It was a thrilling final weekend of the IBU World Cup season and we’ve got a lot to cover. Tiril Eckhoff and JT Bø reigned supreme, a few more crystal globes were handed out, and a few unexpected names showed up. This will just be the normal weekend wrap up but there is plenty of season wrap up coming over the next week or so. A lot of what is covered here today is fairly mundane but hopefully there is more fun coming maybe even later today. We won’t be able to cover everything I want to but hopefully it will be a pretty full next week or so. It’s going to take me awhile to come down from the high of this weekend in particular and really the entire season so I may keep pumping stuff for awhile after everybody else stops caring. So with that, let’s get to it!
Best Overall Women’s Performance: Ingrid Landmark Tandrevold. What?!? No Tiril Eckhoff? Like I said above this is focusing solely on this weekend! She had a 3rd and sprint and a 1st in mass start and won the crystal globe for the mass start! Sure her performance in the pursuit was less than stellar but she had a weekend anybody would have been proud of. And did you see how excited she was when she won the mass start on Sunday? She looked like she had conquered the world, and in a way she had. In her post race interview she talked about how at times earlier in the season she felt like she was failing (I’m paraphrasing). Tandrevold showed some flashes early but she found something around the time of Worlds and has never looked back. I’ve loved her performances as the year has come to a close and she has a fan in me! (Let’s be honest have I ever been upset about anyone in biathlon…?) She’ll be featured in something coming later.
Best Overall Men’s Performance: Lukas Hofer. Could you argue this should go to JT Bø? Yeah sure, but he’s going to get plenty of ink over the next few days/weeks and I want to recognize Hofer today. Hofer got the win in the sprint, just his 2nd ever individual W, and backed it up with a solid 3rd in pursuit. He has had a very strong close to the season and is part of the impetus for what you will hopefully see later today. Hofer actually had a nice stretch in the middle of the season and I thought he might be primed for Worlds. It didn’t quite work out that way but the last two weeks have quite possibly been the best 2 week stretch of his career. Undoubtedly, even with the disappointment at Worlds this has been the best half season of his career. He’s a gregarious guy and you love to see him do well. I’m quite happy to have Lukas Hofer competing for podiums and hopefully that carries over to next season!
Best Young Athlete Women: Emilie Kalkenberg. I want to start out by saying there was a very close competition for this “award” this week. Tandrevold was recognized for best overall weekend so she couldn’t take it. Dzinara Alimbekava will have to cry herself to sleep with her u25 crystal globe. Hanna Sola had a terrific week and one of the most complete weeks of anybody. Lena Haecki is just 25 last summer which I keep forgetting and and she doesn’t qualify anymore. Janina Hettich performed really well. The message here is the future is bright! Kalkenberg gets it this week for achieving 2 career high performances this weekend. She finished 5th in the pursuit which is her all time best on the World Cup level. The wild thing is how she did it. The wind was a mess and the shooting range was a bloodbath. Emilie Kalkenberg had just 2 misses! That was best in the field by 2. She followed that up with a 10th in mass start her best finish in that event in her World Cup career. She’s been 3rd on the IBU Cup this season and between her and Tandrevold the Norwegian biathlon machine just reloads.
Best Young Athlete Men: Sturla Holm Lægreid. Just once I’m going to put out there that Sebastian Samuelsson had a very good weekend but this space can only belong to Sturla Holm Lægreid. I’ve made it a point all season to say that he’s “graduated” and doesn’t belong here anymore and that’s still true. But I cannot recognize anybody else this weekend. We have to remember that he just turned 24 years old last month and is completing his first full season on the IBU World Cup. He had an absolutely nails performance in the pursuit to win the race. He was behind by over a minute entering the range for the last time, mowed down the targets, and sprinted off with a 17 second lead. That included passing JT Bø in the process and taking the lead in the virtual yellow jersey competition for at least 1 night. When you take into account all of the pressure of the moment it’s an absolutely amazing performance.
