italy has been one of my favorite destinations on the World Cup since I first visited it a couple years ago. (Le Grand Bornand in France was pretty good this year too.) Sunshine, meters of fluffy snow, gorgeous mountains, quiet forests… what’s not to love? Unlike many of our race venues that are lacking in natural snow, Antholz has been a reliable winter paradise. The atmosphere is always festive too, with thousands of energetic fans filling the stadium and lining the ski track.

20140121-142757.jpgCraftsbury gals and now Olympic teammates- Me and Hannah skiing today at the Staller Pass above Antholz. Photo: Judy Geer

We had three races here last week beginning with the 7.5 km sprint. In both shooting bouts I hit all my targets, “cleaning” an individual World Cup race for the first time.

20140121-145645.jpg On course during the sprint. Photo: Andrei Ivanov Facebook

During the last loop, my coaches gave me splits saying that I could be on the podium. I fought hard. When I crossed the finish line, I was sitting in first place but was ultimately bumped down to fourth by some of the later starters. It was a career best result and I was only half a second off the podium! I was also very happy to see Anais Bescond of France win that day; it was her first World Cup victory and she is one of the nicest ladies on the circuit.

20140121-142901.jpgWaiting with Tora for the flower ceremony to begin. Photo: Erik Lewish

20140121-143242.jpgWhen I first got up on the awards stage, I was a little confused because I couldn’t remember where the 4th-6th places were supposed to stand. Luckily Andrea (2nd place) noticed and discretely nodded towards her left. Photo: Erik Lewish

The next race was a 10 km pursuit. In a pursuit, the winner from the previous day starts first and the other athletes start behind, handicapped by how far back they finished the day before. The first person to cross the finish line wins. I started fourth, only 11 seconds back and I was a little nervous being surrounded by such fast women who have proven themselves many times. I had to remind myself that starting near the front is exactly where I want to be. Before the race, I visualized being in the lead pack while skiing smartly and shooting relaxed, and that made me feel more comfortable.

20140121-154745.jpgA front row place on the pursuit start line! A very new experience. Photo: Grant Ernhart

20140121-160958.jpgIn pursuits, each athlete is responsible for starting themself. If they leave the start line early, there is a large time penalty added. Photo: Grant Ernhart

Unfortunately, despite staying relaxed and near the front for a couple of loops, I lost a lot of places by the end and finished in the 20s. Along the way I broke a pole and lost a couple of ammunition clips which cost me some time, but my biggest problem was missing 3 out of 5 targets in one of the standing shooting stages. It was still a great learning experience and I hope to have more chances like that in the future.

The week culminated with a team relay race. We were psyched to have our team back at full strength after having to sit out the last World Cup relay when half our members were away at Olympic try outs. Earlier this winter, we netted two top 8s in the relay event, one of our strongest years ever, and we couldn’t wait to keep that momentum going.

20140121-155325.jpgSara and Annelies warming up before the race with some standing holds and dryfire exercises.

The day started out very foggy and at times we couldn’t see the shooting targets 50 m away. During the warmup, we skied small circles around the stadium, ready to jump on our shooting mat and zero our rifles whenever there was a brief lightening of the fog. Normally zeroing takes me about 5 minutes but this time it took over 35. By the time I finished, I had just enough time to take off my warmups and get to the start line on time. I didn’t get a chance to do my usual skiing warmup or go to the bathroom one last time. However, one thing that racing has taught me about life is that sometimes you just need to be flexible. Luckily during my leg of the race, the fog held off and I could see the targets fine. I tagged off to Annelies for the second leg. She made it 2/3 of the way through her leg and we were sitting in 5th when the fog set in again and the targets disappeared. At that point, the officials decided to cancel the race. Sara and Hannah never even got to start.

20140121-145138.jpgOfficials calling off the race during the second leg’s standing shooting. It was the second time this year a World Cup has been cancelled mid race due to weather. Photo: Fasterskier

Now the races are finished and we have a couple weeks of break before traveling to Sochi for the Olympics. We are staying here in Antholz for a training camp at altitude. I love skiing the trails here and savoring the sight of the mountains.

20140121-145548.jpgThis morning I skied out of the fog to the top of the Staller Pass behind our hotel. This is view looking back down. The biathlon venue is just out of sight on the far side of the lake.

