We’ve taken a look at how the women’s overall World Cup overall race is shaping up so now let’s take a look at a very deep and very tight men’s race. Looking back over the last several seasons and usually its right around weeks 4-5 that the separation occurs between the true contenders and the rest of the pack. Really its usually right around now that the eventual winner separates out from the pack as the men’s World Cup has had a lot of not very close overall races recently. However if it is a close season this is usually where the leaders pull away. 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 men’s overall standings.
|Quinton Fillon Maillet||369|
|Vetle Sjåstad Christiansen||347|
|Johannes Thingnes Bø||310|
|Sturla Holm Lægreid||253|
I’m going to say the same thing here that I said in the women’s version of this same article, that for the purposes of this column I’m going to assume that every athlete is going to take off 1 of the next 3 weeks for altitude training between now and Beijing. Every few days we get a new report on what the conditions will be like in China for the Olympics and they do not sounds like fun. It sounds like the groups that were scouting the course over the Christmas holiday reported, to nobody’s surprise, a course composed of entirely manmade snow. Furthermore it was an exposed course with many twists and turns and few hills that is at the mercy of what can be a very strong wind. And it was really really cold with temps near -20C. It would serve these men well to have a pre Olympics altitude camp!
*Just taking a quick moment to say that if those are the conditions these athletes see in February then it’s going to be very hard to predict who is going to win. Sure you can look at who that course might favor in terms of fewer hills etc. But when its that cold, at that altitude, with that kind of wind, it becomes a bit of a wild mess. Okay I’ll save the rest of my Beijing thoughts for some other time.*
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.
|Quinton Fillon Maillet||369 (-2)|
|Vetle Sjåstad Christiansen||347 (-24)|
|Sebastian Samuelsson||344 (-27)|
|Eduard Latypov||336 (-35)|
|Tarjei Bø||320 (-51)|
|Johannes Thingnes Bø||310 (-61)|
|Sturla Holm Lægreid||253 (-118)|
Rather than just doing the top 10 I wanted to limit it to men who I truly believed have a chance to win the crystal globe (even if its a very narrow window) OR I just can’t eliminate because everybody is too bunched together. It’s important to realize that this is an incredibly bunched leaderboard right now. 1-7 are within 61 points or basically the points from a single victory. A win in a race is worth 60 points. Obviously the chance of JT Bø winning while everybody else gains 0 points is basically not at all, but its very possible.
While the women’s race I mentioned that there was an argument that could be made that I could have cut it down to just Røeiseland and Elvira Öberg. I really don’t feel like I could cut down this list any further than I already have. It’s just much too tight and the quality of the contenders is much too high.
Just like with the women 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.
Before we get started you’ll notice I left out Anton Smolski and Simon Desthieux from the discussion here even though they are both in the top 10 and have very close overall point totals to Lægreid (in Smolski’s case even slightly ahead). Basically I just don’t believe either of them truly have a chance at the overall. I think that the chances that they will outperform every athlete in front of them, and by the significant margin required to win the overall, to be virtually zero.
8. Sturla Holm Lægreid: 253 (-118)
|Overall Ski Rank||24th|
|Median Back from Top 10||+2.31%|
|Total Shooting Rank||7th|
|Hit Rate Percentage||94.17%|
|Shooting Speed Rank||32nd|
So I didn’t include Smolski and Desthieux, why did I include Lægreid? In truth I may have been able to take out Lægreid from this list but after his performance from last season I feel that would be a mistake. He’s shown the ability to win and win frequently which is what is required to come back from 118 points back and leap over 7 men. He had 7 wins last season including 4 after the holiday break. It’s going to require a performance like that to get back into the race and I just don’t think Smolski and Desthieux can do it while there is the ever so small chance that Lægreid can.