Best Women’s Race: Sprint. It was a very entertaining weekend of races all around (even if the wind made the pursuit particularly bizarre). The sprint race hit all the spots for me this weekend though. Prior to the weekend I had speculated that some of the big names of the women’s race were significantly past prime on the season and I thought we might see a diversity of names on the leaderboard. As it turns out I was wrong and right at the same time. Eckhoff won (more on that in a second), and Wierer, Chevalier-Bouchet, Hauser, and Roeiseland all crowded into the top 6. Behind them though were Lena Haecki, Milena Todorova, Ida Lien, and Paulina Fialkova. And of course as mentioned earlier Ingrid Tandrevold was on the podium too. The race also saw Eckhoff start later so she knew the time she had to beat before she was done. She went 5/5 prone but then 4/5 standing. She had to really kick it into an extra gear the last few km’s. She left the range 5.5 back of Wierer’s time and only made up 1 second by the 6.3km mark. Over the next 1.2km’s she took back all of the remaining time and won by 2.5 seconds. Not surprisingly she had the fastest last lap time. So we had a diverse leaderboard, some of the best in the sport came to play (including Hauser!) and we saw a truly terrific final effort from Eckhoff to grab her 13th win of the season. Great race!
Best Men’s Race: Pursuit + Mass Start. I already mentioned above about Lægreid’s incredible comeback in the pursuit race but it really is worth mentioning again. JT Bø had steadily been stretching out his lead throughout the day and then missed 3 the last trip to the range. But it wasn’t just him, as Lægreid went by Hofer and separated from Lesser, Samuelsson, Ponsiluoma, and Tarjei Bø who had been right with him. When you add in the overall title potentially being on the line (if Bø had won it would have been very difficult for Lægreid to come back), it was a wild swing. The next day the mass start, delayed by wind, had so much pressure. I could feel my palms sweating and I would have been thrilled to see either Lægreid or Bø take home the title. It was a great race within the race between the two. Then in the actual races you had Hofer getting another podium finish in the pursuit, and in the mass start Desthieux got another win to continue his hot end to the season and Latypov nabbed his first podium. I can’t quite grab the emotion and intensity of the races but for anybody who watched it was so tense and enjoyable.
Other Memorable Moments:
1) Wierer’s Statuesque Shooting: Dorothea Wierer is known for being a fast accurate shooter. What happened in the last shoot in the mass start was just wild. She stood there…. And stood there… And waited….She finally started shooting 53 seconds later. Then 13 seconds later the second shot. Then another 52 seconds until the third. The fourth and fifth came more quickly with just 5 and 7 seconds. The camera was paused on her the entire time and women who came in with her were long gone. 2:15 total shooting time for the last shoot. It was the slowest shooting time by almost an entire minute. Tandrevold who won, didn’t exactly speed through it but she still was done in 45 total seconds. Here’s the wildest part…Wierer entered the range in 2nd place!!!! What was she waiting for? I still haven’t seen any answers as to what happened so if you have please send it my way.
2) Scott Gow: I mentioned this yesterday but Scott Gow has had a really nice end to the season. I won’t cover all of this now as there is a whole piece about strong finishes coming soon but I want to throw out there that he finished 10th which is awesome. Way to go Scott Gow!!
3) COVID-19. The IBU World Cup survived bouncing around Europe without any major problems. They made some changes to reduce travel and all in all it seems to have worked out. Way to go to everybody involved for staying safe!
Last thoughts: Look at that Young Talent: Biathlon is healthy. There is so much strong young talent on the tour right now. Just look at the top 10 in the under 25 totals right now. The men have some incredible talent at the top with Lægreid already challenging for the overall season title. Johannes Dale and Sebastian Samuelsson showed they can compete with anybody as well.
The women’s circuit has an overwhelming number of potential young stars. Just look at these names: Alimbekava, Tandrevold, Davidova, Elivira Öberg, Julia Simon, Justine Braisaz-Bouchet, Janina Hettich, Hanna Sola, Ida Lien, Darya Blashko, Julia Schwaiger, and of course this weeks youngster Emilie Kalkenberg. Those women have been showing up in top 10’s and have been competitive all season! Tiril Eckhoff may have dominated this season but there is a crop of very talented women rising up right now! And I am super excited about it.