Previewing Women’s Overall Race

As we gear up for the next segment of the season I want to take a look at the women’s race for the crystal globe. Looking back over the last several seasons its right around weeks 4-5 that the separation occurs between the true contenders and the rest of the pack. There are probably many reasons for that including not the least of which by now competitors start to accumulate enough points to really make the differences more stark. It’s also around week 4 that some of the preseason training is wearing off and starting again in week 5 you can see who made the most of the holiday break. Either way, this is the point in the season where usually the true contenders become clear.

So who are the true contenders of this season? Well let’s start by taking a look at the current top of the women’s overall standings.

AthleteCurrent Score
Marte Olsbu Røeiseland417
Elvira Öberg387
Dzinara Alimbekava327
Lisa Theresa Hauser321
Hanna Sola320
Hanna Öberg318
Anais Bescond250
Justine Brasiaz-Bouchet235
Kristina Reztsova234
Anais Chevalier-Bouchet229

Before we go any further what I wanted to do was to put in which weeks every athlete was going to skip for their high altitude training camp. I ended up taking that out because nearly every top athlete with any designs on completing well in Beijing is going to an altitude training camp at some point in the next 3 weeks. The Beijing course is going to be…challenging. It’s at very high altitude, nearly the limit for IBU competition. It’s going to be cold and dry meaning all or nearly all man made snow. Also its going to be extremely windy. You can’t necessarily train for dry, man made snow or extremely windy conditions but you can do your best to be ready for altitude.

I guess you could try to figure out who has an advantage based off of which week they are taking off. You could assume that the week after an intense high altitude training camp is going to be a worse performance than usual. Based off of that you could maybe try to figure out who has the best opportunity to gain points. In this case you would assume that the Öberg’s, by doing their training camp the week of the Antholtz races, have a slight advantage over someone like Røeiseland who appears to be set to do her camp during the Rupholding races. I’m not going to try to get that deep into it. I’m going to assume it all evens out in the end.

So now that we’ve removed that enormous variable from the equation who are we looking at with a chance to win. Well right away you can trim down the list based on points.

AthleteCurrent Score
Marte Olsbu Røeiseland417
Elvira Öberg387 (-30)
Dzinara Alimbekava327 (-90)
Lisa Theresa Hauser321 (-96)
Hanna Sola320 (-97)
Hanna Öberg318 (-99)

I’m going to limit our discussions to the top 6 all of whom are within 100 points. Over the last decade every eventual winner was within 100 points at this stage of the season and usually much closer. Looking at the historic seasons we could likely limit this discussion to just Røeiseland and Elvira Öberg and be safe. However due to the quality of the competitors ranked 3-6, how extremely tightly they are pack, and the relative unpredictability I will leave them all in as possible crystal globe winners for now.

We’ll go through in reverse order of how they stand now discussing strengths and relative weaknesses of each of the top competitors for the crown. Then we’ll make a final argument for how they could win. At the end we’ll make a prediction for how this will shake out.

Two notes…I was tempted to put in some data indicating career averages. In some cases I think this would be really useful. However with biathletes like Elvira Öberg or even Hanna Sola, their careers are so short that I’m not sure it tells us much. If you all feel like it would be helpful I can go back and add it. Let me know. Also we’re analyzing 9 races of data and trying to make season long conclusions so of course keep in mind these are relatively small sample sizes

6. Hanna Öberg: 318 (-99)

StatisticCurrent Rank
Overall Ski Rank3
Median Back from Top 10 -.51% (3rd)
Total Shooting Rank80
Hit Rate Percentage80.71%
Shooting Speed Rank3

Hanna Öberg is traditionally a good all around biathlete. Over her career she’s been pretty quick on the skis, a better than average to good shooter, and she never takes too long on the range. The results have been that over the last three seasons she’s finished in the top 5 of the overall rankings. This season though she’s been following a bit of a different pattern. Like her sister she’s skiing faster than pretty much anybody else on the circuit. She’s also maintained her speed on the range shooting much faster than any previous season. Her standing shooting is 2.5 seconds faster than her next fastest season. But her shooting accuracy has taken a definitive step backward. This is without a doubt her worst shooting ranking as a full time World Cup competitor.

Looking at this season race by race you an see some interesting patterns. First of all her ski speed and shooting speed have been at the top of the rankings all season long without exception. This is a good sign. It shows that the training that Hanna Öberg, and really the Swedish team in general, paid off. You would think that they will follow a similar pattern in their December training and especially in their Beijing training camp. Hopefully there are similar results. Either way, Hanna Öberg has reached a new level and a new potential with her ski level.

