Biathlon is the only winter sport in which an American has yet to capture an Olympic medal. Aiming to change that next month are the eight biathletes who were officially named Sunday to Team USA's 2022 Olympic roster, with five returnees and three aligning sights on first-time Games action.
Susan Dunklee, set to compete at her third Olympics, is the team's de facto captain. She produced two of the United States' three world-championship podium finishes in the last five years; since-retired Lowell Bailey's 2017 title is the third. Clare Egan of Maine is the only other U.S. biathlete to earn an individual World Cup podium or equivalent result over that same time period. She and Dunklee have announced they'll join Bailey in retirement at the end of this season.
Dunklee and Bailey own the best U.S. Olympic results with respective 11th- and eighth-place finishes in mass start and individual at the 2014 Sochi Games.
Susan Dunklee of the U.S. celebrates her second-place finish at the victory ceremony for the women's 7.5km sprint competition at the IBU World Championships on Feb. 14, 2020, in Antholz-Anterselva, Italy.
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The 2022 Winter Olympics will be Susan Dunklee's third and final Games after announcing she'll retire at the end of the season. She and teammate Clare Egan qualified last March and were the first U.S. athletes in any sport to lock up roster spots. The Vermonter turns 36 on the day of the women's 10km pursuit, which – provided there are no sprint mishaps like in 2018 – will be her 14th career Olympic race.
A two-time world medalist, Dunklee is the only U.S. Olympic biathlete in 2022 with global championship hardware, as well as the only to ever have multiple. Her 2017 mass start silver in Hochfilzen, Austria, was the first non-relay world medal captured by an American woman. Three years later, at the 2020 World Championships in Rasen-Antholz, Italy, she claimed another silver, this time in the sprint, nearly collapsing due to exhaustion near the finish.
She's recorded eight career World Cup podiums finishes – six individually and two in the single mixed relay, a non-Olympic event. A devastating 66th-place finish in the 2018 PyeongChang Games sprint caused her to miss the subsequent pursuit race, for which only the top 60 sprinters qualify. Dunklee later revealed she'd been suffering from the flu. Earlier in Sochi, she became the first U.S. woman to compete in an Olympic mass start event, placing 11th.
Dunklee has cross-country skiing in her blood. Her parents, Stan and Judi, met on the University of Vermont's team. Stan competed at the 1976 Innsbruck and 1980 Lake Placid Games, and his brother Everett at the 1972 Sapporo Games. Dunklee started racing at age 5; won a national title at Dartmouth while studying ecology and also competing in XC running and track; and joined U.S. Biathlon's development team in 2008.
As for her next chapter, Dunklee has already been named running director of Craftsbury Green Racing Project, a group comprising post-collegiate endurance athletes who promote sustainability and sports in local communities. She's been a member of its biathlon team for about a decade. She's also an athlete ambassador to the International Biathlon Union (IBU), working to improve gender equity.
USA's Clare Egan celebrates after placing third in the women's mass start event at an IBU Biathlon World Cup in Oslo, Norway, on March 24, 2019.
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Like her teammate of seven years Susan Dunklee, these Games will be Clare Egan's last. The biathlete duo, by virtue of a pair of top-10s last season, became the first U.S. athletes in any sport to clinch 2022 Olympic team spots, and together they'll ride off into the sunset at the end of this season. Egan, 34, has defied typical athlete performance trajectory by improving significantly in her 30s, reaching new World Cup standing levels after the 2018 Games.
The Mainer almost hung up her rifle not long after PyeongChang, but then had the best season of her career, capping off the 2018-19 World Cup circuit with a third-place, 19-for-20 mass start result at Oslo Holmenkollen. The showing remains one of just three individual world-stage podiums by Americans this Olympic cycle. Dunklee has the two others: a third-place Oslo finish of her own in the 2017-18 edition's pursuit, and 2020 world sprint silver.
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In PyeongChang, Egan missed advancing to the pursuit by less than two seconds, placing one spot out of the 60-entrant qualifying field. She took 62nd in the individual with four misses, then bounced back with a great relay, shooting clean before handing off at the race's midpoint with less than a 17-second gap to make up. The U.S. took 13th.
Her competitive skiing journey began in middle school with Cape Nordic and advanced in high school when she won states and twice made the New England junior national team. In undergrad at Wellesley College in Massachusetts, she studied international communication, ran cross-country and track, becoming the Blue's first All-American in the latter, and started the school's ski team. She continued all three sports at the Division I level in a grad year at the University of New Hampshire, all while pursuing a master's in linguistics.
