December 20, 2021 Power Rankings

Women’s Power Rankings: The women’s World Cup season remains a wild ride. This week we had Julia Simon and Dorothea Wierer surging out of their early season slumbers to get into contention. And we continued the weekly pattern of new and unexpected names creeping into the top 10. I can’t wait to see how all of these women use the next few weeks to build on their form.

1.Marte Olsbu Røiseland (last week 1) – Røiseland holds on to the number 1 spot as we close the first trimester of the season. I was tempted to put Elvira Öberg here but I can’t ignore Røiseland’s consistency which this weekend included yet another victory in the Sprint, a 4th in Pursuit and 6th in Mass Start. That gives her 3 wins for the season which remains the most on the circuit, 5 podiums and 8 top 10’s in 9 races. Literally every single race she is in the mix at some point and that’s exactly what these Power Rankings are all about. Believe it or not she is actually looking better as the season goes on. Her ski ranks are back up again after a little dip in Hochfilzen. Her overall shooting continues to be up significantly this season with improvements in both accuracy and speed. It’s that shooting that separates her from Elvira Öberg and keeps her in the leaders spot and more importantly the Yellow Jersey.

2. Elvira Öberg (2) – Fresh off of the absolute best weekend of her career Elvira Öberg surges in the all important Penalty Loop Power Rankings from 2nd to…2nd. I had a lot of tough decisions this week and leaving Elvira Öberg in the 2 spot was the hardest. She just won twice in a weekend and her worst finish was 3rd place in the Sprint race. In the effort she cut Røiseland’s overall points lead from over 59 points at the start of the weekend down to 30.

So why does she stay in second and not move up to first? Because I need to see her shoot like this more often. For her entire career and critically this season she has been held back by untimely misses. Her worst ski rank of the season is 5th, and although she isn’t quite the fastest anymore as Justine Braisaz-Bouchet appears to be taking that crown from her, she is able to make up for even average shooting to stay in contention. It seems that every lap she’s putting time into her top rivals.

Unfortunately she’s also been plagued by the worse shooting season of her career. She does appear to be shooting faster but certainly not more accurate. This weekend she had the best overall shooting weekend of her season. Her hit rank per race was 54, 15, 6. See what I mean? 15th and 6th are the 2nd and 3rd best hit rank relatively to the field all season. The only better race was when she was 2nd in the Pursuit last weekend and went from 17th to 3rd! She took those two shooting performances and turned them into her first two career wins. If she can be like the 20th or even 30th best shooter as opposed to currently being in the 40’s she’s going to look like Eckhoff from last winter!

3. Hanna Öberg (5)
4. Lisa Hauser (6) – While Røiseland and Elvira Öberg continued their dominant performances this season, the rest of the women’s top 10 from last week had mixed results at best. Hanna Öberg and Lisa Hauser move up almost by default.

Hanna Öberg had a solid weekend finishing 10th in Sprint and Mass Start and getting to celebrate a podium finish with her sister after grabbing 3rd in Pursuit. I mentioned last weekend that I was wondering if Hanna Öberg were having a better season than Elvira Öberg. Well after this weekend nobody would say that. However Hanna Öberg is a threat in every race she starts. The whole basis of this “Power Rankings” project is who do I have the most confidence in at this point in time. At the start of every race I have a hard time leaving Hanna Öberg out of my top 5 predictions. Like her sister she is skiing faster than ever before. There is a clear top 3 fastest skiers on the women’s side and Hanna Öberg is part of it. She’s also clearly put an emphasis on shooting fast as she is shooting far faster than she ever has before. Unfortunately it, also like her sister, Elvira Öberg, Hanna is also having her worst shooting since her first season on the World Cup. She’s got to clean that up. Even still I’m very confident in her going forward.

Lisa Hauser did have another top 5 with a 4th place in the Sprint this weekend followed by 7th in Pursuit and 9th in Mass Start. She hasn’t quite lived up to the standard she set for herself the 2nd half of last season. While her shooting remains as good if not better than ever with the 5th fastest shooting on the women’s circuit and 7th best hit rate at a terrific 92.17%. However her ski speed has trailed off a bit since last season and it feels visible on the course almost appearing like her skis are stickier than her opponents. When compared to last year her ski rank is a hair further back than it was last year at this point. Here’s the crazy thing though…even though it *feels* like she’s not quite at the same level as last season her average finish this season is actually better than last season through 4 weekends!