One concern I do have is that it’s really really hard to maintain that type of form for an entire season. Of course they (Hanna and Elvira Öberg) could do it, but there are 2 scenarios that are likely to play out: 1) They do take a step back over the next several events as they work towards a successful second peak in Beijing. After Beijing they try to hang on to the peak as long as possible. 2) They burn out, are unable to regain their peak form for Beijing, and burn out long before the end of the season.

As mentioned above Hanna Öberg’s shooting this season is the worst of her career. Even removing the season opening Individual race her shooting accuracy is well off from where it has been. Once again you could take this in 2 ways: 1) That this does raise alarm bells that the focus on ski speed has come at the expense of her shooting. 2) She has a history of good shooting and she’ll get it back with a few weeks to focus on it. Then the combined excellent ski speed and return to form of her shooting makes her a serious threat for gold in Beijing and the overall crystal globe.

So what is Hanna Öberg’s path to victory? Actually it’s pretty simple to see. She’s clearly got the speed in the legs. First thing she’ll need to do is not take too big of a dip in ski speed while she is building towards a second peak. As long as she can maintain her legs in the same general range she is in now she’s in good shape. The next step is for her to find her shooting form on the range. If you want to be optimistic you can see her shooting improving in the last two competitions of the season. If those two things happen she will regularly be finishing in the top 5 and that’s a really good way to pile up points. However she, like Alimbekava, Hauser, and Sola, will also need a little help from the top 2. In this case she would need her sister to continue to struggle on the range while Røeiseland takes a dip while building for Beijing. Don’t get me wrong though, I think Hanna Öberg has a definite path to the overall title.

5. Hanna Sola: 320 (-97)

StatisticCurrent Rank
Overall Ski Rank8
Median Back from Top 10 +.46% (8th)
Total Shooting Rank68
Hit Rate Percentage83.57%
Shooting Speed Rank13

At age 25 and in just her second full season on the World Cup Hanna Sola has made a decided leap up to the upper echelons of women’s biathlon. Last season during her first full year on the World Cup level Sola finished the season a more than respectable 23rd overall. She also established herself as one of the faster skiers on the tour with a year end ski rank of 7th overall. This season while she’s one place further down in the ski rankings she’s actually improved her position relative to the top 10. Last season her median back from the top 10 was +.87%.

The big improvement in her performances though has been her shooting. Her total hit rate last season was just 71%. That’s a huge improvement. And that’s with also shaving 2 seconds per trip to the range off her shooting time and becoming one of the faster shooters on the World Cup. Not hard to see how she made the leap from good biathlete to great biathlete with those improvements.

Looking at her race by race statistics you can see that overall her performances are a little more up and down than Hanna Öberg’s. If you just scroll up quickly you can remind yourself that Öberg had fairly consistent ski and shooting speeds. One thing to note though when comparing the two charts is the scale. Sola’s inconsistent shooting performances are still ranking above 35th most of the time.

If we’re thinking about Sola’s chances to win the overall one big concern is that this is clearly a leap in total performance over last season. Breaking it down her skiing form is decidedly improved but not to an unbelievable level. She spent an entire season as a top 10 skier last year. This leads me to believe that this is something that she’ll be able to maintain this improvement. What we’re seeing is likely natural improvement of a very good biathlete.

Her shooting is what made the largest improvement. As you can see her shooting still isn’t exactly consistent but what has been eliminated is the really really bad day. She’s also shown the ability to have more good days with 4 races (nearly half the season) in the top 20 in hit rate rank. This is really good. To be honest I would be more concerned about her ability to carry this forward if she were suddenly shooting on a ridiculous level like a Hauser or a Lotte Lie. I also want to point out her improved shooting speed. I know nothing more than anybody else but it seems like she’s made an effort to shoot faster and I wonder if that hasn’t actually played a roll in her improved shooting accuracy.

So what is Hanna Sola’s path to victory? Continued improvement. Her skiing is very good. This is going to keep her in competitions. Her median time back from the top 10 is actually a bit better than Wierer’s was just to give two recent examples. However Wierer was a significantly better shooter than Sola even with Sola’s accuracy improvement. For Sola to truly contend for the overall crystal globe she either needs to take yet another step in her skiing improvement and leap up into the Hanna Öberg range or she has to make another significant improvement in shooting and have even more days ranking in the top 20 of hit rank. More likely she will need a bit of both of those things.