Egan has made quite the name for herself off the snow. Not only is she fluent in English, French, Italian, Spanish and German, and conversant in Russian and Korean – often putting her skills to the test at competitions – but she's also the most powerful athlete in her sport as chair of the International Biathlon Union (IBU) Athletes' Committee, as well as the only woman and representative with voting rights on its nine-member executive board.
American biathlon podiums over the last five years:
20-21: Dunklee/Doherty - SR - 3rd - CZE - Mar 2021
19-20: Dunklee - SP - 2nd - ITA (Worlds) - Feb 2020
18-19: Egan - MS - 3rd - NOR - Mar 2019
17-18: Dunklee - PU - 3rd - NOR - Mar 2018
16-17: Dunklee/Bailey - SR - 2nd - FIN - Mar 2017
16-17: Bailey - SP - 2nd - KOR - Mar 2017
16-17: Dunklee - MS - 2nd - AUT (Worlds) - Feb 2017
16-17: Bailey - IN - 1st - AUT (Worlds) - Feb 2017
Jake Brown of the U.S. competes during the men's 10km sprint competition at the IBU World Championships Biathlon on Feb. 12, 2021, in Pokljuka, Slovenia.
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Birthplace: Edina, Minn.
Hometown: St. Paul, Minn.
Residence: Craftsbury, Vt.
Prior Games: —
Jake Brown is one of two U.S. male Olympic biathlete rookies set to compete at their first Games; the other is agemate Paul Schommer. At the most recent world championships in 2021, Brown had a strong performance finishing a career-best 12th in the sprint with clean shooting and top ski speed, then 25th in the pursuit, 22nd in the individual and 29th in the mass start. He opened up this World Cup season with respective 23rd- and 25th-place individual and sprint finishes in Oestersund, Sweden, the former result ultimately providing him his berth.
The Minnesotan grew up with avid cross-country skiing parents, participating in several sports before focusing on both ski and run forms of XC. In college, he initially walked on to Princeton's cross-country running team, but after taking a year off transferred back home to St. Olaf College and helped the Oles win an D-III national team title. After committing to and earning All-American honors during a grad year of XC skiing at Northern Michigan, he attended a U.S. Biathlon talent ID camp, moved to Lake Placid and made the World Cup team in his third season.
Brown's younger brother Nate is also a U.S. biathlete, competing at the lower-rung IBU Cup level. Along with teammate Susan Dunklee, Brown's a member of the Craftsbury Green Racing Project.
Paul Schommer of the U.S. in action during the men's individual at the IBU World Cup Biathlon on Nov. 27, 2021, in Oestersund, Sweden
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Paul Schommer is making his Olympic debut in 2022 with teammate Jake Brown. He was the first U.S. male biathlete to clinch a position on the team by virtue of his 22nd-place individual finish at this season's opener in Oestersund, Sweden, one spot ahead of Brown's 23rd-place result in the same race. His goal is to land a top-20 finish at these Games.
The Wisconsinite has endured a whirlwind of a life obstacles up until this point. Schommer lost his father Ray to a car crash at age 14, dealt with and overcame an eating disorder marked by restrictive eating and excessive exercise and eventually enrolled as a chemistry major at The College of St. Scholastica. It was there in Duluth he met coach Chad Salmela, now a biathlon analyst at NBC Olympics, who encouraged the bright talent to give Nordic skiing a go. Schommer became an All-American. Fast-forward to 2020 and the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Schommer moved to Fargo, North Dakota, with his wife for her medical residency, and without access to U.S. facilities or his Europe-based coach trained solo that season.
Schommer has shown great improvement this season, attributing to coach Vegard Bitnes's effort in bringing the training group closer and the U.S. team psychologist in refining his mental approach. A long-running family joke maintains he'd never make the trophy display case at Kimberly High — an Olympic appearance just might do the trick.
Sean Doherty of the U.S. competes during the single mixed relay at the IBU World Championships Biathlon on March 14, 2021, in Nove Mesto na Morave, Czech Republic.
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In 2014, then 18-year-old Sean Doherty became the U.S. Olympic team's youngest-ever biathlete selection. Eight years later, headed to a third Games at 26, he's still the roster's youngest member.
Doherty owns one of the few senior world-stage podiums claimed by the U.S. this Olympic cycle: a March 2021 third-place World Cup finish in the single mixed relay with Susan Dunklee. Individually, his career's best non-relay results thus far are 2019 10th- and 11th-place pursuit finishes at Utah's Soldier Hollow and Oslo's Holmenkollen.