Lægreid doesn’t have a long career on the World Cup but we do know what kind of athlete he is. He’s a tremendous shooter who skis well enough to win. I think his talent on the skis is definitely underrated. He was the 7th ranked overall skier last season! His median time back from the top 10 was +.86% which also ranked 7th and was actually ahead of Samuelsson and Jacquelin. Combine that with having the 2nd best total hit rate percentage of full time World Cup men last season and its not hard to see why he leapt straight up into a very close competition for the overall title.
This season you can see he, like many of the Norwegian biathletes, have had a bit of slide backward in terms of ski speed. He actually is shooting more accurately though which is almost hard to believe. I spent a lot of time analyzing him and JT Bø in my piece Great Norwegian Expectations and I don’t want to repeat myself too much so I’ll try to be brief. (I know try to hold your laughter down).
When you look at his race by race statistics you can see that while he’s shooting more accurately than last season, if you were to take out his relatively disastrous Sprint race in Hochfilzen his shooting would be even better. He’s already the most accurate shooter of the full time World Cup competitors and this would put him even further ahead.
Unfortunately though his skiing form is well off from where he was last season. He’s still a highly ranked skier but he’s not nearly as good as he was last season. That’s the difference between three wins in the first four weeks and one win. And it is clear that this isn’t something that is skewed by one or two bad performances. He’s just been very steadily at a lower level than he was last season.
To be clear Lægreid has made no secret of the fact that peaking for Beijing is the #1 goal for him this season. He, like several athletes, seems to be quite content to use the opening weeks of the season to build towards his ultimate goal. Looking at their respective paths to success his closest comparison would actually be Lisa Hauser. Great shooters and last season under appreciated skiers who both have one early season win. Both also approximately the same distance back in the overall.
So what is Lægreid’s path to victory? He needs to keep shooting just like he is now. He’s got to stay as one of the best shooters on the tour. That’s the key to his success. Then he needs to see his ski form return to where it was last season in a hurry. Every other biathlete ahead of him on this list is faster than him fairly significantly. Most are some of the fastest men on the tour. He doesn’t need to be the fastest man in the world. He’s not going to beat Samuelsson or Jacquelin, but he needs to not be losing chunks of time on the course. If he can do that he’ll be back to being the guy who won seven times last season. He may need to do something crazy like that to have a chance but we know he can do it. Being over 100 points behind he’s going to need some help from the men ahead of him too but at this stage of the game he’s not completely out of it.
7. Johannes Thingnes Bø: 310 (-61)
|Overall Ski Rank||3rd|
|Median Back from Top 10||-.09%|
|Total Shooting Rank||49th|
|Hit Rate Percentage||85.71%|
|Shooting Speed Rank||75|
Three time defending champion Johannes Thingnes Bø is currently sitting in the somewhat shocking position of 6th place. Before the season this would have been unthinkable. He’s having the worst start to his season since the 2015-2016 season. That year at this stage of the season the then 22 year old Bø was 250 points back of Fourcade and in 9th place overall. He went on to finish the season 2nd 332 points behind Fourcade. Sometimes we just need to remember Fourcade was really really good. Consider this your reminder.
A lot has changed since then. Primarily, as stated above, JT Bø has one 3 straight overall World Cup titles and we are now in our second full season without the great Martin Fourcade. So what hasn’t changed? JT Bø is still very fast. But…he’s not as fast. This is the first time he isn’t the absolute fastest since 2016-2017. He’s still 3rd fastest but its definitely a step backward (like most of the Norwegians as we’ve discussed).
Looking at his shooting though he is about exactly where he was last season. To be fair this is down 7% from his career peak. More importantly though his hit rate percentage this season is right where it has been +/- .5% in every other competitive season he’s had including two of his three overall crystal globes and his numerous top 3 finishes.
JT Bø, along with basically everybody else on this list, is the opposite of Lægreid. Their goal is to not shoot themselves out of a race. They can all make up for 1-3 misses depending on the type of race but if they shoot clean they are all extremely difficult to beat.