4. Lisa Theresa Hauser: 321 (-96)

StatisticCurrent Rank
Overall Ski Rank26
Median Back from Top 10 +2.39% (24th)
Total Shooting Rank7
Hit Rate Percentage92.14%
Shooting Speed Rank5

Last season was Lisa Hauser’s big leap forward. I covered this briefly when talking about Lotte Lie in the Career Best Seasons (so far…) post but Hauser’s career prior to last year was that of a solid biathlete who was an excellent shooter and a decent skier. Last season though she made a definitive leap forward in her skiing vaulting up to 10th in overall ski rank. If you review last season she really made the jump following the holiday break and it was in the 2nd half of the season when she grabbed her 2 wins.

This season appears to be following a similar pattern. Hauser’s shooting accuracy is as better than ever. And she’s shooting even faster than last year as well (some of her fastest of her career!) Her ski speed, while not quite up to last season’s standards, has been good enough that she was able to win a Sprint race already.

When you look at the race by race breakdown it actually makes me more optimistic. Clearly Hochfilzen was a low spot on the season. There was a lot of talking coming into that week about her racing at her home venue. Furthermore she was coming into the week wearing the yellow jersey. I didn’t read anything about it but its likely that the pressure of performing at home got to her just a little bit. The dip happens across the board but it is most pronounced with her shooting. Other than that weekend and one strange race in Östersund her shooting is probably better than she would have hoped it would be.

When you look at how last season progressed for her ski speed, it looks remarkably similar to this season. Good but not great start on the snow with a peak coming in the weeks following the holiday break. She mentioned following her surprise Sprint win that she wasn’t expecting to win and that she and her coaches are definitively aiming for her legs to peak for Beijing. Last year she proved she knows how to build towards a peak, and when she’s in peak form she knows how to win.

All of this together makes it hard for me not to be optimistic about Lisa Hauser’s chances. Last season was her best all around season by far on the World Cup. She’s looking like the might surpass last season’s overall result if she can keep up her progress.

So what is Lisa Hauser’s path to victory? Well first of all she needs to keep doing well what she does well. She’s an excellent shooter and is shooting better than ever this season. She’s nearly shooting faster than ever as well. Since she doesn’t have the speed of an Elvira Öberg or a Røeiseland she can’t let that slip at all. Then she needs to do exactly what she did last season and come out of the break, or whenever her pre-Beijing training camp will be, with the same speed that she did last season. What I’ve said for the previous 2 athletes holds true for Hauser as she’s in the same boat points wise. She’s going to need Elvira Öberg to continue to struggle on the range and Røeiseland to take a step back while training for Beijing. However there is a very real, if narrow, opening that Hauser can take to the overall crown.

3. Dzinara Alimbekava: 327 (-90)

StatisticCurrent Rank
Overall Ski Rank14
Median Back from Top 10 +1.2% (13th)
Total Shooting Rank26
Hit Rate Percentage88.57%
Shooting Speed Rank28

Her story is much like her compatriot Hanna Sola. Last season was her first full season on the World Cup and her early success relied mostly on her ski speed. Last season she finished the year 15th in overall ski ranking and +1.14% behind the median top 10. This season. What separated her and Sola last year was that she started off as a better shooter finishing the season 50th in total hit rankings.

Last season’s blue jersey winner as the best young biathlete came into this season and immediately looked even better than ever. She opened the season in Östersund as a deadeye shooter and top 10 skiier and grabbed three straight 4th place finishes. She finished last season at 7th in the overall standings but this looked like a significant leap forward, putting her in contention for the overall title.

Right from the jump it was clear that her shooting was significantly better. While her shooting did take a dip in Annecy she has still moved up to 26th in total hit rank with an improvement of 5% in shooting accuracy. Her skiing which initially had her ranked near the very top of the standings is now right about where it was last season. She appeared visibly slower than her top competitors in Hochfilzen and Annecy and that is seen in the numbers as well. Her total ski ranking is still 14th but she is a little slower vs. the top 10 than last year now +1.2% from the median top 10.

When looking at her race by race statistics it is clear that during the second weekend in Östersund she made a conscious decision to shoot faster and she’s stuck with it. Whether that’s been a good thing or not is a little difficult to ascertain just by looking at the numbers.