5. Dzinara Alimbekava (3)
6. Hanna Sola (4) – The Belarussian duo had their least successful weekend of the season which is actually saying a lot. Alimbekava finished 6th, 11th and 19th while Sola finished 7th, 24th, and 12th. For Alimbekava these were her first finishes outside of the top 10 all season long. For Sola her first time outside the top 10 since Östersund. Hard to say exactly what is the cause of the slip. Alimbekava might have been a little slower and Sola definitely didn’t shoot as well this weekend. Not clear if these are trends or just an off weekend. Their start to the season was exceptional though so it will be fascinating to watch did they just peak early. I tend to think they will stay in the mix the remainder of the season.

7. Justine Braisaz-Bouchet (9)
8. Anaïs Bescond (unranked)
9. Julia Simon (unranked)
10. Anaïs Chevalier-Bouchet (7) – The French Legion. This group…I don’t know what to do with this group. I’m going to try to give just a little bit of justification for this but I’m not going to stress too much on it. I have Justine Braisaz-Bouchet leading the group as I do think she starts every race with the highest ceiling just based on her being the only one who can stay in the same stratosphere of ski speed as the Öberg sisters. Anaïs Bescond comes in 8 because she’s been far more consistent than Julia Simon even though they both have two 2nd place finishes. Simon above Chevalier-Bouchet primarily on those two 2nd place finishes and she can’t shoot this badly forever right? Chevalier-Bouchet brings up the rear. The truth is though I have no idea what to expect from these 4 on any given weekend. I honestly think you could order them however you want and you’re not wrong. Except I probably wouldn’t put Julia Simon higher than 9th because she’s been really off for most of this season.

Dropped: Denise Herrmann & Franziska Preuß – Are the German men having a better season than the German women? I would listen to that argument. Preuß has in all honesty been one of the top 2-3 biggest disappointments this season and that is a list that includes last season’s winners Eckhoff and JT Boe.

Men’s Power Rankings: Things are definitely starting to settle out in the men’s race. Obviously could still be some risers and fallers but it is starting to feel like we know who the main contenders are. Now how that will all shake out is anybody’s guess!

1.Quinton Fillon Maillet/Emilien Jacquelin (Last week 3&2) – I can’t in any way put anybody else at the top of the standings. One year ago the talk was about how the French men were struggling to overcome the retirement of Martin Fourcade while the Norwegian men were riding high and dreaming of landing the top 4 on the men’s overall. Things are a bit different this season with the Frenchmen leading the way both in the overall standings and these far less important Power Rankings. When the race is starting don’t you just expect to see the French Tricolor at the top of the standings these days? Honestly it could be either QFM or Jacquelin but they are both the leaders of the first trimester of the 2021-2022 Men’s World Cup season. I am going to save a deeper breakdown like I did for the women for later this week or the week leading up to the restart. If you were to force me to make a choice for #1 I would probably lean QFM just because he does have 2 wins vs. Jacquelin’s 1 but these two are absolutely neck and neck. Here’s how tight these two are in the standings: In overall points Jacquelin leads by 2 points. If you drop the lowest two results then QFM leads by 2 points. You don’t get much closer than this!

3. Sebastien Samuelsson (1) – Sebbe Samuelsson has suffered just the slightest dip with finishes this weekend of 9th, 11th, and 9th. This is similar to what happened last season where he started over extremely well before fading a bit from weeks 4-7 before resurging at the World Championships. This feels a little bit different than last year though primarily because his ski speed still remains top notch. Over the weekend his ski ranks were still 6, 2, and 1st. It’s basically the same story as with the Öberg sisters: top ski speed being held back by shooting. Regardless of the cause his average finish of 9th over the last 2 weekends is a decided step back. I am almost more curious about Samuelsson’s post holiday form than anybody else. As I mentioned earlier last season he was sluggish and clearly aiming to peak at Worlds which he successfully did. Will he come out of the break aiming to take back the yellow jersey and take the crystal globe or is he comfortable aiming for an Olympic Games peak? We’ll see!

4. Tarjei Bø (5) 
5. Vetle Sjåstad Christiansen (4)
6. JT Bø (6) – Certainly more to come on this but I can’t believe that this is the season the Norwegians imagined in November. I realize that the overall goal for them is Olympic glory in Beijing, but that is the same goal that Jacquelin, QFM, and Samuelsson have as well and they were able to look much better than the Norwegians. It should be clear I’m primarily talking about 2 time defending overall champ JT Bø and Lægreid (further down these rankings) here as Christiansen and Tarjei Bø have shown more consistent success with Christiansen briefly claiming the yellow jersey.