Looking at his race by race statistics is a little enlightening when it comes to his shooting. He has really only one really bad day. If you take out his shooting in the Sprint race in Hochfilzen his shooting is actually better this season than last season. What that tells me is that he is shooting well enough to be in contention for the overall title.
When you look at his ski ranks he’s been in the top 10 for every single race this season. On the surface that sounds great! But for JT Bø its really not. He’s had four races where he ranked exactly 10th and only one where he was fastest. For all of last season he never ranked lower than 6th. By this point last season he had been the fastest man on the snow already five times in nine races.
Anything down from 1st was going to be a significant step back for JT Bø but this is a bit more than that. He’s not bad or slow by any means but this is a major deviation from his path to success in the past. This slow down has been enough to make Bø from what was a very narrow win over Lægreid last season to just middle of the top tier and on the back end of the list of contenders. So while he is generally shooting a little better than he was last season the slower skiing more than counteracts that.
So what are my biggest concerns for JT Bø? He likely has lost a touch of speed but not that significant of a drop. Based on the results of last season and this season he is now mortal if not entering the backside of his career. But being only 28 he should have several more seasons of near peak skiing speed which should be enough to be in the competition for the overall even if no longer dominant. He also does have a young family and I speak from experience when I say that there is a part of you that always yearns to spend more time with your kids and makes it harder to dedicate to your own pursuits. I’m not saying this is the reason for the slow down but its not impossible to think it is playing a role.
So what is JT Bø’s path to victory? Well we actually know exactly what it is because we’ve seen him do it three times already. It’s a pretty easy script (well at least easy for me to say from my couch). He needs to keep his shooting exactly where it is right now. Like I said previously besides one really bad day on the range he’s more accurate now than last season and in range of all of his great overall finishes. What he needs to do is find his speed he’s always had in the past.
Not to give anything away (but I really already did in my previous post on the Norwegian team) but I think there is a very good chance that he does. I find it very hard to believe that JT Bø suddenly got that much slower in one year. I think more than about anybody else JT Bø clearly has a strategy. It’s almost that the variation from the norm is more evidence of a well thought out plan than if there had been no variation. I think this could very well be a situation where JT Bø plays his cards exactly right, has a high peak around mid February which carries through the end of the season and he ends up with 1-2 gold medals and another crystal globe. Long story short: the shooting is actually there, just waiting for the skiing form we know he has to come around.
6. Tarjei Bø: 320 (-51)
|Overall Ski Rank||7th|
|Median Back from Top 10||+.62%|
|Total Shooting Rank||27th|
|Hit Rate Percentage||88.57%|
|Shooting Speed Rank||59th|
Tarjei Bø is one of, if not the most, consistent biathlete on the men’s World Cup circuit. Over the last 7 seasons his statistical averages have barely budged. Starting with the 2015-2016 season his ski ranking has been between 3rd and 11th and his total hit rank between 26th to 38th. That also means that his final year end ranking has been very consistent ranging from 4th to 7th (with the exception of 2016-2017 when he missed a large chunk of the season.
So looking at his rankings for this season and you see an overall ski rank of 7th and a total shooting rank of 27th. You would expect to be at about the same overall ranking right? Well there he is right at 6th. It’s a truly remarkable run of consistency. Unlike his brother JT Bø, or fellow Norwegian Lægreid, he really hasn’t taken a major step backwards in any appreciable way.
When we talked about the Norwegians we did mention that he is skiing a touch slower. His median time back from the top 10 has risen from +.02% last season to +.62% this season. That’s not as quite as big of a slowdown as some other Norwegians have experienced but still a decent amount. However his total hit rate percentage is up 3% this year from 85.71% to 88.57% which has offset the ski slowdown and kept him in the same approximate positions on the World Cup.
