Closing Strong

The idea for this started during a twitter convo with @biathlonanalyt1 where we were noticing an alarming number of athletes collapsing from what appeared to be total exhaustion following the women’s sprint race in Nové Mêsto week 2. We discussed keeping form after throughout the season especially towards the close after championships (Worlds or Olympics). We considered all of the variables you might have to examine and if there was any way to really look at the data. Well as you might believe there are about 231 variables and its going to take a very long time to finally try to dive into all of that.

This got me interested in a slightly different topic…what athletes were best able to keep their form and peak late this season? In general athletes that peak earlier in the season tend to get the lion’s share of the attention during the season. Since they are good early they tend to spend more time in the news and in the general ‘consciousness’ of the sport. The races at the end of the season count just as much though! I wanted to take a look at a handful of biathletes were able to peak late and in some cases completely change the stories of their seasons. (These are in no particular order so please don’t think I mean that Desthieux had the “best” finish to the season while Herrmann had the “worst.”)

Just a note on methodology and reading the charts. First of all how did I choose the athletes that I included on this list? Simple, I relied on a completely subjective feeling of who to me ‘felt’ like they had a very good last 1/3 of the season. Then I went back and collected the data to confirm or deny that feeling. This not meant to be a thorough list and in fact I included a couple on here where I felt they had stronger finishes than the data actually suggests. Also, the ‘y-axis’ is the athlete’s finish place. If an athlete did not qualify for a race (ex: finish >60 and missed that weekend’s pursuit) then they were assigned a place of 115. If they chose to not compete then that race was just eliminated from the list.

Simon Desthieux

Simon Desthieux’s terrific performance in the sprint/pursuit races at the World Championships in Pokljuka was one of the early sparks of inspiration for this project. Here was a guy that wasn’t really on my radar who performed well at the peak of the season. Was this just good training with an aim for a narrow peak for the World Championships or was it going to be the start of a late season bloom? Well after Pokljuka he won the sprint in Nové Mêsto and I knew this was something I wanted to try to keep track of over the next few weeks.

Desthieux ended up the season with several more top 5’s including another trip to the top of the podium winning the mass start in Östersund. When you plot out his finish places throughout the season (seen below) there is definitely a trendline pointing up. To be honest its a little weak though. However a peak and finishing a season strong can be more than just the trendline. Desthieux had six top 5 finishes this season and they all were in Pokljuka or later this season. This included the first two wins of his career! In fact 40% of his career podiums and both of his career wins happened in the last 1/3 of this season. That’s the very definition of a late season peak! (Also I was very glad that my test case bore out what the eye test told me!)

Ingrid Landmark Tandrevold

The next biathlete I thought of who I felt had demonstrated a late season peak was Ingrid Tandrevold. Now she obviously stuck on my mind recently because she won the women’s mass start in Östersund. But it really “felt” like she had experienced a similar surge to Simon Desthieux once again starting in Pokljuka.

Looking at her results it isn’t as obvious that there was a trend gradually upward throughout the season. Tandredold did have some very early successes including two top 5 finishes in Hochfilzen prior to the holiday break. After the restart in January though things were a little rough. Tandrevold herself mentioned this in her postrace comments after her victory on Sunday commenting on her struggles saying that in January she “felt it was (her) worst season ever” and that she was “in trouble.” It’s pretty clear that first weekend in Oberhoff was not good and she didn’t show many signs of coming out of it in Antholtz.

She kept improving though leading to two late season peaks including bronze and silver the individual and mass starts in the World Championships as well as a third place in the Östersund sprint and the aforementioned Östersund mass start win. To be fair there was a little bit of a drop off in between there. However 4 of her 5 podiums on the season, and 40% of her career podiums, and her first career W were in the last 1/3 of the season. Oh and not to mention a nice little crystal globe for the mass start discipline!

If we’re looking to decide, does this count as finishing strong who better to confirm than Ingrid Tandrevold herself. In her postrace interview on Sunday after talking about her struggles earlier in the year Tandrevold said “this has become my dream season.” Yep, I would say that fits the bill!

Lukas Hofer

Hofer was an interesting case for this project. I had been very high on Hofer coming out after the holiday break. As you can see below this wasn’t without good reason. He was in the mix every race in Oberhoff and it felt like he was due for a breakthrough. Then everything sort of evaporated for him. Antholtz and the World Championships in Pokljuka just didn’t go as planned.

The cool this is he had more surge in him right at the very end of the season. to reach an even higher peak than he had in Oberhoff. The second weekend in Nové Mêsto saw him grab two top 5’s including a podium. Then this past weekend in Östersund he was able to ascend to the top of the podium in the sprint and back that up with another 3rd in pursuit. This was surprisingly just Hofer’s 2nd career win. I was sure it had to be higher. These were also the 8th, 9th, and 10th podiums of his career as well! When we talk about changing the feeling or conversation about your season that’s really what this is all about. It might have been a fairly brief window at right at the very end but it turned a decent year into a great one!

Franziska Preuß

Franziska Preuß was one who I surely thought would have strong data confirming that the last 1/3 of her season was head and shoulders above the rest. Well the data does confirm that. For Preuss it wasn’t so much about her peak performances in the later stages of the season being better but about attaining significantly more consistency. There is almost a sea change for her starting around the 6th/7th week of competition.

