KONTIOLAHTI, Finland - World championship medalists Susan Dunklee and Lowell Bailey combined forces to win the United States' first biathlon team medal in 23 years, a silver in Sunday's single mixed relay at the World Cup event in Kontiolahti, Finland.
Bailey, of Lake Placid, won America's first biathlon world championships gold medal on Thursday, Feb. 16 when he took first place in the 20-kilometer individual race in Hochfilzen, Austria. Two weeks later, he captured an individual silver in Pyeongchange, South Korea.
Dunklee, of Barton, Vermont, earned the first world championships medal for an American woman when she took silver in the 12.5K mass start in Hochfilzen.
On Sunday, Dunklee recovered from a fall on a downhill section and Bailey outsprinted two other teams to secure the podium for the American duo. It was the first single mixed relay competition for both Dunklee and Bailey and the first team medal for the U.S. since a silver medal in the women's relay at the 1994 World Cup in Canmore, Alberta, Canada.
"This feels incredible," Dunklee said. "I have dreamed for a long time about running into the finishing pen to welcome a teammate for a relay podium. We have known a team podium could be possible for a long time, but everyone needs to have a great day on the same day."
Dunklee kicked off the race with a clean round in prone and left the range with leader Lisa Vittozzi of Italy. She surged to the head of the race on the second loop but fell while navigating a downhill section, knocking her back to 10th place.
"I got tricked into a nosedive by the snowsnakes," Dunklee joked. "They're clever little creatures that hang out on downhills and trip the unsuspecting skier. I spent the rest of the loop regaining my good focus so I'd feel composed at the range."
With steely resolve, Dunklee regrouped to not only clean the next standing stage but also post the fastest shooting time and fastest range time. Her effort brought Team USA back up to third place, just 8.9 seconds out of the lead as Dunklee tagged off to Bailey.
Bailey immediately took control of the race, leading the pack into and out of the range where he shot clean, making the team 15 of 15 at that point. The first hiccup on the range came in the next standing state where Bailey needed two spare rounds to hit all five targets.
"It was a fun race, full of tactics and a great experience," Bailey said. "It was thrilling to be able to share the podium with Susan."
Bailey made the second exchange with Dunklee in fifth place, 17.2 seconds off the pace. Another clean round for Dunklee in prone put the U.S. back into third place and, despite needing two extra rounds in standing, Dunklee moved the team up to second, 12.8 seconds back of the lead by the time she made the final exchange with Bailey.
A clean round in prone and just one spare in standing by Bailey kept the American duo in medal contention. With the Austrian team far out in front, the final loop came down to a three-team race for the final two podium spots. Bailey found himself in a battle with Germany's Roman Rees and France's Jean Guillaume Beatrix over the final kilometer.
"After standing, I could see Rees ahead of me and I just tried to sprint from the mat," Bailey said. "I knew Jean Guillaume is a good sprinter so I knew, regardless of whether or not I caught Rees, I would have to have a good lap just to stay ahead of France."
Coming around the final corner, Bailey was neck-and-neck with Rees but pulled away to edge the German by half a second.
"Luckily, my legs held out and I was able to get ahead by the finish line," Bailey said.
"Lowell threw down a heroic last loop with smart tactics to catch Germany and I'm really proud of him," Dunklee said.
Austria, with Lisa Hauser and Simon Eder, won the single mixed relay with five spare rounds in 31:35.1. Dunklee and Bailey finished 32.8 seconds back while Germany's Rees and Laura Dahlmeier took the bronze medal with six spares.
The U.S. team also turned in a top-10 performance in the mixed relay as the quartet of Clare Egan (Cape Elizabeth, Maine), Joanne Reid (Boulder, Colorado), Paul Schommer (Appleton, Wisconsin) and Sean Doherty (Center Conway, New Hampshire) teamed up to finish eighth. Egan, Schommer and Doherty each needed just two extra rounds to finish the two shooting stages, while Reid and Schommer both enjoyed clean rounds - Reid's coming in prone and Schommer's coming in standing where he had the second-fastest shooting time and second-fastest range time.
The French team of Marie Dorin Habert, Anais Bescond, Simon Desthieux and Quentin Fillon Maillet, with nine spare rounds, won the mixed relay in 1:11:34.5. The German quartet of Nadine Horchler, Maren Hammerschmidt, Benedikt Doll and Arnd Peiffer, with 10 spare rounds, finished second, 11 seconds back. Third place went to the Ukraine team of Iryna Varvynets, Olga Abramova, Sergey Semenov and Dmytro Pidruchnyi, with six spares, 27.1 seconds behind France.
The World Cup season wraps up in Oslo, Norway this weekend as the IBU World Cup event takes place Friday through Sunday.