Looking at his race by race statistics you can see that his ski ranks have been extremely consistent all season long. Remarkably so for being 33 years old and in his 12th full time season on the World Cup. What this tells us is that, like most biathletes, his finishes are going to correspond most closely with his shooting performance. We already discussed how his shooting is actually up 3% this season over last season. You can see from the graph above that his shooting has not exactly been consistent. In a way though this is consistent for him as this is how he normally shoots. (It’s also by the way fairly common for most biathletes as a quick glance at the other graphs on this page will show).
From just purely looking at his finishes this year you could actually argue he’s having a better season than last season. Last year at this point in the season he had just 2 top 5 finishes but one of those was a win while this season though he has 4 top 5 finishes. This season he also has six of nine finishes in the top 10 whereas last season he was outside the top 10 5 times already by the holiday break. The difference is he’s also had a finish as low as 28 this year but last season his lowest finish at this stage was 15.
Like was mentioned above he is 33 and in his 12th full time season on the World Cup. At some point he is going to start to slip after this remarkable run of consistency top level skiing. Is this that season? It’s hard to tell because as we’ve discussed many times many Norwegian biathletes, both men and women, have experienced the same regression in ski speed. Because of how consistent he is been, even if a small bit slower, I tend to think that this actually isn’t due to his age but more related to other aspects.
So what is Tarjei Bø’s path to the overall crown? Truthfully I would be shocked if he won the overall Crystal Globe. I’m absolutely not counting him out because the race is so close and he’s within 51 points. And you could make a fair argument that his consistence is a benefit as he will consistently gain points when others might have more up and down periods of their seasons. However I’ve less optimistic for his overall chances. It feels like Tarjei Bø is always getting near the maximum out of what he has and that there isn’t a lot of upside remaining. But if he’s going to do it the way he’s going to is by following the same path he always does…just a little bit better. He’s going to need to see his ski speed not only return to last season’s levels but actually be a tiny bit better. He’s also going to need to continue shooting at his current rate. If he can do that, and continue to be as consistent as he always has been, then there truly is a chance that he could raise the crystal globe.
5. Eduard Latypov: 336 (-35)
|Overall Ski Rank||13th|
|Median Back from Top 10||+.93%|
|Total Shooting Rank||20th|
|Hit Rate Percentage||89.29%|
|Shooting Speed Rank||52nd|
I highlighted Eduard Latypov in my piece Career Best Seasons (So Far…) and for good reason. He’s skyrocketed in the last 2 seasons going from 52nd overall up to now 5th overall. Last season the big improvement was in his ski speed. This season he’s even improved that even further up from 20th overall to 13th overall. Importantly his median time back from top 10 was gone from +1.7% to +.93%. This season he added greatly improved shooting accuracy and that’s vaulted him up firmly into contention for the overall men’s World Cup title. Last season he was shooting with a hit rate percentage of 82.75% which was good for 69th overall. He’s improved his prone shooting and significantly improved his standing shooting to be one of the better shooters on the circuit.
Latypov is so new to the World Cup and has improved so much from year to year that its been impossible to get a handle on what he will rely on most in his career, skiing vs. shooting. However from his improvements thus far he’s looking like a very good all around biathlete. That’s a really good sign for his future. It means that he’s going to have a much greater margin of error and will keep him in contention in a greater number of races. More chances for high finishes and more chances to earn points!
In his race by race statistics I’m intrigued by his more consistent skiing over the last 2 weekends. I wonder if maybe he didn’t quite come in where he was hoping to in terms of his speed but he got himself into shape pretty quickly. Firmly in the top 10 of ski speed for the last 5 races of the season is really really good. Besides the Hochfilzen stage he’s been one of the best shooters in the world cup as well!
What I’m actually most intrigued about though is that his shooting speed seems to be get faster and faster as the season goes on. I don’t know if this is an intentional effort on his part of just a matter of him becoming more comfortable on the range. If its the latter though it’s a good sign of his confidence as we move into the next stage of the season. He’s still young, maybe not in age but in experience on the tour, but he’s definitely taking his place as the premier Russian male biathlete for right now. He’s also right in the mix for the crystal globe just 35 points back!