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Soon it begins. On Tuesday I will be traveling to Sweden to start another winter of World Cup biathlon racing. It means four months living out of a duffel bag and braving airports almost every week… The thrill of putting on a race bib and standing on a start line in front of TV cameras and screaming spectators… Weathering the tremendous ups and downs that are biathlon’s emotional roller coaster… Laughing at the antics of teammates, wax techs and coaches every night at dinner… And skiing, on snow, everyday. I can’t wait!

The first World Cup biathlon race of the season takes place in Ostersund, Sweden on Sunday, November 25th (9:30 am eastern US standard time). It is a mixed relay, meaning that we will have two women and two men competing together on one team. You can watch it live on your computer by going to Biathlon World TV. Put it on your calendar.

In the meantime, watch replays from last year on Biathlon World TV to get fired up. The 2011/2012 World Cup 9 in Khanty-Mansiysk, Russia has some good ones- scroll to the right and click on the one titled “pursuit women replay”.

I have spent the past week at home in Craftsbury trying to catch up with friends and family and get organized before the long winter away.
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A few items that are coming with me to Europe this year that I didn’t have last year: a travel size guitar, a sunlamp, maple syrup, a foam roller, a German grammar workbook and a 3D puzzle.

The Outdoor Center is closed for the fall off season, so it has been quieter than normal, but I have had no problem staying busy. Even though my GRP skier teammates are away training in Canmore, I have had a great time getting to know the new GRP rowers. We even trained together in the gym one morning- I did strength circuits while they lined up 7 or 8 rowing machines next to each other for an interval workout.

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Dinner with the rowers and friends at Faraway Farm

The Outdoor Center started blowing snow last week, which meant I got to dust off an old pair or rock skis and carve some turns. Later in the week we had 15-20 BKL kids and juniors swarming over the pile like ants. It doesn’t matter how old you are, the season’s first snow never loses its magic.

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Davis, a COC staff member, took the first sledding runs down “Mt. Craftsbury” (photo: Judy Geer)

GRP skier Ida Sargent was also around for a few days before heading to Europe for the cross country World Cup season. We visited our elementary school together to talk to Barton’s seventh graders about training, racing and traveling the world. The most interesting question we were asked: “Have you ever seen a lion?”

I also visited my high school, St. Johnsbury Academy and talked to the students about what it takes to chase after big goals. Watch the YouTube video

I never got around to writing a blog post about our recent national team training camp in Utah (3 weeks in late October/ early November) but here are a couple pics:

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The US Women and guest star Andrea Henkel from Germany enjoying Utah’s mountains (photo: Hannah Dreissigacker). Read about what it has been like to train with and get to know an Olympic champion over the past few years here

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Some of “Jonne’s Angels” enjoying our last week in Utah (photo: Armin Auchentaller). For more camp pictures and a recap from Utah, check out my teammate Hannah’s blog post here

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For the past couple weeks, I have been training in Germany with the USBA national A team. We have spent time at some of the winter World Cup venues and shared the ranges with European national teams and club teams. The first couple weeks were in Bavaria, training at Ruhpolding. This week we are training in eastern Germany at Oberhof and using the indoor ski hall a lot. Unlike camps back home, we have almost all of our team staff together onsite, including coaches, wax techs, physios, etc, most of whom live in Europe.

One of my favorite things about being over here in the summer is that we can get out and see a lot of the surrounding area. In the winter race season, we are lucky if we see more than the venue, the hotel and maybe the grocery store.

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In Bavaria we stayed in the town of Inzell, at the foot of a mountain. Our cabins had a pool out front, which helped us survive temperatures in the mid 90s. The pool was chemical-free and had recirculating water- the plant life along the edges filtered the water and kept it clean.

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The valley was very green and idyllic, with lots of small farms. In some ways it reminded me of Craftsbury.

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Former Craftsbury and Dartmouth teammate Chelsea Little came to visit on her way to start grad school in Sweden. We spent an afternoon at Konigsee near Berchtesgaden (photo: Sara Studebaker)

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The team experienced all sorts of interesting Bavarian foods during our two weeks. Pictured above is Schweinshax’n, or roasted ham hock. My favorite meal was smoked trout, served whole. The most interesting was a lean unidentified chunk of meat that tasted a lot like corned beef. After I ate it, I was told it was cow tongue.

