Another fun week of IBU World Cup action down! Overall there were some really fun results and a couple of excellent races. It’s still a little early to make too many big extrapolations but let’s jump right into the weekend wrap up.
Best Overall Women’s Performance: Lisa Hauser. There were some really solid performances in this second weekend in Östersund but Lisa Hauser takes the crown. She won the sprint and backed it up with a 4th place in the pursuit race. It is especially impressive because sprint is traditionally her worst event by FAR. Top 10% in sprint historically was just 11% while her next lowest was pursuit at a more robust 20%. So far, and its still very early, Hauser has maintained her ski speed that she found last season, she’s shooting a touch better than ever, and she’s shooting much faster than the last 3 seasons. The biggest reason why Lisa Hauser gets the title this week is that she is going to be racing in the yellow jersey for the first time in her career when the competition restarts in Hochfilzen. Can’t do much better than that!
Also considered: Anaïs Chevalier-Bouchet (6th, 3rd, 1st in relay), Elvira Öberg (2nd, 6th)
Best Overall Men’s Performance: Vetle Sjaastad Christiansen. This was the hardest category to pick this week. I could make very strong arguments that Samuelsson or Jacquelin should be here instead. On the surface both are probably more deserving (Samuelsson especially). However Christiansen had a phenomenal weekend as well with a 5th in the sprint and a win in the Pursuit race. In the middle of the weekend he anchored the Norwegian men’s relay victory with some mild tension coming from QFM’s last minute push. Coming into the season he was probably in the second tier of the Norwegian team fighting for a place on the team with Bakken, Dale, FF Andersen and behind the top Bø brothers and Lægreid. Now he’s got 3 top 5’s in 4 solo races including his 2nd career win (last was 2019 Soldier Hollow), and like Women’s Champ Lisa Hauser, he also will be wearing the yellow jersey when racing returns on Friday.
Also considered: Sebastian Samuelsson (1st, 2nd), Emilien Jacquelin (2nd, 3rd)
Best Young Athlete Women: Elvira Öberg. She got some mild consideration for Best Overall Woman of the week but she’s hands down the Best Young Women’s Athlete of the week. As noted above she started the weekend with a second place just behind Hauser in the sprint and followed that up with a 6th place in pursuit. It’s been talked about a lot, most recently by @biathlonanalyt1 both on his own site biathlonanalytics.com as well as the Biathlon World Insider but Öberg’s ski speed is absolutely blazing this season so far. Just for perspective she had 2 misses to Hauser’s 0 in the Sprint and finished just 12 seconds back. In the Pursuit she had 4 misses and was just 24 seconds back of Roeiseland who won with 1 miss. I could go on but just go check out the above mentioned sites. If she can clean up the shooting *just a little bit!* she will spend less time in this section and much more time in the Best Overall Women’s Athlete section.
Best Young Athlete Men: Sebastian Samuelsson. As I said above I could easily have made the argument for Samuelsson. I mean all he did this weekend was win the sprint and come in 2nd in pursuit! You really can’t ask for more than that. Fair or not (not that I think he’s going to be offended by what one idiot says on his website!) I chose Christiansen over Samuelsson because I knew I could talk about Sebbe here. While Samuelsson won’t be wearing the yellow jersey on Friday (he wore it in the pursuit but lost it to Christansen by just 3 points!) its clear that he has been the talk of the men’s circuit so far this season. Like his teammate Elvira Öberg he’s shown terrific ski speed already this season. In the Sprint race this weekend he was the fastest on the course while Jacquelin, the 2nd fastest was 20 seconds behind him! That’s the same as the split between Jacquelin and Bakken (8th fastest). He’s actually shooting worse than he did last season but if you take out his relatively disastrous Individual race to start the season he’s been shooting at an 87.5% clip which is very solid. Long story short, he’s having a terrific start to the year!
Best Women’s Race: Pursuit. The top 7 in this race were separated by just 24 seconds. The top 4 by just 8 seconds. It was a close. Coming onto the range for the last time Hauser, Roeiseland, Chevalier-Bouchet, Bescond, and both Öberg sister’s were together with Preuß and Alimbekava in outside range just 20 seconds back. I could feel the adrenaline sitting on my couch! It came down to 4 women racing for 3 spots and it was pretty clear quickly Roeiseland had the best legs. This is exactly what you want to see in a biathlon race. Having to quickly control your breathing, calm yourself, knock down 5 shots, and then sprint off again is one of the most difficult things in sports. And 4 women all did it (5 including Preuß a few seconds late). It was perfect.
Best Men’s Race: Pursuit. At the top end there weren’t that many races that came down to the end. Samuelsson looked like the strongest in the Sprint almost from the onset while the Norwegian men lead from start to finish in the relay. In the Pursuit while Christiansen did end up with a solid nearly 10 second win there was some jockeying at the top with each of Samuelsson, Jacquelin, and eventual winner Christiansen spending time in the lead which kept it interesting. A little deeper in the race though there was some pretty wild stuff which ended up with a 4 man sprint between Michal Krcmar, Terro Sepällä, Simon Eder, and Tommaso Giacommel to determine the 4-7 spots. Overall 4-10 was within 13 seconds. Those men started in bibs 15, 16, 27, and 26 respectively. Guigonnat started in 20th and finished 9th. That’s the kind of wildness you want to see in a Pursuit race. While we didn’t see it at the very top it was really fun to see some different names pop up in the top 10! Speaking of…
1) Top Ever Finishes: Tommaso Giacomel, Tero Seppälä, Lie Lotte. Not a lot of headlines for these athletes but they each have done some really good things this season.
a) Lie Lotte – While her top finish wasn’t this weekend (it was actually in the Individual last weekend) she’s had finishes of 15, 22, 30, and 19. All 4 finishes are better than her previous best finish of 37th in a Sprint at Östersund last season. I mentioned this in a tweet but her improvement is nearly all in her ski speed going from 72nd to 42nd ranked in speed.
b) Tero Seppälä – His 5th place in the Pursuit race this past weekend was his best solo finish of his World Cup career besting a 7th place Sprint race in Nové Mêsto in the ’19-’20 season. His start to the season going 16th, 16th, and 5th is easily his best 3 race stretch of his career as well (he had a DNS for the Individual to start the season). He’s showing dramatically improved shooting this season. Is this something that will regress to the average or is this more hopefully some newfound form/confidence that will carry through?
c) Tommaso Giacomel – Just 21 years old and part of Italy’s hopes for the future he has his first top 10 in just his 18th race. Great shooting helps and he had just 1 miss in that race. He’s going to need more of that, and he hasn’t been shooting particularly well this season. But like I said he’s 21 and let’s celebrate his first career top 10!