Slam Dunk-lee!

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With a father and an uncle who were both Winter Olympians in cross-country skiing it’s no wonder that America’s Susan Dunklee could ski by the age of 2! It did however take her another 20 years before she learned how to shoot! Born on the 13th of February 1986 Susan Dunklee became the first female America biathlete to get on the podium since 1994. She matched the efforts of Joan Smith who also made a second place finish.

Originally an All American cross-country skier like her father and uncle before her Susan was a bit of a late comer to the world of biathlon. Whilst in her final year at Dartmouth College she received an email from the then head of biathlon development, James Upham, who invited her to a biathlon training camp. He offered her the chance to learn to shoot in return for a commitment to pursue biathlon instead of cross-country.

This proved to be a great decision on both sides. With an excellent background in skiing, her father Stan Dunklee competed in the 1976 and 1980 Winter Olympics following his brother and Susan’s uncle Everett Dunklee who competed in 1972, and a total immersion course in shooting Susan has gone on to become an excellent biathlete.

Last season was her best yet but she had already shown signs of what was to come. In her debut season on the World Cup she finished a mightily impressive 5th in the World Championships Individual in Ruhpolding which equalled the best ever result by an American woman. She also got a 9th and 10th place finish that season in the Pursuit and Sprint in Khanty-Mansiysk. The following year in 2012/13 she placed once in the TOP 10 in the Olympic warm up in Sochi.

Last season however exceeded expectations with a first ever podium coming in the last round in Oslo which eclipsed her 4th place in Annecy and meant a total of seven TOP 10 finishes for the year. In her first Olympics in Sochi she finished 11th in the Mass Start and was part of a good performance from the Women’s Relay team who came in 7th and the Mixed Relay team who were 8th.

This year Susan has to be in contention to take her first ever victory on the World Cup. No America woman has ever won a World Cup race and so if she gets it she will be making history for US biathlon (no pressure or anything!!!). It will be a difficult thing to achieve however considering the strength of the female competitors but it has to be one of her goals for the season.

Another will be to take a medal in Kontiolahti in the World Championships. She is capable of getting an individual medal but will also make up a pretty strong Mixed Relay team with the likes of Tim Burke, Hannah Dreissigacker and Lowell Bailey and with a great performance and some luck they have a decent chance of a medal. I hope she can make history and win a race because it will be a huge Slam Dunk-lee for the US biathlon programme who are doing a great job!

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Andrejs Rastorgu-YEAH!!!

rastorgujevs

Contrary to popular belief Andrejs Rastorgujevs is just one person! The ‘s’ at the end of both names is just because he comes from Latvia and not because he is plural! I am a huge fan of Rastorgujevs but he managed to drive me mad last season. He was in a winning position so many times and threw a podium away on the final shoot every time. I was willing him in every race to get there but he just missed out.

Apart from that he actually had a fantastic season and made some amazing progress! He finished a career best 4th in the Pursuit in Oberhof (which really led to my desperation to see him on the podium!). He got another seven TOP 10 finishes which really made it an outstanding season for him.

Andrejs Rastorgujevs was born on the 27th of May 1988 in Alūksne, Latvia and is a member of the army as well as being a biathlete. His debut on the World Cup in the 2009/10 season in Oestersund was quite a memorable one – for all the wrong reasons! He finished 47th in the Sprint which you would agree is a pretty impressive first race but only if you finish in the correct lane! He was unfortunately disqualified. However this didn’t stop him heading to Vancouver to compete in his first Olympics where his best finish was 50th in the Sprint. In fact it underlies his massive improvement that his best finish in Sochi was 9th in the Pursuit and his worst result was just 33rd in the Individual.

Andrejs has competed many times in the European Championships where he continued to infuriate me by finishing 5th and 4th in many events over several years!;-). However it all came good in Nove Mesto 2014 and he won gold in the Individual and bronze in the Sprint. This showed that he does have the nerve to handle the pressure in important races and hopefully he can bring that to the World Cup this December.

It’s a really important season coming up for Andrejs. He has got everything he needs to be able to win a race on the World Cup. He has the ski speed to match any of the top men and he is also a consistent shooter. It is just that final shoot he needs to work on and show that he can cope with the pressure of leading a race and being chased down by the other guys. I am pretty confident he can do it and make it on to the podium this season if not all the way up to the top step. Actually he better do it for my sanity and blood pressure watching him and so I can finally shout congratulations Andrejs Rastorgu-YEAH!!!

Check out his website: andrejsrastorgujevs.com

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Kuzmina: A fast Slo Russian?

kuzmina

Confused? You should be! Anastasiya Vladimirovna Kuzmina is a complicated lady. She was born in and competed for Russia. She is Anton Shipulin’s big sister. She is married to an Israeli cross country skier. She now lives in and competes for Slovakia. Have you got all that? Good! I would never say that Kuzmina is lazy but she does like a short race! She is double Olympic gold medallist in the Sprint event. She produced a remarkable defence of her title in Sochi and to do it in what was her home games, even though she doesn’t compete for Russia anymore, must have been an amazing feeling for her.