At the 2018 PyeongChang Games, he placed 65th in the sprint, 44th in the individual and – together with Lowell Bailey, Tim Burke, Leif Nordgren – sixth in the men's relay, tying the 1972 Sapporo squad of Peter Karns, Terry Morse, Dennis Donahue and Jay Bowerman for best-ever U.S. Olympic biathlon result across all events. He and the U.S. took 16th in the Sochi relay, his only race at those Games.
The Granite Stater began skiing at age 4 in the Mount Washington Valley, and after a family friend took him out shooting and racing a couple times started biathlon at age 12. He's currently a member of the Vermont Army National Guard alongside teammates Nordgren and Deedra Irwin, serving as a 12W carpentry and masonry specialist. Doherty's longtime girlfriend and fellow New Hampshire-born skier Tara Geraghty-Moats was among the best women's Nordic combined athletes in the world before recently switching to biathlon herself.
Joanne Reid of the U.S. competes in the women's 15km individual biathlon during the 2018 PyeongChang Olympic Winter Games at Alpensia Biathlon Centre in South Korea on Feb. 15, 2018.
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Joanne Reid shines at big events, a tendency she'll look to employ next month at her second Olympics. She produced the best two results of her career thus far at the 2019 World Championships in Oestersund, Sweden, placing 15th in the sprint and 10th in the mass start. Before that, her best was 22nd in the individual at the 2018 PyeongChang Games.
It's no surprise the Colorado native has talent given her pedigree. Reid's mother is Beth Heiden Reid, who in 1980 won both a speed skating bronze in the 3000m at the Lake Placid Olympics and a cycling world title in the road race. And Reid's uncle – Beth's brother – is Eric Heiden, winner of all five Lake Placid men's speed skating golds, 500m to 10,000m.
Reid's upbringing was rather unconventional, as one might expect; she remembers doing a bike tour across California with her parents as a young teenager, running her first half marathon a couple days later and, at age 17, getting beat twice by her then 50-year-old mom at the 2010 U.S. Cross-Country Skiing Championships. Reid stayed local for college, earning both applied mathematics undergrad and engineering graduate degrees at the University of Colorado Boulder, where she also won the 2013 NCAA XC skiing title in individual freestyle.
Two years after making the switch to biathlon in 2015, Reid underwent heart procedures to address tachycardia – a decision she says saved her career.
Deedra Irwin of the U.S. competes during the women 4x6km relay competition at the BMW IBU World Cup Biathlon on March 4, 2021, in Nove Mesto na Morave, Czech Republic.
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A relative newcomer to the sport, Deedra Irwin is the only woman on the 2022 U.S. Olympic biathlon team making her Games debut. Just seven years ago she was competing at cross-country skiing's Under-23 World Championships. Two years later, she picked up a biathlon rifle for the first time, attended a U.S. biathlon talent ID camp and about half-year in was already competing at the Open European Championships. She's now made the Olympics.
Last season, Irwin anchored her three 2022 U.S. Olympic women's biathlon teammates – Susan Dunklee, Joanne Reid and Clare Egan – to a sixth-place World Cup finish in Nove Mesto, Czech Republic, the best result for an American women's relay since 1994. She and Reid met at the aforementioned 2015 U23 cross-country worlds and became best friends. It was Reid who later convinced Irwin to attend the talent ID camp, kickstarting her biathlon career.
The Wisconsin native is a huge Packers fan and plans to wake up early to catch the Super Bowl if Green Bay is indeed still playing then. She's also a Vermont Army National Guard member alongside teammates Sean Doherty and Leif Nordgren, serving as a human resources specialist, also known as 42 Alpha.
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Leif Nordgren of the U.S. competes during the men's 20km individual competition at the IBU World Championships on Feb. 19, 2020, in Antholz-Anterselva, Italy.
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Leif Nordgren will compete in his third Olympics at the 2022 Games before maneuvering a chandelle of sorts to become a pilot for the Vermont Army National Guard, on which he currently serves as an aviation operations specialist alongside teammates Sean Doherty and Deedra Irwin. At 32 years old, he meets the reserve force's exact cutoff age to begin flight school, and plans to enter upon calling it a career at the end of the 2021-22 season.
Nordgren anchored Lowell Bailey, Doherty and Tim Burke to a sixth-place finish in the men's relay at the 2018 PyeongChang Games, tying the 1972 Sapporo squad of Peter Karns, Terry Morse, Dennis Donahue and Jay Bowerman for best-ever U.S. Olympic biathlon result across all events. His best performance in any competition came at the 2020 World Championships where he finished eighth in the individual, the only starter of 104 to shoot clean.
He and wife Caitlin Napoleoni, a meteorologist at NBC affiliate WPTZ-TV, are expecting a child on Feb. 5, the same day as the opening mixed relay.
NBC Olympics Research contributed to this report