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Training at the range. We shared the facility with many other teams, including Germans, Ukrainians, and a large group of French juniors. (photo credit: Chelsea Little)

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Rainy days call for bright colors…

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… and not just for us. I found a whole hillside crawling with 6 inch long Fire Salamanders one rainy morning. This sighting was very special for me. When I was in kindergarten, I used to have a pet salamander a lot like these (it was an Eastern Spotted Salamander), and back home it is really usual to spot them in the wild. (photo credit: Wikipedia).

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We spent one afternoon at the University of Salzburg’s indoor shooting hall. They hooked our rifles up to various force places and lasers that recorded things like trigger pressure and the path our barrels trace over the target. (photo credit: Armin Auchentaller)

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My favorite afternoon recovery workouts involved hiking through alpine cow pastures to mountain alms and maybe ordering a coffee or beer. The Stoisseralm high above our cabin had a great view looking down onto Salzburg. On the way back down we took breaks to pick blackberries and blueberries. (photo credit: Sara Studebaker)

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Mountain yoga over Inzell with Sara

This past weekend we relocated to Oberhof, where we spend our mornings training on snow in the ski tunnel and our afternoons training outside. We are working closely with our team techs to test new skis for the coming season.

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Ski hall from above (photo credit: Thueringen tourism website)

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The view from inside. The smaller branches depart from the corners of the hall and the loop is surprisingly hilly.

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There is a lot to love about being on a mountain top. Refreshing breezes, a flow of puffy white clouds that tow splotchy shadows across ridge lines, and a lush carpet of contrasting peaks and valleys stretching across the land. I can see every shade of green in the forests below and several gray cliff faces.
I’ve been training in Lake Placid the last couple weeks and this camp has been one of the best yet for exploring the Adirondack high ridges. Usually I end up hiking on rainy days with no view, but the weather this past week has been fantastic!
My new favorite place in the region is an area of new rockslides above Johns Brook in Keene Valley created by hurricane Irene. Hiking up a slide combines many of my favorite things: spectacular views, rock hopping, bush whacking, waterfall scrambles, and the thrill of possibly getting lost. I like to marvel at the power of water. In just minutes last August, a small forested stream became a 50 m wide corridor of exposed bedrock littered with uprooted trees. Unfortunately I forgot my camera during that hike, but I took pictures of other recent mountain adventures.

20120615-210606.jpgHanging in there on top of Giant Mountain.

20120615-211050.jpgThe team at the top: Tara, Corrine, myself and Annelies

20120615-211924.jpgLuka trying to steal a snack from Sophie.

20120615-204412.jpgOne evening, after the toll road closed for the day, we rollerskiied from downtown Wilmington to the top of Whiteface. Over halfway there!

20120615-204708.jpgWe gained about 3500 ft of elevation. It was an almost constant grade, as you can see from Hannah’s HR monitor data.

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Visiting the granite castle at the top. It was built by NY state during the “New Deal” era of Great Depression projects. FDR himself attended its grand opening. Among XC skiers, the castle is better known as the finish line of the annual painfest: the “Climb to the Castle” rollerski race.

20120615-210427.jpgThe gals: myself, Hannah and Corrine

20120615-210038.jpgLooking down at the road below and enjoying a sense of accomplishment.

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Following World Championships in Germany, the biathlon circus packed onto 3 different charter planes headed for central Russian and the final World Cup competitions of the season.  I was excited for the chance to see Khanty-Mansiysk after hearing so much about it, but I was also very tired from the previous week’s racing.  I couldn’t help but feel like I traveling  5 timezones in the wrong direction.  However, the racing has been awesome, the temperatures have been reasonable, the food is (somewhat) edible and Russia’s oddities have kept us plenty entertained.

Many athletes haven’t bothered to adjust to the time change, especially since all the competitions are in the evening.  The bright white lights of the stadium extend normal daylight hours and I keeping forgetting that it is well past sunset when I cool down from my races.  Sara and I have watching movies late at night (starting around 11:00) to help us fall asleep and we’ve been sleeping-in until well past 9.

Where in the world are we? At an oil boom town in Siberia

Some of athlete housing: a tropical paradise. I can almost imagine the snow as a white sandy beach.

