It’s the nature of sport that not every athlete will be at their top form every single year. There are so many variables in every sport from natural aging, illnesses (especially the last 2 seasons), changes at home not to mention changes to training regimens etc. Of course as fans we hope that every biathlete is going to be at their peak for every for every race but that’s clearly not possible. It’s not even advisable as athletes will have different goals every year such as peaking for Olympics/World Championships. As a result there will always be some turn over in the top 10 from year to year.
What I wanted to do now was take a look at several athletes who were in the top 10 at the end of last season who aren’t there now. Think of this as a bit of a companion piece to the Career Best Seasons (so far…) I am going to try to look at what has changed in their performances that caused their regressions this year and if it appears to be fixable. (I’m really going to try to make this shorter I promise!)
1.Tiril Eckhoff – Eckhoff is of course the most obvious name that would be included on this list. I just did a big piece on the Norwegian squad including a breakdown of Tiril Eckhoff just this week so I’m not going to redo all of that good work. If you’re interested check it out here: Great Norwegian Expectations.
2. Franziska Preuss (Last season: 3rd This season: 19) –
It is tough to include her on this list as it is primarily due to injury. While injuries are part of sport Preuss injured herself falling down the stairs. Not exactly how you would expect an injury to occur. At the time of her injury she was not competing as well as she did last year. However she was still in the top 10 so I don’t want to overreact.
Preuss’ biggest problem this season was the untimely miss. Twice she finished in 5th and within about 1 penalty loop’s worth of time of the top spot on the podium. She also had a 7th place finish as well. One concerning sign though was her last two finishes before her untimely ankle sprain was her performance in Hochfilzen: 18th in the Sprint and 38th in the Pursuit.
I don’t think I need to explain what we are seeing here. Preuss’ shooting took a severe dive and at the time she was injured she was having the worst shooting year of her career. It’s only 6 races so let’s not go too crazy here. She also did start off the season fairly terribly on the range with 4 misses in the individual. Even still she hasn’t been up to her normal level on the range including two mediocre performances in her poor showings in Hochfilzen. If her injured ankle will still let her practice on the range one relative positive of the injury might be that she can return to shooting form.
3. Johannes Dale (Last season: 5th This season: 47) –
This is still mind blowing if you stop to think about it…Johannes Dale ended the season 5th overall in the Men’s World Cup rankings and after 2 weeks of this season was relegated to the IBU Cup. He’s really a victim of circumstance by being on the Norwegian team as much as anything. For the 6 spots 3 were already locked up: JT Boe, Tarjei Boe, and Laegreid. Then you had Dale, Christiansen, Bakken, and the Andersens fighting for the last 3 spots. Vetle Sjaastad Christiansen is having a terrific season so he’s not going anywhere. Bakken has 3 top 10’s this season and Filip Fjeld Andersen has a podium finish. I wouldn’t say either one of them are permanent additions to the World Cup roster though.
Dale’s start to the year showed a regression of ski speed (like most of the rest of the Norwegian squad as we’ve discussed previously). However his biggest trouble spot has been his shooting. He’s slipped from decent to average at best on the range. I think I’m going to qualify this as *incomplete* though. Obviously his shooting was not good to start the season. But if he had been able to compete in Hochfilzen and Annecy would we have seen an improvement? It’s just a very very small sample size to make too many big conclusions. (And this is coming from somebody who loves making conclusions from small sample sizes!)
4. Dorothea Wierer (Last season: 5th This season: 14)
Dorothea Wierer was who made me want to write this piece to start with. Wierer has been a fixture in the top 10 of the Women’s Overall standings since the 2014-2015 including winning two Crystal Globes in recent years. Last season she wasn’t able to defend her title again with the dominant performance of Tiril Eckhoff and she slipped back to 5th.
So what has made Wierer so successful in her career? Well taking a look below:
Turns out it’s a little bit of everything. No big surprise there right? If you’re going to be the overall champion you can’t be a specialist, you have to be at good if not great at everything. Wierer and Lægreid I believe are both treated similarly. They are looked at as shooters who ski just well enough to win but not enough to make up for bad shooting like a JT Bø or Elvira Öberg. If you look above though you can see that’s not entirely fair. But she is absolutely a fast shooter.
Over the last 2 years she has had a bit of a slide in every single category. Now part of that is a little inevitable when you are #1 overall. Last year the regression was seen primarily in skiing and this year shooting. I think it’s time we look at this season in particular to see what’s been happening. This season she has slipped back even further to 14th overall. Before Annecy Wierer wasn’t a factor in basically any race at all. Over the course of those three days in Annecy though Wierer reminded us just a little of what she’s capable of. She started slow in 19th in the Sprint before getting her first two top 10’s with a 10th in Pursuit and 4th in Mass Start.