So what is Latypov’s path to victory? Well its going to be difficult. Remember how I said it’s potentially really good that he is good about both shooting and skiing? Well part of the problem with that is that he doesn’t yet have a consistently reliable great trait like Samuelsson’s speed or Lægreid’s shooting. His shooting was very good in Östersund and his skiing was really really good in Annecy. At this point he’s a bit in a difficult situation like Tarjei Bø. He’s going to consistently be in contention but he needs to find a way to turn some of those into wins. Again he’s just 35 points back so he has shown that he can do each aspect of biathlon with the best in the world. If he can get his skiing and shooting peaks to align then he’s going to have a chance.
4. Sebastian Samuelsson: 344 (-27)
|Overall Ski Rank||1st|
|Median Back from Top 10||-1.02%|
|Total Shooting Rank||74th|
|Hit Rate Percentage||82.14%|
|Shooting Speed Rank||68th|
Sebastian Samuelsson is one of the best young biathletes in the world. That’s not going out on a limb at all but I think sometimes we forget a little bit. If Lægreid had been on the IBU Cup last season we would have talked a lot about Samuelsson. He competed for the yellow jersey early last season, went head to head successfully against JT Bø a couple of times, and ended the season ranked 6th overall. Even for an obviously talented young man, remember he won Silver in Pursuit and finished 4th in Individual at just 21 years old at the Pyeongchang Olympic Games in 2018, that’s an incredible season.
And this season he’s taken even another leap forward. To be fair it is only 2 spots in the overall standings but he’s proven himself to be the fastest man on tour. When looking at median back from the top 10 percentage he’s a full .5% faster than Jacquelin in 2nd. For perspective there is .5% between Tarjei Bø in 6th and Anton Smolski in 15th in the same category.
We have discussed the top Swedish athletes at some length and every time we discuss their similar characteristics: blazing speed and mediocre (at best) shooting accuracy. Both of these statistics are incredible. Elvira Öberg and Samuelsson are both easily the fastest on their tours. The Swedish men and women almost across the board entered the season in an incredible ski form. What’s remarkable though is that the poor shooting seems to be contagious as well. Even Hanna Öberg , a normally reliable shooter, has taken a large step backward.
Nobody has ever confused Samuelsson with Simon Eder or Lisa Hauser but this season his shooting has regressed in a bit of a concerning fashion. His hit rate percentage has decreased an entire 5% from 87.14% to 82.14%. That’s a major drop from 29th to 73rd in the rankings. How on earth has he been able to overcome that sort of drop and frankly poor shooting form?
When you look at his race by race statistics it does put a little bit of different slant on his shooting performance. He’s had a couple of really really bad days. (Okay can somebody please explain to me what happened in Hochfilzen with most of these guys?) but the rest of the season he’s actually been looking fairly decent. I think that with Samuelsson you might just have to survive the bad days and thrive the rest of the time.
The really important take away here is that his ski speed has been very very good. His lowest ski ranking on the season is 6th and he’s four times been the fastest man on the course. This is peak JT Bø era skiing to be honest. That ski form gives him a chance every time out. Even in the Hochfilzen Pursuit when he started 14th he was able to climb all the way back to the podium. If his shooting rank is 20th or above he’s going to have a chance for a win.
So what is Samuelsson’s path to victory? Outskiing the field. With his speed he doesn’t have to be perfect on the range to be in the mix for a top 10 or even a podium. That’s going to give him more opportunities to get larger numbers of points. His speed though is going to give him many more chances at wins and ultimately that could make all of the difference. Lægreid last season (via a very different formula!) rode a pile of wins to within a breath of the overall crystal globe. Samuelsson may very well be able to pull off a similar feat.