Starting the second weekend in Oberhoff with just 2 exceptions she was between 3rd to 8th every single time she crossed the finish line. That’s just rock steady consistency, not to mention adding 3 more podiums to her career achievements, is part of the reason she was able to work her way up to 3rd in the overall crystal globe standings by the end of the season.

Looking back at Preuß’ career the stretch from the second weekend in Oberhoff through the end of the year was the longest stretch of consistency she has ever had. That’s not to say she hasn’t had higher highs, as she does have 1 previous win and had 8 prior podium finishes. But this time around she was able to do it week in and week out.

Sebastian Samuelsson

Now this was a case where my subjective feeling on the matter ended up just not being correct. Samuelsson was one who had a great start to the season but it felt as if he trailed off a bit after the first weekend in Hochfilzen and wasn’t able to recapture that initial glory.

To a certain extent that did end up being true. For a solid chunk of the season from the second weekend in Hochfilzen up until the World Championships he was never higher than 5th and even then he felt like he wasn’t a part of the race. He settled into a bit of stability with just slightly lower performances. Starting in Pokljuka he regained his ability to find the podium but he also had a few more lows as well including 25th individual at Worlds, 20th in Nové Mêsto week 2 pursuit, and 24th in Östersund mass start. He was able to get 3 more podiums and another top 5 as well though. And it ‘felt’ like he was more of an active participant in the narrative of the races. So do we count that as a finishing strong or a late season peak? I’m not entirely sure! But it was nice to see a case that didn’t match exactly how I felt.

Scott Gow

Scott Gow absolutely makes this list. In fact Scott Gow might be the perfect case example if I were ever going to try to make this point again. I’m not going to spend a lot of time and energy on explaining it because I think the graph below says it perfectly. Every single finish from the end of Worlds through the close of the season was better than any prior win. It was the best stretch of Scott Gow’s individual racing career on the World Cup circuit and included his highest placed finish ever in the Östersund mass start. Now THAT’s closing a season strong and should give plenty of optimism for next season.

Lena Haecki

Apparently this is the best we can do for 4th place and best finish of the season…

Just like Scott Gow, Lena Haecki is another perfect example of closing a season strong. Completely subjectively it felt like we didn’t see or hear Haecki’s name the entire first half of the season. Starting on Pokljuka she wasn’t exactly at the tippy top of the leaderboard but she kept showing up at least temporarily on top 10’s. She got herself into the mix a few times which was a significant changes from any other point in the season. Osertsund was a terrific finish for her with her another top 10 and her first top 5 of the season with a 4th in mass start. That was her first top 5 since Annecy in December of 2019!

Ida Lien

Ida Lien became one of my faves as this season went on for no reason other than she was one of those athletes you could just feel improving as the season went along. This was her first full year on the World Cup circuit and you can tell. The first 2/3 of the season are full of those “115’s” where she didn’t qualify for the pursuit or mass start.

Once she got to Pokljuka though you could see the change happen. It wasn’t like she suddenly got tremendously better in any one area but over the course of the season she was gradually improving both skiing and shooting. As a result starting at the World Championships she began to with consistency be in the top 20 (6/9 races), and had her first top 10 and best finish ever to close the season in the Östersund sprint finishing 9th. For the 23 year old that was a little flash of potential and I would imagine she’s eager for next season to start!

QFM

The seemingly always gregarious Quinton Fillon-Maillet is a bit different than everybody else on his list. While he received a fair amount of criticism early, unfairly in my opinion, for not filling Martin Fourcade’s ENORMOUS shoes he really only had 1 bad weekend which was the first weekend back from the holiday break. You can see just the slightest improvement from before the break being in the lower half of the top 10. Then starting in Antholtz he’s consistently top 5. He really makes the list for one major reason which was his back to back wins in Nové Mêsto week 2 in sprint and pursuit. His first double weekend and he increased his career wins by 50% in 2 days. Those two wins in my mind, and I’m sure in his as well, totally changed the entire feeling of his season.

Denise Herrmann

Here is another instances where my subjective feeling was just not correct. I certainly ‘felt’ like Denise Herrmann was having a great close to the season. And to be fair in the last 1/3 of the season she did have 2 2nd place finishes in a row in Nové Mêsto to go along with 4 other top 10’s. That’s definitely better the middle 1/3 which saw only 1 top 5. It is just a hair better than her first 1/3 where she had 2 top 5’s including 1 second place.

So does this match whatever ‘metrics’ we want to say we are using here with trying to say somebody closed strong? Maybe but its far from an open and shut case especially when compared to most everybody else on this list.

Hanna Sola

This look tells you all you need to know about how difficult the Östersund pursuit race was. This was her best finish ever!!

Hanna Sola was one I didn’t even consider until fairly late in this project. This actually proved the whole point. She was so far off my radar screen early in the season that she didn’t even make waves when I started to see her a little more often at the end.

It turns out though she was perfect for this. She has a bit of a fall off during the World Championships but otherwise she hit her career peak here at the end of the season. That 70th place in the individual in Pokljuka really obscures what was otherwise a great close to the season. She had her first two podium finishes with the 3rd place sprint in Pokljuka and then 3rd again in pursuit in Östersund. She had two other top 10’s and two further top 15’s.

I’m absolutely positive there are others out there but there is where I have to cut it off for now. I really enjoyed finding all of these fun stories to help close out the season!

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