For multiple reasons Alimbekava’s most direct comparison is to Hanna Sola. If you were to force me to choose who has a better chance at being in the mix for the overall title as the season progresses I’m going to lean towards Alimbekava. For one she’s got more history, even if it’s short, of competing on a top 10 level. But she has also been far more consistent than Sola both in terms of shooting and ski quality. However I think at the moment you have to consider both Hanna Öberg and Lisa Hauser as better candidates for the overall.

So what is Alimbekava’s path to the overall? Truthfully she needs to keep improving just as we said for Sola. She has to find a way to get her skiing speed back towards where it was last season if not a little bit faster. Then she needs to find a way to gain about 2% more accuracy. If she can do those things I’m still not convinced that she would win the overall but she would put herself in position for a lot of podium finishes to close the season. If she can finally convert these 4th place finishes into 2nd’s or even a couple of wins those points will start to pile up. Of course this comes with the standard acknowledgement that she would need Elvira Öberg and Røeiseland to come back to the pack a little bit.

2. Elvira Öberg: 387 (-30)

StatisticCurrent Rank
Overall Ski Rank1
Median Back from Top 10 -1.74% (1st)
Total Shooting Rank67
Hit Rate Percentage83.57%
Shooting Speed Rank32

Elvira Öberg is the talk of the season on the women’s circuit and for good reason. There were rumblings in October that she was looking fast but I’m not sure any of us expected this. She’s been like a lightning bolt just absolutely blazing around the course this season. There have been multiple races where I have thought and even said that due to her misses Elvira had shot herself out of a race only to have to eat my words as she just blew by the competition on the course to find her way to another top 10 or even podium finish. Her median back from the top 10 of -1.74% is the best of woman since the 2014-2015 season when Makarainen and Domracheva were just ridiculously quick.

Normally somebody skiing that fast would be flying away from the competition in the yellow jersey. Elvira Öberg may still do just that but as you can see her shooting as been holding her back. There is a real reason I’ve thought she’s been “out” of a race. So many times she put herself into a massive hole that she was somehow able to nearly climb out of.

Looking at the race by race statistics makes it clear: if Elvira Öberg shoots anywhere above like 20th in the field she’s going to win. The only reason she doesn’t have 3 W’s this season is because she put herself in too deep a hole in the Hochfilzen Sprint that her miraculous shooting day in the Pursuit couldn’t even pull her out. You can see in Annecy that she doesn’t have to be a top 10 shooter to win but when she does its lights out for the rest of the field.

The other important thing I see here is her incredible consistency on the skis. She’s the fastest nearly every single race with just a slight dip in Hochfilzen. (We saw several traditionally strong teams dip a little Hochfilzen so I wonder if there wasn’t a wax issue?). Otherwise nobody can keep up with her except for maybe Justine Brasaiz-Bouchet and her sister on a good day.

I really like this shot of Öberg in front of the “100% Electric” sign because I think it sums up her year so well. I don’t think I’ve emphasized enough though how inconsistent she has been on the range. It is frustratingly so. If you look at the race by race graph you can see a vague trend in a positive direction for her shooting. That would be enormously helpful for her chances in the overall. However with only 9 races its hard to make that kind of association. She’s been so wild on the range that I could absolutely see her going in any direction.

So what is Elvira Öberg’s path to victory? Do what she did in Annecy. Which is to say keep her skiing form intact and shoot just better. Not perfect, just better. If she can get her shooting % up from 83% to 88-89% that would be huge. At that point she would be nearly unbeatable and would put up just enormous numbers of points. However if she stays at 83% or even slips from there even a little back to 81-82% where she was last season she is really going to make life difficult for herself.

I did raise one concern with Hanna Öberg that are worth reiterating. It can be very difficult to maintain a ski peak this high. There is some concern as this pertains to her chances at the overall crystal globe. Basically I said there are two potential pitfalls: 1) They do take a step back over the next several events as they work towards a successful second peak in Beijing. After Beijing they try to hang on to the peak as long as possible. 2) They burn out, are unable to regain their peak form for Beijing, and burn out long before the end of the season.

Unlike anybody else that we’ve discussed though Elvira Öberg really does not need to rely on anybody but herself. If she performs at the top of her capabilities she’s going to easily sweep past Røeiseland. Not that Røeiseland is an unworthy #1, it’s that Öberg’s potential peak is so so high.

