Of the four Olympic events that an American has not medaled in, the only winter sport is biathlon. Every four years, Team USA brings a fresh crop of athletes to the games, and still watches Germany (43 total medals) and Norway (29) on the podium. The sport, which mixes cross-country skiing with sharpshooting, has been contested at the Winter Games since 1960 but has never been a strong suit for the country that otherwise dominates medal counts. It started as a competition between Norwegian soldiers, who needed to be able to maneuver on skis while still maintaining consistent aim. After becoming popular in Norway and Russia (then the Soviet Union), the sport debuted at the Olympics in 1924, but did not reappear as a competitive category for 36 years. While the US has fielded a team every year, no American has finished an event on the podium.
Susan Dunklee is one athlete trying to change that. The Vermont native finished 4th in a recent sprint event at the World Cup in Italy, only the third time an American woman has finished that high at a World Cup biathlon race. She was just a half-second off of making the podium, behind Darya Domracheva of Belarus. She had previously placed fifth overall in the 2012 World Cup, the highest-ever finish by an American woman. She follows in the footsteps (or ski trails) of her father, Stan Dunklee, who was an Olympic cross-country skier in both 1976 and 1980. She represents Team USA’s best chance of getting on the medal stand this year, especially in the shorter sprinting categories.
Another hopeful who has a shot at a medal is Lowell Bailey, who recently finished 12th in the 12.5km race at the World Cup. Bailey finished with the 5th best overall time, but his accuracy took him down seven spots, an area he needs to improve on for Sochi. Bailey hails from Lake Placid, NY, site of the famous 1980 Olympics and the so-called “Miracle on Ice,” when US beat the Soviet hockey team in the semifinals in a stunner. This is Bailey’s third Olympic appearance, and he has been ranked as high as 14th in the world. He will need to pull off an upset to get on the podium, but perhaps his hometown and its Olympic history can serve as an inspiration.
It’s likely that this year will end with yet another goose egg on the board for the US biathlon team. But with Dunklee, Bailey, and several other athletes making the trip to Sochi, there’s hope yet for history to be made.
All facts and statistics come from the Team USA Biathlon official website