3. Vetle Sjåstad Christiansen: 347 (-24)
|Overall Ski Rank||9th|
|Median Back from Top 10||+.64%|
|Total Shooting Rank||9th|
|Hit Rate Percentage||92.86%|
|Shooting Speed Rank||66th|
If I had to pick my most surprising biathlete of the first trimester of the season it would be Vetle Sjåstad Christiansen. It’s not that he isn’t a good biathlete. And its not that he hasn’t had success in the past. It’s just that at age 29 I didn’t think he had any more growth in him. Over the last few seasons he had seemed to level out a bit. Well I was wrong. Christiansen, in his 13th season as a professional, is having the fastest skiing of his career and he’s now shooting as accurately as he ever has before.
In fact he’s performing as the most well rounded biathlete on the World Cup this season. Clearly he’s not the best or he would be in first place but he, more than anybody else on this list, relies less on any one particular outstanding trait which has frankly been the key to his successes.
He’s had 3 previous full seasons on the World Cup level. He’s improved his shooting every season from a ranking of 21 and now up to 10th. His skiing has improved over that time from an initial ranking of 25th now up to 9th. No season has come with a dramatic leap in any one particular skill. However this season he seems to have improved just enough across the board that he’s jumped to 3rd in the overall standings and even briefly wore the yellow jersey for the first time in his career.
When you check out his race by race statistics it is by far and away the most consistent grouping of statistics of anybody else on this list. That’s a very nice cluster all at the top of the rankings. His worst day on the range was the season opening Individual on Östersund when he finished 36th. Since then no lower than 18th. His worse day skiing was the Spring in Hochfilzen when he finished 27th. Outside of Hochfilzen he’s never been worse than 12th in ski speed. You can also see he hasn’t exactly been slow on the range.
All of that adds up to a very consistent overall picture. I keep coming back to that word but its the perfect description for Christiansen this season. No crazy ups and downs. He’s rarely out of a race. He’s not going to make any big back breaking mistakes but he’s also not going to absolutely dominate a race either. When we said Latypov needed to do what he has been doing but better? This is the goal. That graph for Christiansen is what Latypov needs to have the next 3 months to give himself a chance.
As for Christiansen what is his path to victory? This is it. He has to continue being consistent. Like I said he’s not going to burn up the ski loops. And while he’s occasionally going to have a perfect day on the range that’s going to be the exception not the norm. He has to minimize the mistakes and he can’t take any days off. If he keeps himself in every race, and I know this is a tough ask, but if he can ski just a small bit faster, then he’s going to be on several more podiums the rest of the season. If he can just be more consistent than the two men in front of him there is a very real chance that Christiansen is holding the crystal globe in Oslo.
2. Quinton Fillon Maillet: 369 (-2)
|Overall Ski Rank||4th|
|Median Back from Top 10||+.05%|
|Total Shooting Rank||32|
|Hit Rate Percentage||87.86%|
|Shooting Speed Rank||41st|
The last two men on the list are the French Kings of biathlon (at least through 4 weeks). I talked about them at length in my first piece during the break and I’m going to try to be brief on them now. Quinton Fillon Maillet is right now at what would be the best finish of his career (and he’s just 2 points out from winning his first career crystal globe). What’s remarkable is that he is doing it while not be that much better than he was last season. Now to be fair he did finish 3rd overall last season which is very good. But let’s be honest, he was never in any way in the conversation about who might when the overall race.
His ski ranking is unchanged from last season, 4th and 4th. He is a little faster compared to the other top athletes though improving his median back from the top 10 from .22% to just .05%. It’s not a huge difference but when you’re already one of the fastest in the world you don’t need to make huge speed difference to make big gains in points. His shooting rank is basically unchanged from 27th last year and his hit rate percentage is up a very small bit from 87.25% last season. Interestingly his shooting speed rank is down from 26th to 41st but that’s just a matter of one second on average per trip to the range. Overall it sounds like he’s been fairly steady.