Now for the reason we’re actually here…the rankings. I nearly put Christansen above Tarjei Bø but in the last 2 weekends since Christiansen took the yellow jersey Bø has looked decidedly better so he gets the edge this weekend. Also I still can’t fight the nagging feeling that we’re watching fool’s gold from Christiansen that will regress at any moment. However it’s not like he’s just riding a hot streak on the range. His ski speed is better than ever while his shooting is merely back to his career peak he previously was at 2016-2018. It’s even possible for him to pick up a small bit more time with his shooting speed. Tarjei Bø meanwhile is almost exactly where he has been over the last decade. Pick a category and Bø is within a couple of points of where he has been which usually results in a top 5 overall finish with 2-3 wins per season. Long story short I believe that Bø is more likely to keep this up vs. Christiansen so he gets the nod.

JT Bø is literally anyone’s guess. In the Sprint race I thought “Yes, this is JT Bø!” He was fast up until the last km when he inexpelicably slowed up, and more importantly he was fast and clean on the range. It looked like vintage JT Bø. With his exceptional previous performances in Annecy I thought we were looking at 3 straight podiums at the very least. But he instead finished 5th and 20th in the last 2 races. His ski speed, which was showing signs of returning to form in Hochfilzen where he was fastest in the Pursuit, went 3rd, 10th, and 5th this weekend. That’s good but not JT Bø good. Also his shooting is down again from last season and well down from his 2019-2020 peak. He’s got 2 weeks to figure it out and I wouldn’t be surprised at all if he came back looking like old JT. But to be honest I also wouldn’t be surprised if he didn’t look much different in January than he does now.

7. Eduard Latypov (7) – Latypov is riding a big shooting improvement to a career year. He’s currently up to 5th in the overall standings after two 2nd place finishes this past weekend. So why is he ranked 7th and below JT Bø? Well JT Bø did get a win this weekend for one, but also because I just trust everybody above Latypov more. They all have more history behind them. Also because an improvement in shooting can be more transitory and can fade at any time. However I will point this out, while his current average ski rank is 13th, just about in line with last season, his last 2 weekends his ski rank average was 6th. If he keeps that up he will absolutely get a few more podiums, maybe even wins, and move up the rankings and quickly.

8. Anton Smolski (unranked) – Over the last 2 weekends he’s finished no lower than 11th with a 3rd place and 4 out of 5 in the top 6. He’s settled in as one of the 15-20 fastest men on the World Cup circuit with a ski rank in every single race between 22nd and 3rd. What changed over the last 2 weekends. Just 2 seasons ago his average ski rank was in the 40’s. The ski speed has been there all season but what pushed him to another level the last 2 weeks has been his shooting. He’s been unreal on the range with hit rate rankings of 1, 14, 1, 4, 10. His season shooting is about his career average which considering how he’s been shooting you can guess means he started the season not great. His first 4 races his hit rate ranking was 36, 65, 82, 28. Now which one is the real Anton Smolski? That we are still waiting to find out. If its the latter, though with the hard earned improvements in ski speed, he will be a regular on top 10’s the rest of the year.

9. Stulra Holm Lægreid (unranked) – This was the best Lægreid has looked since the first race of the season. Since starting with a W he’s been a bit in the wilderness. This weekend though he finished 5th in Sprint, 6th in Pursuit and a not so wonderful 21st in Mass Start. So what’s been the problem? Well…everything. For the season he’s not shooting as well and he’s significantly slower than he was last season. Over the last 2 weeks his ski speed has remained well off of last season’s. Besides a bizarre 46th in ski rank in the 1st Sprint race of the season every other race he’s been consistently between 17-24 which is a remarkably tight bunching. His shooting though, which is inarguably his strength, is well off on the season However over the last 4 races his hit rate rank was 4, 1, 4, and 10 so maybe he’s starting to get his shot back. Now he’s got 2 weeks before the season starts up and 2 months until the Olympics to get his legs back.

10. Johannes Kuehn (10) – Kuehn with the best finish on the weekend and the only win of the bunch keeps the 10th spot ahead of Desthieux and Ponsiluoma who are dropped from the rankings this week. With the 6th place in the Mass Start Kuehn has already outperformed my preseason expectations for him. I would definitely not have expected him to be the top German man on the season but he’s significantly outperformed Nawrath, Doll, Rees, and Lesser.

Dropped: Simon Desthieux (8) & Martin Ponsiluoma (9) – Desthieux just didn’t do enough to stay ahead of Smolski, Laegreid and Kuehn. Ponsiluoma frankly had a horrendous weekend. Not sure what happened there.

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