It was pretty amazing for us too as she hadn’t really shown much form on the World Cup leading up to the games but like the wily competitor that she is, she timed her form beautifully. However she couldn’t repeat her double medal winning performance from Vancouver where she followed up Sprint gold with Pursuit silver. She finished 6th in the Sochi Pursuit but she was up against Darya Domracheva who went on to win the 3 remaining golds.

Anastasiya was born on the 28th of August 1984 in Tyumen, Russia. She originally competed for Russia and had a pretty successful Junior career in the team. She won 7 medals in the Junior World Championships, 2 gold, 4 silver and 1 bronze. After getting married and having a son she changed allegiance to compete for Slovakia in 2008 so that her son could go to training camps with her. As her husband is also her skiing coach it made sense for them to be together as a family and meant she could continue to compete.

It proved a good decision for her as she has made history for her new country. She was the first ever woman representing Slovakia to win an Olympic gold medal. This led to her rightly winning the 2010 Slovak Athlete of the Year and for the last 5 years she has been named Queen of the Slovak Biathlon Track! A rhyming award is always the best one to win!

Kuzmina turns 30 this summer and so is now one of the most experienced athletes on the World Cup after the retirements of the likes of Henkel and Berger. She will be looking to improve on her World Cup results from last season and get back on the podium on a more regular basis. In Kontiolahti she will surely want to add to her 2 World Championship medals. Don’t bet against her winning the Sprint again as she is a fast, Slo Russian!

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An Ex’Sche(m)pp’tional talent!

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As one who has been diagnosed with under training for many years (well actually my whole life!) it can be hard to understand how someone can over train. It is something that does occur and especially with biathletes who spend a ridiculous amount of time training anyway for such a hard sport. Recent retiree Marie-Laure Brunet had problems with this in the past and so did Simon Schempp.

Athletes have to put their bodies under stress to increase their physical capabilities. Where the stress loads are appropriate then the athlete’s performance will improve but if the stress loads are inappropriate then over-training or burnout can occur. In Simon’s case he did burnout in the 2010/11 season and he suffered fatigue and a loss of form which cut short that season for him.

Thankfully that is all in the past now and last season was Simon’s best ever on the World Cup. Born in Mutlangen on the 14th of November 1988 Schempp came up through the biathlon ranks at the same time as the likes of Tarjei Boe and Lukas Hofer. Fitting then that his first ever win was a shared victory with Hofer in Antholz in the Sprint race. He followed it up by a superbly calm and collected performance to win the Pursuit and went into the Winter Olympics in Sochi with a lot of confidence.

His great form coupled with this confidence meant that he came away with a silver medal in the Men’s Relay and a 6th place finish in the Pursuit. In fact all of Simon’s medals so far have come in relay events. He won gold in the Mixed Relay in the 2010 World Championships in Khanty Mansiysk and 2 bronze medals in the Men’s Relay in Ruhpolding 2012 and Nove Mesto 2013.

Like a lot of biathletes Simon started out in another Winter Sport. He was an alpine skier until the age of 13 when he sensibly decided that biathlon was much better and changed disciplines. A good decision that was borne out by last season’s good results. Apart from his two victories he had a pretty consistent season finishing 10th in the Total Score with 6th in the Pursuit standing being his best individual event. He was also an important member of the German Relay team and he is really good in this format as his medal haul shows.

The German biathletes are under a lot of pressure as biathlon is a big and very well supported sport in Germany (well done Germans!). After the recent retirement of the likes of Michael Greis and now Andrea Henkel they have a younger and less experienced team than in the past. However that doesn’t mean they are not super talented. After a few lean years the German fans will be looking to Simon to provide them with a bit more to cheer.

If he maintains last year’s great form and pushes on a bit more without overdoing it he can be a real threat to the main contenders in men’s biathlon. He might not be able to beat Martin Fourcade over the whole season but he can beat him in individual races. If he can do this in Kontiolahti at the World Champs it will bring him the individual medals that are missing from his CV. I am sure he will win many more races on the World Cup and prove to everyone that he is an Ex’Sche(m)pp’tional talent!

 

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C’Mon-a Brorsson!

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The Swedish women’s team have had a pretty hard time of late. They didn’t perform well on the World Cup and they didn’t even take a team to Sochi for the Winter Olympics. Since the retirements of Helena Ekholm and Magdalena Forsberg they have been struggling to bring through new talent of the same calibre. It wasn’t all doom and gloom however as we saw in the European Championships in Nove Mesto.