With the caveat that this is only 9 races here’s what we see… First off it’s pretty interesting that after having a famously slow shooting on the last shoot of the 2021-2022 season she started out with two very slow shooting days on the same course this year. After that though her shooting speed appears to be back towards her career average. Her shooting accuracy is definitely worse than last season. Or at least more irregular. She’s already had 3 races with a hit rate rank 40 or worse. That’s the same number as all of last season. It’s hard to determine anything from her skiing. She has a dip in Hochfilzen. Now I compared to several other Italian biathletes to try to see if there was just a wax problem for the whole squad but nobody else has a similar consistent dip. If you were to remove that the rest of her season looks more like she might be skiing a little better than last year but not near her peak.
So what do we think of her chances for the rest of the season? Well it’s possible that even though she’s only 31 (same age as Roeiseland!) we might be entering a stage of her career where she can dial it up to nearly as good as ever, such as she did in the mass start in Annecy, we could see a lot more variability so she’s going to potentially have some pretty ugly days as well.
Honestly though my thought is she doesn’t care about the overall at all. She’s won 2 overall World Cup titles. At this point she just wants to add an individual Olympic medal to her list of accomplishments. It’s the only thing missing.
5. Lukas Hofer (Last season: 8th This season: 24)
Lukas Hofer has taken an even more dramatic tumble down the rankings than his Italian teammate Wierer. Dramatic tumble is an intentional choice of words considering Hofer’s shoulder injury and subsequent fall in the season opening Individual race. Let’s take just the quickest look at Hofer’s career ranks and I think it will become quickly apparent what’s going on.
Hit rate rank and shooting speed rank are both basically unchanged from last season and are some of his best of his career. (By the way can we just take a quick moment and examine his shooting speed. The man is basically a statue on the range).
Ski ranks are nowhere close to where he was last season. It all comes back to the injury which is going to affect his skiing ability. It affected his training for several weeks leading into the season and he’s been scrambling to try to regain his shape. If, and this may be a big if, he can use the holiday break and January to regain form he may be back in top form for the last 2 months of the season. His overall rank likely won’t recover much higher than the mid teens but he’ll figure in races though.
6. Ingrid Landmark Tandrevold (Last season: 8th This season: 23)
Last year Ingrid Tandrevold had either her best or second best season to date on the IBU World Cup. While one place lower in the standings than a season before she did end the season with her first career win. This season she’s well down from the last few seasons. You could make the argument that Tandrevold is having a worse relative season than Tiril Eckhoff is. Now before we go too deep Tandrevold did have her foot injury when she stepped on an oyster. Having watched her training videos it didn’t seem to set her back too far as she was training regularly with the rest of the squad after a brief period of alternative training.
Pretty interesting how closely Tandrevold’s ski rank and her overall rank are very closely correlated. I mean that is as tight a correlation as we’ve seen any all of the athlete reviews we’ve been doing. It’s not that her shooting doesn’t matter of course it just doesn’t matter as much for her success. It’s also interesting as she clearly mirrors her good friend Tiril Eckhoff. Both rely on the skiing to help them overcome less than stellar shooting. The difference is while Tandrevold has been a more accurate shooter Eckhoff has always been one of the fastest women on tour.
Before we get too deep into Tandrevold’s ranks for this season once again I have to ask what happened during the Sprint in Hochfilzen? If you remember from the piece of Norway both Laegreid and JT Boe had horrendous shooting performances the exact same race. I would love to know the story of that day. Remove that one day and her shooting is a touch better than last season.
While Tandrevold has mirrored Eckhoff’s career in so many ways, here we have a separation. Eckhoff remember, while a little slower, saw the larger drop in her shooting. Tandrevold though has the same issue that appears to be affecting the overwhelming number of Norwegian biathletes: ski speed. No obvious trendlines with her ski ranking either. If you want to be optimistic you could say that her last two races were fastest of the season. By rank she was back in the same ski speed tier that she has been in the last several seasons. The trick is going to be for her, like the rest of the Norwegian squad, making sure that she’s able to get back to her peak level of performance.
7. Martin Ponsiluoma (Last season: 10th This season: 22)
We’ll finish up with a look at Ponsiluoma, the last member of either top 10 who has fallen out. This is a pretty easy story to make out. I’m going to post both graphs back to back and you won’t even need anything else.
As we all know Ponsiluoma’s success throughout has been propelled by his ski speed but is all dependent on how well he shoots on any given day. Last season he had more good shooting days than bad shooting days and he ended up 10th overall. This season has been a regression to his worst shooting ranking of his career thus far. He’s still skiing as fast as ever. It’s at this point I want to highlight Annecy. In the Sprint race he shot so poorly at the start and was so far out of it that he completely put it on cruise control the rest of the race. A somewhat similar story played out in the Mass Start. If you remove this its clear that his skiing has been on par with last season.
This season though his shooting is far more variable and generally worse. He’s had one good shooting day and he used it to claim his only podium, and only top 10 of the season. Look if he’s going to get back to where he was last season he needs to get the rifle figured out.