Fast and steady for Susan Dunklee
There's nothing like the European crowds at a biathlon competition, Susan Dunklee says. And she would know: The 27-year-old American was fifth at the 2012 world championships and will be wearing red, white and blue at the Sochi Olympics.
"Biathlon is such a fun spectator sport," said Dunklee, a Vermont native. "When you combine cross-country skiing and shooting, it becomes really unpredictable. When an athlete skis at full speed into the stadium, the whole crowd -- and there can be upwards of 40,000 spectators -- goes quiet. If she misses a shot, they groan in sync, and if she makes it, they all cheer. There's so much energy around the sport; I can't wait for it to catch on in the U.S."
That energy will be amplified in Sochi, where the biathlon venue features a challenging, hilly course. Hills are one of Dunklee's strengths -- as is her training routine. Take a peek inside:
I started skiing when I was 2 years old. Both my parents were skiers -- my dad [Stan Dunklee] competed in the 1976 and 1980 Olympics -- and I competed in both high school and in college. After I graduated, I was recruited to a development biathlon team. The first time I shot any kind of rifle was when I was 22.
Because the snow is only around a few months of the year, we spend a ton of our training doing dry land. We roller ski, hike, run and mountain bike, which is my favorite. When I'm on a bike, I just get in the zone and react to all the rocks and roots and turns. It's such a rush. On skis, we'll do regular cardio workouts plus ski-specific strength workouts once or twice a week: We just use our arms or legs for an hour.
The right shot
There are different types of shooting practice. Some of it is what we call with intensity, which means you come in at race pace and fire; other times we do a slow fire, which means you're skiing into the shooting range, but you're not going all out; and sometimes we just train pure shooting. Becoming a consistently good shooter is mostly just time and experience, and getting muscle memory down. I made a decent jump in progress in shooting this summer, and I'm 27 -- five years after I started biathlon.
Biathlon is a frenzied sport: You have to go as fast as possible, then turn off the go-go-go mentality and become calm and Zen when you come into the shooting range. You lie down on the mat, try to relax your muscle groups -- your heart is beating three times a second -- and turn off your thoughts. If you start thinking, "I have to hit this shot," it becomes that much harder to do. I try to counter negative thoughts with productive thoughts; instead of worrying about the target, I focus on something like the pressure of my finger against the trigger.
Syrup on top
I definitely eat more calories than your average person. I focus on lots of carbs, good sources of protein and tons of fruits and vegetables. When we're in training camp, my teammates and I like to bake: We'll make bread and granola and pies. Oatmeal maple bread is my favorite thing to make; I'm from Vermont, so I use maple syrup as much as possible.
Have guitar, will travel
Even though we have limited space when we're traveling, I bring maple syrup and Cabot cheese -- both Vermont products -- to Europe for the World Cup season. I also pack a travel-size guitar. It's important to have something to do on the road that doesn't involve skiing, shooting or thinking about the two disciplines.
I look at the Olympics as part of the whole season. I want to make a bigger splash on the World Cup circuit this year. If I get in some good World Cup races early on, that will set me up well for Sochi.