Then you look at QFM’s race by race statistics and he looks like absolute chaos. Holy cow that is absolutely the most filled graph that we have in this entire article. Every single line bounces around like we’re monitoring an earthquake. Somehow this has added up to the 2nd best overall season so far and quite nearly the yellow jersey.
One interesting thing is that you can actually see a marked improvement in shooting accuracy as the shooting goes on. What’s more is that as he becomes more accurate he’s also been more consistently accurate. It’s not just that he’s having 1-2 randomly good days but overall he is having more regular good days. If you’re being generous you can see a vaguely upward trajectory in his ski speed as well. Honestly I won’t even comment on his shooting speeds because while he does have an average it isn’t at all representative to what he’s actually doing race to race. And without a doubt there is a positive trajectory in his overall finishes. Can I just say once more though that his graph is absolutely wild.
So what is QFM’s path to victory? Keep having his season progress as it is. Like I said above his shooting is absolutely getting better as the season goes on. His skiing may be improving as well but even if it isn’t he’s skiing well enough to win the crystal globe. It very well may be that QFM’s time has come. He has the skills to win the overall but he’s been blocked behind Fourcade and JT Bø. Fourcade is gone and JT Bø is having a down year right now. The door is open and QFM is performing well enough…can he walk through it? I think he can.
1.Emilien Jacquelin: 371 (-2)
|Overall Ski Rank||2nd|
|Median Back from Top 10||-.54%|
|Total Shooting Rank||61|
|Hit Rate Percentage||85.00%|
|Shooting Speed Rank||56th|
Emilien Jacquelin is absolutely deserving of wearing the yellow jersey into the break as the overall leader of the men’s World Cup. His lead is very narrow so it he might wear it for a very short time, but he has earned at this point. I should probably save this for later, but what has impressed me the most about his racing in the first 4 weekends was his last race of the year in the Mass Start. It wasn’t that he won, even though that was terrific. It was the way he did it. He just went out with a mission to show he was the biggest and baddest man out there and he did it. He pounded the field on the snow and shot really well. He looked confident like he knew he was going to win from the very beginning.
This is his 5th full time season on the World Cup and he’s previously made two big leaps in his ski speed. This is his third. He was a very good skiier this year, but right now he could very easily make an argument that he’s actually the best in the world. He’s had one deliberately slow day in the Hochfilzen pursuit. Remove that and he’s right there with Samuelsson. He’s been the fastest man on the skis three times to Samuelsson’s four and twice he’s been second (behind Samuelsson). I’m not sure who would win in a drag race (probably Samuelsson?) but he’s made it an argument.
When you look at his numbers though he does continue to have a bit of trouble with the shooting. He’s actually gone backwards this year from 24th to 61st and lost 2.38% in accuracy. Overall though he’s more than made up for that with his speed as discussed above. Right now this is easily the best season of his career (which is obvious…he’s in 1st!). Prior to this his best was 2019-2020 when he finished 5th, one of four Frenchmen in the top 6 which is truly remarkable. Now the trick is going to be sustaining it because there is no guarantee he stays in 1st, or even better than his career best 5th place finish.
Jacquelin’s race by race statistics are much calmer than the chaotic mess we saw with QFM. However its still a little messier than we saw with Christiansen or even Samuelsson for that matter. What is plainly obvious is that his ski speed, besides the Pursuit in Hochfilzen, has been there every single race whenever he has needed it.
When you look at his shooting from this angle it does appear to be a bit better. He has one really bad day, and two not great days. The other 6 races a top 20 shooter. That might just be a ratio that you have to live with with Jacquelin. However with his ski speed its actually okay. He’ll never truly be out of a race with his speed so those 6 out of every 9 races when he does shoot well he’s going to have a chance at winning. He only converted once in the first 4 weeks but he has 3 other podium finishes as well.
