We are back!! Our long summer away from winter sports and biathlon has finally ended. On a personal level it was incredibly rewarding watching our little guy grow up. He spent several races last year asleep on my chest which is understandable considering he was born midseason. This year he’s been playing (and watching) the first handful of races. Since the last of the 2020-2021 season he has grown like a weed, cut his first 5 teeth, he stands on his own, and most worrisome he’s mobile and crawling all over the place. On that note if I ever suddenly cut out in the middle of a race its as likely as anything that I’m chasing him around the house or trying to figure out how to fix whatever he’s taken down.
Okay onto the reason we are all here, the first racing weekend of the 2021-2022 IBU World Cup season! It was an absolutely frigid weekend in Ostersund and you can tell some of the teams are still “warming” into the season. Sorry the Dad jokes come with the territory. Some of what we saw felt like it could have been copied and pasted from last season but plenty of new things to cover to. So let’s hit the rundown…
Best Overall Women’s Performance: Dzinara Alimbekava. Sure she didn’t win a race this weekend. She didn’t even make a podium. But with 4th place in both the individual and sprint races she was by far the most consistent biathlete on the women’s side. She was all around solid both days. She had just two misses in the individual race and none in the sprint. She had 7th best ski time on both days. If she keeps that up the podiums are going to be coming in bunches this season sprinkled with a few W’s as well. We could see this coming after her performances last season. She was 7th overall and the women’s Blue Jersey winner for last season. She started the year strong last year and then closed with three 2nd place finishes to go along with a 4th and a 6th in the last three weekends. Wouldn’t surprise me to see her here a couple more times this weekend.
Best Overall Men’s Performance: Simon Desthieux. Just as with Alimbekava Desthieux didn’t win a race but he was quite consistent. In fact he’s tied with JT Bø for the yellow jersey after the first weekend of competition. So what was the separation between the two considering they each had a 3rd and 5th place finish? Well honestly we just expect more of Bø and we don’t spend as much time talking about Desthieux. Desthieux actually had a very nice close to last season, so much so that he was one of the inspirations for an investigation into who closed last season the strongest. That carried right over into this season. In 2018/2019 he had his highest overall finish in the standings at 4th. I’m not saying he’s going to finish in the top 5 overall this season but he looks much closer to that form than how he performed the first half of last season. Looks like he found something last season in Pokljuka and keeps on rolling!
Best Young Athlete Women: Marketa Davidova. Really shouldn’t have been a surprise to see Davidova win the Individual race this weekend. She did win the Individual at the World Championships in Pokljuka last season and is going to be competitive for the top spot in the Individual discipline competition all season long. Davidova went 20/20 on the range and combined that with the 10th fastest ski speed. That’s going to win a lot of races. She did slip to 15th in the sprint when she had a miss and the 18th fastest course time in a competitive race. Last season she was 11th overall in the World Cup season standings. If I was betting money I would bet that she’ll be a little bit higher this year.
Best Young Athlete Men: Sivert Bakken. Just as a reminder Sturla Holm Lægreid does qualify for this. Can you believe he’s still only 24? Anyway we’ll talk about him plenty this season. But how about Sivert Bakken?!? He had all of 2 prior World Cup level races and he goes out and gets 6th in the Individual and 8th in the Sprint. He did have the 16th fastest skiing in the Sprint but did fade towards the end of the Individual. He also had perfect shooting on the weekend. Is it reproducible? Who knows but once again a Norwegian has come out of “nowhere” to be one of the top biathletes in the world (at least for one weekend). Well he’s got a fan in me and I’ll be excited to watch him the rest of this season!
Best Women’s Race: Individual. Look I’m partial to an Individual race and it was also the first race of the season so it really stood out in my mind. The competition was great and we saw some expected names like Hauser, Herrmann, Alimbekava and of course Davidova battling at the top. We also saw Emma Lunder with a spectacular 6th place finish as well as Nigmatullina (selfishly I hope she has a terrible season so I don’t have to type that name too many times…I’m kidding!!), Kalkenberg, Reztsova, and Weidel in the top 10 as well. There were 13 countries represented in the top 17. It was a great race and I’m glad some young and unexpected talent took advantage of the opening left by Eckhoff, Wierer, and the Öberg to grab some early points and glory.
Best Men’s Race: Individual. Once again, I’m partial to an Individual race and it was the first race of the season. The Norwegians put a ridiculous 4 in the top 6 with Laegred’s win, both Bø brothers, and the above mentioned Bakken. Who else had multiple top 10 performers? Well France and Canada of course. The Gow brothers joined Emma Lunder in a spectacular season opener. Honestly the race itself was never really in doubt with Lægreid going a perfect 20/20 and absolutely dominating. The only question was whether Norway could sweep and Desthieux didn’t let that happen.
1) North American Performance: The North American athletes had a great opening weekend. The Canadian top 10’s I already mentioned above as well as Christian Gow’s 22nd in the Spring. But the Americans also had Clare Egan score a 12th in the Sprint, Paul Schommer and Jake Brown went 22/23 in the Individual, and Brown’s 25th in the Sprint.
2) Norwegian Men Depth: The Norwegian men absolutely flexed their muscles. No wins this weekend but they had six men finish with top 10’s between the two races and had four in the top 10 both races. Desthieux and Scott Gow were the only 2 standing between a 1-4 sweep in the Individual race. They are so deep that Filip Andersen scores a 9th place finish in the Sprint and will be bumped down to IBU Cup for next weekend.
3) German Men: On the other side of the spectrum the German men seem to be in a bit of a wilderness after the retirement of Arnd Peiffer. To be fair the French men started a little lost last year after the loss of Fourcade and while they never reached their full peak they did improve throughout the season. Hopefully we see the same with the German men over the next several weekends
4) Fans: Fans were back in the stands and I couldn’t be happier. I loved seeing the Swedes cheering on the Oberg’s and Samuelsson. The French jumping around for their biathletes. The cheers with hit shots. I missed it all last year. It’s so great to see everybody back. There is the new variant on the horizon so I don’t know if this will last but let’s just remember to enjoy it!
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