Mona Brorsson took gold in the Pursuit race to put a smile back on Swedish faces. She did in in some style too coming from a 12th place start to beat Victoria Padial into second place. It was the highlight of a fine season for Mona on the IBU Cup and she also claimed her first ever World Cup point back in her home race in Oestersund taking 40th place in the Individual. She was able to build on her success from the previous winter when she enjoyed a great IBU Cup season, made her debut in the World Cup and also won a bronze medal in the CISM World Military Winter Games in the patrol.

Born on the 28th of March 1990 Mona comes from Koppomsvägen in Värmland, Sweden. She studied at biathlon college in Torsby and then went on university in Oestersund where she still lives and trains. She currently competes for Finnskoga IF after spending 12 years with her local club Beteds SKF. Mona started out as a cross country skier like many biathletes but saw sense and picked up a rifle at age 10 to begin her road to becoming a professional biathlete.

Mona has had a great couple of years as her results show. There will probably be a bit more pressure on her shoulders in the coming season however as Sweden looks to improve the performance of its women’s team. The whole team will be under scrutiny with the retirements of Bjorn Ferry and Carl Johan Bergman and the wish of national coach Johan Hagstrom to deliver at least one medal at each of the World Championships leading up to Pyeongyang 2018. The main target being for the team to win medals there and obviously for the women’s team to prove they are deemed good enough to go next time.

As a member of the development team geared toward winning medals in Pyeongyang Mona still has a lot of work to do but fortunately she also has time on her side. At 24 she still has 4 years until the next games and can gain a lot of valuable experience from the World Cup and World Championships. She has been named in the A team for this year along with Hanna Öberg, Sofia Myhr and Anna Magnusson. As the eldest member of the team a lot will be expected of her.

So what can we hope for from Mona come December and the start of the new season? Well adding to her 1 World Cup point should be her first target. Some good solid TOP 40 finishes would be a great way to build her confidence on a bigger stage. Forming a good relay team with the other Swedish women is of great importance too and also getting into the Mixed Relay team with the likes of Freddie Lindstroem and Tobias Arwidson can only help her improve. Most importantly she needs to continue to enjoy biathlon and help the Swedish ladies get back on track! You can do it! C’Mon-a Brorsson!

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Lean, mean and Green!

green

Most of you will know Brendan Green from his part in the Canadian Team’s amazing performances last season. So you may be surprised to hear that just under 2 years ago he was spending most of his time in bed! Lazy b*****d! That’s what you were thinking, wasn’t it! Well you are wrong! Unfortunately for Brendan he was bed ridden for a different reason.

It all started with a herniated disc in his back initially caused by weightlifting in the gym. Twelve weeks after surgery he was still in pain and had to undergo a second operation which left him with great difficulty walking, dressing or even getting out of bed. His disc was herniated again and there was a real possibility that he may not be able to compete anymore. Luckily for him and us there was a Hollywood style ending to the story and he made a full recovery and went to the Olympics in Sochi.

Unlike the films however it was a long, slow process to get back into competitive shape. It isn’t just hard physically to recover from injury. In fact the mental side is probably more difficult. Going from your peak shape to not being able to walk is a drastic change and requires considerable mental fortitude to deal with especially for an athlete. Fortunately for Brendan he had amazing support from family, teammates and his girlfriend fellow biathlete Rosanna Crawford.

Brendan comes from “The Hub of the North” Hay River in Canada’s Northwest Territories where was born on the 4th of November 1986. He has 2 Junior World titles to his name both won in the relay, a silver in 2005 and a bronze in 2007. Last season was his best ever on the World Cup. He finished in the Top 20 four times and achieved a career best result in Antholz coming 8th in the Sprint. He took this form into the Sochi Olympics too finishing an impressive 9th in the Mass Start.

You might think that that was his best result at the Olympics but regular readers of this blog know that it was his 23rd place in the Sprint that really caught the eye. This meant that he had the honour of representing Biathlete23 in the Men’s Pursuit. It’s a high pressure task though and he finished 35th but kindly sent me a photo of bib23 from Sochi. It also happens to be Rosanna’s favourite number (clearly a woman of good taste!) and so we were both disappointed!!! 😉

Next season should be an interesting one for Canada’s biathletes. With the retirement of JP Le Guellec it now falls on the likes of Brendan to keep up the good results. After his astonishing return from a serious injury he will be aiming to improve his personal results and continue the excellent progress of both the Men’s and the Mixed relay teams. I am sure he would like to get into the TOP 5 on the World Cup and I don’t think a podium finish is out of the question either.

The World Championships are in March and it would be amazing to see a Canadian medalist there whether it’s Brendan or any of the other team members. If he gets bib23 again this year though he better pull a great result out of the bag! Whatever results he achieves next season we are just happy to have him back healthy and able to compete. Let’s hope he can stay lean, mean and Green for a long time to come!

Follow Brendan on Twitter: @brendanjgreen

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