1.Marte Olsbu Røeiseland (417)

StatisticCurrent Rank
Overall Ski Rank7
Median Back from Top 10 +.38% (4th)
Total Shooting Rank9
Hit Rate Percentage91.43%
Shooting Speed Rank23

And we finally get to the overall leader Marte Olsbu Røeiseland. When you look at her season statistics its not hard to see why she’s leading. She’s fast and she’s shooting well. Isn’t that the way you win in biathlon? Don’t get me wrong she’s not the fastest on this list being behind both of the Öberg’s . And she’s not quite as good a shooter as Lisa Theresa Hauser (but she’s close!). But she’s been the best overall biathlete and easily the most consistently high finishing biathlete all season long.

When you look at the graph it doesn’t always look like the most consistent but that’s just a trick of the eye by her really poor shooting speed on one race. If you were able to magically move that back towards her season average shooting speed you would see a nicely bunched and consistent performance across the season matched only really by Alimbekava and Hanna Öberg in terms of consistency. The difference is neither of them shoot nearly as well as Røeiseland.

When you look at the consistency of the finishes you also see how remarkably steady she has been with a season low of 12. And over the last 6 races nothing worse than 6th. The best choice she might have made this season was to not race the relay in Hochfilzen giving her fresh legs to win the Pursuit the next day.

When you look closer you see that she’s able to finish on the podium or even when in multiple ways. She can shoot the lights out and race relatively more slowly or she can be one of the fastest on the course and rank 20th in shooting. This allows her more room for a a miss or two on the range or a bit of heavy legs one day and still have a high finish. Of course she can’t have a bad day in both aspects…nobody can.

If I were to point out one area of caution its that Røeiseland, in a relatively length career compared to some of her competitors, has never shot this well before. Last season she shot relatively well to start the year before a rough patch in the mid section of the season bumped her back down. If she regresses back to her career average or even just average of recent seasons then that narrows down her margin of error considerably.

So what is Røeiseland path to victory? She’s doing it. That’s easy to say because she’s wearing the yellow jersey but seriously this is it. She’s a great all around biathlete. If not for an out of this world performance by Eckhoff last season she would already have one crystal globe. This season she’s top 10 in both shooting and skiing and nobody else can say that.

She’s also following what I would call the “JT Bø approach” from last season. Sure Bø would have loved a few more wins last season, but even though Lægreid lapped him when it came to the overall JT Bø won (narrowly) because of his consistency in top 5 and top 10 finishes vs. everybody else. Nobody has more consistent finishes this season than Røeiseland. This means that even on a day when Elvira Öberg runs away from the field on the course, or Hauser shoots 19/20, if Røeiseland can finish 3rd or 4th it limits her losses in the overall. You really have to like Røeiseland’s chances.

Predictions:
Okay so what to make of all of this? Let’s go ahead and make some predictions. Are we using a formula? Nope this is just looking at the data we have, doing some speculation, and trying to figure out who we think has the best shot at finishing the season with the crystal globe.

AthleteChance at Winning Crystal Globe
Marte Olsbu Røeiseland35%
Elvira Öberg33%
Lisa Theresa Hauser15%
Hanna Öberg10%
Dzinara Alimbekava4%
Hana Sola1%

So I mentioned before that one of the big variables is if/when different competitors are going to take a week away for their Beijing training camp. There was some speculation that Elvira Öberg might not do that and might just continue straight through based on her position in the overall. For the purposes of this exercise we’re going to assume everybody takes 1 weekend away. I’m positive there are ways to build an algorithm to take all of this into account but I’m not going to do that.

The only two athletes I really feel strongly about not winning the overall are Alimbekava and Sola. This is nothing against those two in particular, I just think they aren’t quite ready yet. I think they’ve had terrific starts to the season and I’m very high on their futures and it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if one of them or both of them finish top 3 in the overall several times in the next few seasons. I just think they both need a little more polish before we’re there.

I’m probably underestimating Hanna Öberg’s chances relative to Hauser. Where I see room for improvement in terms of Hauser’s ability to return to a higher ski form, I see warning signs with Hanna Öberg’s poor shooting this season. Part of that is because we saw Hauser execute this exact plan last season to great success and I believe she’s starting from a better position this season. Also I don’t see an Eckhoff out there right now to sweep up wins.

When it comes to the top 2 I can make absolutely compelling arguments for both. What made me give the slight edge to Røeiseland is that it is much easier for me to see Elvira Öberg’s rifle failing her at the wrong tie than for Røeiseland. Also Røeiseland isn’t as absolutely dependent on any one thing as Elvira is with her ski speed. If she slows at all she loses her huge advantage. On the other hand what an incredible advantage that speed is if she can keep it! I think this could be a really exciting 3 months in the women’s fight for the overall World Cup title!

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