Anybody who has followed me for any amount of time knows that I get really excited about biathletes with career bests. I get even more excited when somebody is have run of career best finishes turning into a career season. And I get ecstatic when I identify somebody early that is turning in a career year. Well we’re four weeks in and I wanted to make special mention of some men and women who are doing exactly that!
I’m going to start by pointing out some that are having early career seasons. In order to qualify for this list these athletes need to have shown that they have moved into a new tier, at least so far this season. For example if somebody were to currently be in 11th place and their previous career best was 13th they haven’t really moved up. However (spoiler alert) Alimbekava moved from 7th last season up to 3rd right now and this is a move up. I also want to point out at least one statistic or indication for where this improvement came from. I promise I won’t go too deep as I want to keep this fairly breezy.
Near the end I’m going to point out athletes who while maybe not having career best seasons have at least had some career best finishes or weekends.
Career Best Seasons: Fair warning several of the athletes in this category have been talked about a lot already this season so I will try not to bore you with repetitive details and thoughts:
1.Elvira Öberg (Sweden)
|Career Best Overall Rank||12|
|Total Career Races||68|
|Key Stat||Season Ski Rank: 1|
You know how I said some of these athletes have received a fair amount of attention already this season? Yeah this is who I was talking about. It’s her third full season on the World Cup and she’s going into the break full of momentum with her first two career victories. She’s in 2nd in the overall World Cup standings and the odds on favorite to win the Crystal Globe. We all know why she’s been so successful this season. She’s really really fast. She’s fastest on the circuit by just a smidge. She’s so much faster than her top rivals (many of whom aren’t slow!) that she can get away with only being an average shooter and still be so highly ranked. Her current hit rate rank is 42nd. 42nd!! And she’s still ranked #2 overall.
2. Dzinara Alimbekava (Belarus)
|Career Best Rank||7|
|Total Career Races||96|
|Key Stat||Total Shooting Rank: 18|
Alimbekava is an athlete who has steadily been on the rise. It hasn’t quite been as meteoric or newsworthy as Elvira Öberg’s rocket ride to the top but it is absolutely worth noting. Last season she was the winner of the Blue Jersey and not the aforementioned Elvira Öberg. Each season she seems to take another step towards becoming a more complete biathlete. Last season the big step she took was in her ski speed. She went from being middle of the pack with an average ski speed finish in the 40-50’s and made the leap into the 2nd/3rd tier of skiers consistently placing in the 10-20’s. She has maintained that this season while making significant strides in her shooting which is her key statistic for success this year. Her total shooting rank is up to 26th from 50th last season. Primarily this is on the strength of more accurate shooting but her shooting speed is also up markedly as well. This is supposed to be a positive piece but one note of caution is just that her worst 4 skiing performances were the last 4 races before the break so just something to watch for.
3. Hanna Sola (Belarus)
|Career Best Rank||23|
|Total Career Races||90|
|Key Stat||Total Shooting Rank: 26|
See above. Hanna Sola’s last 2 years mirror Alimbekava’s almost perfectly. Big jump in ski speed from 2019-2020 to 2020-2021 (56th to 7th) followed by improved shooting this season. Last year her shooting rank was well outside the top 100. This season 26. That is all the reason in the world why her improvement has been so astounding. So what has all of this gotten her? How about 3 podiums including her first career win. Great start!
4. Eduard Latypov (Russia)
|Career Best Rank||18|
|Total Career Races||77|
|Key Stat||Hit Rate Rank: 20|
Similar to the Belarusian women above him, Eduard Latypov’s improvements this season primarily are around his shooting, in particularly his shooting accuracy. His shooting speeds more or less unchanged but his total hit rank is up from 97th to 20th over the last 2 seasons. It doesn’t hurt that his ski speed rank has improved from 39th to 13th over the same period but most of that improvement was last season. The season started with the Russian fans looking for significant improvement over last seasons disappointing campaign and Latypov is certainly providing some excitement for them.
5. Anton Smolski (Belarus)
|Career Best Rank||26|
|Total Career Races||99|
|Key Stat||Ski Rank: 20|
Let’s just take a moment to note that of the top 5 on this list 3 are Belarussian and all are age 25. After a few less than ideal years the future is looking quite bright for the Belarussian biathlon squad. Anton Smolski appears to be following the Sola/Alimbekava improvement plan: build the ski speed then hone in the shooting. Looking at the chart below you could easily make the argument that his hit rate is the key to his success and I would accept that too. But I made rules for this piece and I’m going to stick by them no matter how arbitrary. In truth the races that he has shot well absolutely correspond with his best finishes. However looking at the totality of his career and season his ski improvement has been more consistent I believe more predictive of his long term success. I also firmly believe that his ski improvement laid the foundation for the improvements this season.