Adventures at the grocery store, where the vodka aisle is the same size as the vegetable aisle

Hungry? With the wide selection, you should to be able to find some type of canned meat to your liking. I was also very excited to find some white cheddar in the cheese section, but it didn't live up to my high Vermont standards.

Since the tap water is not safe to drink, we've been going through lots of bottled water. Don't worry, we are finding ways to be green and reuse all those plastic bottles. Photo: Sara Studebaker

A fur vendor who set up in the lobby of our hotel

This beautiful church sits on top of the hill overlooking downtown

A familiar face. Posters featuring Russian and Soviet superstars from years past line the road to the venue. Walking by the signs one day, Sara commented "That one looks like Algis!" and it was indeed. Algis Shalna, formerly of Lithuania, now lives in Vermont and coaches many local biathletes, including the Craftsbury crew.

Reindeer and sled on route to the stadium to pick up medalists for a victory loop. Seconds after I took this picture, these animals ran wild knocking their driver off the sled and dragging him into the woods. I started wondering if any of the medalists would survive to race in the next day's pursuit.

For all its quirks, Khanty has one of the most professional and state-of-the-art race venues I have ever seen.

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I like to describe biathlon as an emotional rollercoaster.  For athletes, the highs are very intense and the lows can feel devastating as we seek to have the “perfect race.”  I rarely come close.   Many different pieces must come together on the same day.  I lucked out on a special day in Ruhpolding, Germany.  Many pieces came together for me when it counted the most and I placed 5th at World Championships in the Individual race.

Racing in Bib #1 meant being alone on the first loop. Photo: NordicFocus/USBA

I usually prefer being seeded about 1/3 of the way through the race field so that I can ski around the fastest competitors.  However, in these Championships I was not destined to have a normal starting number.  Earlier in the week, I started the Sprint last with  bib #118.  For the Individual, I had the opposite  experience and was assigned bib #1.  So much for sticking to routine.  I felt a little nervous, but my Green Racing Project teammate Hannah, pointed out a positive: “you’ll get to be famous, no matter how you race!”

A few of the 30,000 fans packed into the Chiemgau Arena. Photo: Jonne Kahkonen

Despite a few extra nerves, I enjoyed myself at the starting line.  I hadn’t put much pressure on myself for the Individual.  Going into the Championships, I believed the Sprint was my best chance for doing well.  The Individual is usually my weakest race because it is more of a shooter’s race and each missed target results in a costly one minute penalty.  That said, it is a race where anybody can have a good day if they shoot well, and I knew that included me.

My parents, Stan and Judi made it over to Europe to watch. Photo: Chelsea Little/Fasterskier.com

I later heard that the film crews found my parents in the crowd and showed them on the big screen as I started.  Once upon a time, my parents used to cross-country ski race for the University of Vermont.  My father also competed in the ’76 and ’80 Olympics.  Since then, they have turned into elite level fans who will arrive at the venue 5 hours before race start to claim a front row spot along the fence. Over the course of the championships, they befriended (i.e. were adopted by) several other spectators around them. One afternoon they even returned with German flags painted on their faces.  I told them that this was only acceptable if their new friends started sporting stars and stripes.  However, I must give them credit for turning their section of fence into a giant American cheering section.

Cleaning prone. Photo: NordicFocus/USBA

Any serious biathlete can clean (hit all their targets) during practice, even during high intensity workouts.  However with the pressure of a race, shooting becomes a lot more difficult.  I find that the more I want to hit my targets, the less likely the paddles are to fall.  Until a few weeks ago, I had never cleaned a race.  I finally cleaned an Italian Cup Sprint the week before World Championships, which was a huge boost for my shooting confidence.

During the Individual, I felt like I couldn’t miss my targets.  I was very careful and deliberate in the range, taking a little extra time to nail my set up.  Once I was confident it couldn’t be better, I focused on having a smooth trigger squeeze.  During the second stage I missed a single target, which actually shocked me.  The shot looked good, felt good, and I had followed through.

