It was yet ANOTHER good week of biathlon racing this weekend. Full disclosure I did miss Sunday’s racing for a whole host of reasons. I did catch up later though and even knowing the results its still fun to take in a race. For that reason though, and because I’m not sure how me watching it later contributed to my feelings, I’m going to somewhat ignore them for the purposes of this recap with one fairly big exception. We are coming to the close of another IBU World Cup season and I’m already feeling the sadness set in. I’ll fight it off for a bit though as we celebrate another weekend in Nové Město.
Best Overall Performance Men: Quinton Fillon Maillet. Easy choice here. The man won both the sprint and the pursuit this week for his first double up of his career. He’s an easy guy to cheer for as he seems to get so much joy out of performing well. He shot really well this weekend going clean in the sprint (along with a large number of others) and then with only 2 misses in the pursuit. Importantly his 2 misses in pursuit were in the first 2 trips to the range and he had plenty of time to come back and he kept his speed as well. Since Antholtz he’s finished no worse than 7th. Really good stretch for QFM!
Best Overall Performance Women: Tiril Eckhoff Forever. I’m not going to waste much time here. She’s the best and will win the overall crystal globe even if she skis backwards this week in Sweden. Martin Fourcade says she’s possibly one of the all time greats and after his pull on Peiffer’s near win the individual in Pokljuka I won’t disagree with him for a long long time. All hail the Queen of Biathlon, long may she reign. (Except I still want some competition next year!)
Best Young Athlete Men: Johannes Dale (by default). This was a weekend for the established fellows. Once again I’m permanently removing Sturla Holm Lægreid from this category. Once you are firmly in the overall crystal globe race this late into a season, no matter how young you are, you’re officially graduated. Dale went 8th in sprint and 9th in pursuit which considering his success this year didn’t knock anybody’s socks off but were the best of the bunch. Yeah, sure, I’ve got different expectations for different guys. The current top 10 in the <25yo category are: Lægreid, Dale, Samuelsson, Leitner, Smolski, Seppällä, Khalili, Bionaz, Strømsheim (with a late surge onto the list), and Dudchenko.
Best Young Athlete Women: Dzinara Alimbekava. It was a bit of a different story on the women’s circuit as the Blue Jersey extended her lead. Alimbekava had a really solid weekend finishing 6th in the sprint and then grabbed 2nd in the pursuit for her third podium of the season (and her career). She not only extended her slim u25 lead but was able to jump 2 spots in the overall to 7th. Her podium finish came on the back of a perfect 20/20 on the range. She appears to have taken her time with only the 40th best range time on the day but it worked out terrifically in her favor. With only 3 races left and 21 points on Davidova she’s got a good shot at holding onto the u25 title for the season.
Best Men’s Race: Pursuit. No offense at all to sprint races but I prefer a pursuit race. I love when there is a pressure moment near the end and you have to stand next to your opponent and knock down the shots to win. There is also the race inside the race of how hard do you push to make up time on the course vs. saving energy and hopefully improving shooting accuracy. In a great pursuit you can see some wild rises and falls during in places and that didn’t occur too much this time however there was a moment when it looked like the French men had a shot at filling the podium. Ultimately they didn’t, and Jacquelin almost looked like he was going to give away his podium spot entirely, but it was a fun race. More on the last lap of this race below.
Best Women’s Race: Sprint. Mostly because it looked like EVERYBODY was completely gassed by the end of the race. Even Tiril Eckhoff was quite winded, but she can be forgiven as she had to really work to keep her sprint win streak going after a miss standing. Women were falling out left and right at the line, made even more interesting as it appears the course was shorter than the supposed 7.5km. For more on that check out realbiathlon.com or biathlonanalytics.com. Of course the race ended the same as sprints always do with Eckhoff reigning supreme but as I mentioned before she did miss standing and for the shortest of moments it looked like she might not win. It was kind of her to give us a little excitement.
Top “Other” Moments:
1) Overall Men’s Crystal Globe – I know I’ve talked about this ad nauseum lately but this race is insanely close. Lægreid briefly held the lead after the sprint race but JT Boe took it right back in the pursuit. And how he took it back was impressive too. He exited the range after the 4th shoot on time with Lægreid and 18 seconds behind Jacquelin. At this point the virtual race had Lægreid either adding 5 points to his lead or Boe retaking the lead by 1 point depending on who finished 3rd vs 4th. Boe not only passed Lægreid but stormed by Jacquelin to net 11 points on Lægreid and retake the lead. Love to see the champ not going down without a fight! This weekend should be so much fun!
2) Susan Dunklee and Team USA – Dunklee had an absolute throwback performance this weekend finishing 8th in sprint and pursuit and then following that up with a podium finish in the single mixed relay with Sean Doherty. I’m sure it hasn’t been her favorite season on the circuit and she’s never been able to quite recapture the magic of her silver medal at the 2020 Worlds or her peak form of 4-5 years ago but this weekend was a bit of a silver lining. Also awesome for her to be able to clinch her spot on 2022 Biathlon Team USA for the Beijing Olympics. Congratulations again Susan Dunklee!
3) Moravec Retirement – Want to take a moment and wish Ondrej Moravec a happy and fulfilling retirement. I’m glad he could have his last race at home and I hope he enjoys whatever comes next.
Most Disappointing Men: None. Seriously nobody dramatically under performed to the point of being disappointed in them. It was a good weekend, lets enjoy it!
Most Disappointing Women: Hanna Öberg. 24th and 27th and easily outperformed by her younger sister. To be fair its the end of a long and tough season so I’m not going to get on anybody about it. Another weekend like this though and she might lose her 3rd overall place to Franziska Preuss. Something tells me she’ll do what she can to close out the season strong on home snow.