6. Kristina Reztsova (Russia)
|Career Best Rank||58|
|Total Career Races||28|
|Key Stat||Ski Rank: 15|
Okay fine, you want a better example of how improvement in ski speed can positively impact someone’s career please see Kristina Reztsova. She came back from being off for maternity leave in 2020-2021 not only without a decrease in ski form but looking much much better. She has only competed in 1 prior World Cup season and in 2019-2020 her ski ranking was 50th. This season she’s all the way up to 15th. In Annecy just prior to the break she had her first career podium finishing 3rd in the Mass Start. She also had a 5th in Sprint which at that point was her first career top 5 and a 9th in Pursuit. It’s only her second full season so its hard to see any definitive trendlines or know if this is a mirage or for real. There is so little history with her that I debated hard about bumping her to the next section “Young with a Promising Future.” But her Overall Rank is so high this season that I just felt I had to put her here.
7. Terro Seppälä (Finland)
|Career Best Rank||36|
|Total Career Races||123|
|Key Stat||Hit Rate Rank: 21|
I know I know everybody is tired of hearing this but Terro Seppälä is having a great season! He’s now in his 5th full season on the World Cup and apparently every two years he makes a leap. Spent two seasons with an overall ranking in the 60’s, followed by two seasons in the 30’s and now all the way up to 16 at this point in the current season. Throughout all of this his ski rank has not changed all that much. In his fastest season he was ranked as high as 24th, and his worst season he was 40th so not a major change. This season he’s ranked 27th so he’s near his best but clearly not making drastic improvements. However his shooting started to improve at the end of last season and has only gotten better.
This season his overall hit rate rank is up to 21st. His previous career high was last season at 93rd. When you break it down his prone shooting hit rank is where the improvement comes in. His standing hit percentage is up from 78% to 81% but his prone his percentage goes from 83% to 95%. He has 3 total prone misses on the year which is comparable to the great shooters on the World Cup like Simon Eder and Sturla Lægreid. Just this season he’s already had his first top 5, a third career top 10, and 5 of his 7 best finishes of all time. If he could just move that ski speed up into the top 20-25 he would have a crack at his first podium.
8. Lotte Lie (Belgium)
|Career Best Rank||83|
|Total Career Races||32|
|Key Stat||Ski Speed Rank: 50|
Lotte Lie is absolutely not a household name. She has 0 career podiums, 0 career top 5’s and 0 career top 10’s. Her career best finish is 13th which she has done twice, both of which were in Annecy in the last weekend of racing this season. However there are signs that she could be a future Lisa Theresa Hauser in the making. In case you haven’t been following biathlon long Lisa Hauser has always been a very good shooter and consistently ranked about 15-25 overall. Over the last 2-3 years she added improved ski speed. This is an important stat I want you to remember: Prior to last season Hauser’s average ski speed rank was 39.2. Over the last two seasons her average ski speed rank is 16.3. As a result Hauser improved from that 15-25 overall region and finished last season #6 overall and is currently sitting at #4. If this column were written a year ago we would be talking all about Hauser. This year though I want to highlight Lie.
Like Hauser she has always been a good shooter. In fact she’s better than Hauser. Lotte Lie is one of the best shooters in biathlon and that is not hyperbole. In her three seasons on the World Cup she has ranked 1st in 2019-2020 (in just 5 total races), 13th last season (and #1 of all full time World Cup competitors), and this season is 4th (and #2 of all full time World Cup competitors). Her limiting factor has been her ski speed and we seeing some definitive improvements there.
In her first season as a 24 year old Lotte Lie was not fast to put it mildly. She averaged 6% slower than the median racer. Last season that improved a touch as her overall ski rank bumped to 117 and she remained over 3.5% slower than the average biathlete on the World Tour. This season though she’s up to 50th and is now ever so slightly faster than the median racer by .1%! Remember that important stat for Hauser I wanted you to remember? If you don’t its okay here it is again: Prior to her break out year last season Hauser’s average ski rank per race was 39.2. Okay here’s why that’s important: Lotte Lie’s current average ski rank per race is 39.3. I’m just saying if in 2 season’s we’re talking about Lotte Lie as a top 10 women’s biathlete you heard it here first. If she is never able to add more speed to her repertoire well then she’s still going to end up being a competitive biathlete for years. She’s got time. She actually at the exact age Hauser was when she got fast. I’m just saying…
9. Jessica Jislova (Czech Republic)
|Career Best Rank||59|
|Total Career Races||108|
|Key Stat||Average Finish 25.9|
Wait, you’re saying its too simple to just say that Jessica Jislova is better because she’s better? Well take a look below and you tell me which stat is the most important.
It turns out she’s having just an all around career year. She’s skiing faster than ever, shooting more accurately than ever, and shooting faster than her career average. I don’t want to belabor the point but if you do better in literally every aspect of the sport you’re going to perform much much better. And Jislova absolutely is. Her average finish this season is over 20 places better than her prior best season in 2017-2018. She had her first career top 5 (and top 10 for that matter) in the Mass Start in Annecy. She also happened to have her 2nd and 3rd best ever finishes the two days prior in the Sprint (15th) and Pursuit (12th). The season is more than just one good weekend though with 5 of her 8 best all time finishes. I have to be honest I’m pretty intrigued to see how the rest of the season plays out for her.