The final loop was all about hanging on. Photo: Chelsea Little/Fasterskier

Halfway through the fourth (penultimate) loop I skied under a jumbotron and heard the announcer mention the “surprising leader of the race so far… American Susan Dunklee.”  Hearing that sent a jarring shock of adrenaline into my system and my heart jumped into my throat.  I had known I was having a good race, but I hadn’t dreamed that I might be leading!  All I could do at that point was put all my focus into climbing the hill ahead of me.  I hoped my head would clear by the time I arrived in the shooting range.  Thinking back, I don’t really member what was going thru my head during the last standing shooting.    I remember feeling completely relaxed and all 5 targets turned white.  It was incredible!

The work wasn’t done.  Skiing was very challenging, especially in the later loops.  Warm temperatures over the past several days had created lots of deep, slushy snow and my legs felt like toast.  On the last loop, all our coaches and staff were yelling that I was in medal contention.  The crowd was roaring too, and I felt blasted by a tunnel of sound with no place to escape.   I tried to ski faster, but I couldn’t find my highest gear.  It still ended up being the race of my life.

At the finish line. Photo:NordicFocus/USBA

I smiled up at the crowd from the finishing pen and they went crazy.  It surprised me to see them so excited.  They seem to like seeing the Americans do well.

A new experience: Sitting in the leader's lounge until I got bumped from the medals. Photo: Chelsea Little/Fasterskier.com

Pat, one of my primary coaches the past several years (and a Vermonter!), watching my last standing shooting with both the video stream and live results. Photo: Pat Coffey

It was really cool to hear how many people had been watching the races live from back home.   Apparently my little cousin Camerin went to school after watching and spent show-and-tell explaining skiing and shooting to her friends.  I was psyched to hear about that.

The evening awards ceremony in downtown Ruhpolding. Photo: Chelsea Little/Fasterskier.com

The race didn’t really sink in for me until I got off the awards stage.  My teammates, my parents, and all our staff were there.  Everybody was so excited and it was very special to share that moment with them.  We had pictures and hugs all around.

This is one of my favorite pictures from the week. Post awards ceremony with teammates Lanny and Annelies. Photo: Chelsea Little/Fasterskier.com

My teammates helped me pick out a souvenir to remember Ruhpolding. I decided on a Dirndl (traditional Bavarian dress).

A couple of months ago, our coach Jonne promised the women’s team that if any one of us placed in the top 10 on a World Cup then we could all dye his hair any color we wanted.  We went searching for cool colors…

Small Bavarian towns don't have a lot of color options but we found something suitable.

We all decided to tag along with some temporary pink dye on relay day. Photo: Chelsea Little/Fasterskier.com

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It’s only mid February, but most of the season’s biathlon races are over. 8 World Cups are already done.  Most recently, we were racing in Kontiolahti, Finland.  In spite of the brutal cold, the team had some of its best results ever with a 6th place mixed relay and 5 athletes in the top 16 of the sprint.  Unfortunately, I had one of my most challenging weeks of the season trapped in my hotel room with a cold and only raced the sprint (which was not a pretty performance).  However, I still think Kontiolahti will be one of the most memorable World Cups of the year.

Kontiolahti, Finland was pretty darn cold with temperatures barely legal for racing. In spite of that, in the nearby town of Joensuu where we stayed about 1/4 of pedestrians traveled by bike. Brrrrrrr!

Walking to the race start (l to r: Annelies Cook, Sara Studebaker, Canadian Zina Kocher). The athlete shuttle bus got stuck in traffic and most teams had to walk almost 2 km to arrive at the venue with an hour to race start. Temps were below -16 degrees celsius, hence the protective tape many athletes wore on their faces. (photo: Zina Kocher)

Following the races, the family of Mari Laukkanen, one of the Finnish athletes invited our team to their lakeside cabin where they have 3 saunas. They fired up the traditional smoke sauna for us (pictured above) and cut a hole in the ice of a nearby stream for us to jump into. (photo: Annelies Cook)

Our hotel in Joensuu

The crazy Finn who coaches us: Jonne Kahkonen (photo: Sara Studebaker)

Jonne's family (who now live in Lake Placid) returned to Finland for a visit during the Kontiolahti World Cup. His wife, Erika and son Elmo made up an awesome cheering section. (photo: Annelies Cook)

Next up: We just arrived in Italy where we will spend a couple weeks preparing for World Championships.  They will be held in Ruhpolding, Germany.

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