Young with a Promising Future: I’m not going to go quite as deep on this current. They are just too young and too early in their careers to have much data at this point. But I’ll definitely be watching them.
1. Sivert Bakken (Norway)
|Total Career Races||12|
|Best Career Finish||6th Place Individual Östersund|
Bakken started this season with a grand total of two World Cup level races and promptly started off with a 6th place finish. He’s since added two more top 10’s including finishing this segment of the season on a high note with an 8th in the Mass Start in Annecy. His “worst” finish of the season is 49th in the Sprint in Annecy and he immediately rebounded with a 20th in Pursuit and abovementioned 8th in Mass Start. He’s not exactly having the same explosive start to his career as Lægreid but he’s doing really really well. He also doesn’t appear to have a major weakness so far though. Being just 23 and with the Norwegian staff training him it wouldn’t surprise anybody to see him in the top 10 overall as soon as next season.
2. Vanessa Voigt (Germany)
|Total Career Races||14|
|Best Career Finish||10th Place Sprint Östersund 2|
Vanessa Voigt is someone I haven’t talked about a lot but I’m actually really excited about. What intrigues me the most about her is that she doesn’t seem to have bad races. Yeah she doesn’t have a podium finish like Andersen but she does have the one top 10 and has just missed the top 10 two more times. Also hasn’t missed a single race on the World Cup this season and her lowest finish is 32nd. She’s an excellent shooter who only appears to be getting faster as the season goes on. If that keeps up and if she could just improve her shooting speed just a touch she’ll stack up a few more top 10’s this season. Look out next season.
3.Filip Fjeld Andersen (Norway)
|Total Career Races||9|
|Best Career Finish||3rd Place Sprint Annecy Le Grand-Bornand|
Already with a top 10 and a podium finish this season FF Andersen has flashed his potential. Really though I won’t say much more. Just reread the Bakken section. They are remarkably similar in terms of their performances. The only thing really separating them in the standings is that Bakken performed on the World Cup team the 2nd weekend while Andersen went back down to the IBU Cup for a weekend.
4. Said Khalili (Russia)
|Total Career Races||29|
|Best Career Finish||6th Individual Pokljuka WC 2021|
Khalili was one I had my eye on coming into the season. He got off to a little bit of a slow start but started to flash his potential again starting in Hochfilzen before grabbing his first top 10 of the season finishing 8th in Pursuit in Annecy. He narrowly missed another top 10 finishing 11th in the Sprint that weekend as well. He’s a very good shooter that could succeed in the Lægreid mold (although maybe not quite as successful).
Career Best Weekends: Lastly I had noted these few athletes as having particularly good weekends at one point or another this season. I’m not sure it points to any lasting success but I figure I might as well give them their due.
1.Johannes Kuehn (Germany)
Kuehn got his first career win in the Sprint in Hochfilzen this season. Not many will get their first win at age 30 but Kuehn did it behind the effort of an absolutely blistering ski performance. He was 14 seconds faster than Ponsiluoma with the 2nd fastest time. He quite nearly backed it up with a win in the Pursuit, leading the entire race until QFM took the lead just before the last shoot. We all know what happened next but it was a heck of a weekend!
2. Ida Lien (Norway)
Lien’s 10th in the first Sprint in Osersund was at the time her second best finish ever. Two weekends later though she smashed that with a 4th place in the Sprint in Hochfilzen. Lien was one of my young athletes to watch in the preseason and I still feel optimistic about her career. This season has been a little up and down though with that 4th place Sprint balanced out by a 77th and a 53rd.
3. Stina Nilsson (Sweden)
Quite a popular preseason “One to Watch” Nilsson has not surprisingly lived and died with her shooting as her skiing is predictably good. And to be honest her shooting hasn’t been horrendous. It’s been good enough to earn her a first career top 10 with a 10th place in the Pursuit in Hochfilzen. She’s also got two 16th place finishes as well. She’s currently ranked 30th overall and I could see her either moving way up or way down the standings. I honestly have no idea. But I think she’s had a successful start thus far.
4. Irina Kazakevich (Russia)
Over a 2 weekend stretch in Hochfilzen and Annecy Kazakevich had 3 of her 6 best finishes of her career including her best ever finish and first top 10, a 9th place finish in the Pursuit at Hochfilzen.
5. Vasilii Tomshin (Russia)
Vasilii Tomshin has a grand total of 6 World Cup races under his belt. In just his 4th race he earned his first top 10. Not much else to say as the rest of his starts haven’t been that spectacular but here’s to hoping he can put it all together like that again.
6. Thomas Bormolini (Italy)
At age 30 and after 114 career races Bormolini had a fairly phenomenal weekend at Annecy this season. He finished 17th in Sprint, 19th in Pursuit, and 18th in Mass Start. Those might not sound amazing but they account for 3 of his top 7 finishes of all time including his 2nd and 3rd best ever.