So what is Jacquelin’s path to victory? This is what it looks like. Long story short, and this shouldn’t come as a surprise for somebody sitting in first overall, but this is the profile of a biathlete who has a real shot at winning the overall World Cup title. Ski speed to keep you in every race, and regularly shooting well enough to win. Yes there are going to be some down days but so far besides the atrocious shooting in Östersund its never been so bad to truly sink him. Can Jacquelin wear the yellow jersey in Oslo? That would be an unequivocal yes.
First of all that was a lot. Some of you may have just scrolled straight down to hear and I don’t blame you one bit for doing that. Just like last time I’m going to be up front about this. There is no formula here, 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.
|Athlete||Chance at Winning Crystal Globe|
|Quinton Fillon Maillet||33%|
|Johannes Thingnes Bø||18%|
|Vetle Sjåstad Christiansen||6%|
|Sturla Holm Lægreid||2%|
Just a reminder that when we are making these predictions we are assuming that every one of these athletes will compete in the same number of events. Basically we are assuming that everybody takes off one full weekend of competition to train for Beijing, nobody gets hurt, everybody qualifies for each race (no really bad Sprint races), and nobody gets an untimely illness. As I said before I believe that will be the case but if something crazy happens and say Jacquelin decides to compete straight through, then he has an entire extra weekend to pick up a likely high number of points. We’re just going to assume that won’t happen.
For those of you who read straight through (and my hearty congratulations if you did!) you’re probably scratching your head a little bit. There are a couple of guys I sounded pretty optimistic on that ended up ranked a little lower than you might expect. Well when it came down to put names and numbers on paper my internal calculator seemed to weight history more heavily than some other characteristics. When I’ve seen somebody do something, and with guys like JT Bø seen them do it for a long time, it is hard to get that out of my mind.
Also you may notice that the three men I praised for their overall consistency, Tarjei Bø, Christiansen, and Latypov, occupy 3 of the 4 bottom spots. When it came down to it I tended to be more optimistic about somebody who had a strong skill that they can rely on to keep them in every single race. Thus you have Lægreid over Latypov and Samuelsson above Christiansen.
When looking at the rankings I feel pretty strongly that none of the bottom three men are going to win the overall. Latypov I just haven’t seen enough from. He may surprise me but like I said I struggle with his history. Also I don’t think either his skiing or his shooting rises to the level of a champion. Lægreid I think is just too far behind and has too many guys in front of him. Even if he goes on a magical run he still has to outperform 7 other men and by a lot. I just think it is too big of a hole. And Tarjei Bø is Mr. Consistency. I am almost positive he will finish once again ranked 4-6 in the overall.
So then we have the men who have separated themselves. If any of the top 4 on my list win it I won’t be surprised. That leaves Christiansen in a bit of no man’s land. I really struggle with him. My brain tells me he can do it. He’s shown a high level consistency that nobody else has shown this year. But I just struggle to see him continuing to be able to do this for 3 more months. I may very well be proven wrong!
The rest I think make sense. JT Bø has the history we have all seen many man times. He’s won the crystal globe 3 times already. Nobody would be surprised to see him come out of the break looking like the best biathlete in the world. The only reason he doesn’t have a higher percentage is just because of how many men are between him and the top. It’s a lot to have to leapfrog and outperform that many on a regular basis. But that’s what champions do and I won’t be surprised one bit to see him win again. Samuelsson meanwhile has undeniable speed. His shooting is nearly as bad as his overall ranking would suggest but its not very good. He absolutely has to improve even just a few percentage points. If he can do that he is going to challenge in every single Sprint race. If he can dominate that format, in a crowded field, that might be enough.
Finally the two Frenchmen. These two are my strong favorites and not just because they are in the lead right now. Jacquelin, as I said before has the profile of a champion. If he can replicate what he has done already for the next 3 months he will be in the fight for the overall crown until the very end. The reason QFM is ahead of him is actually 2 reasons. First, history. I’m biased towards biathletes who have proven it to me. At least I’m honest about it. But secondly, and actually more importantly, I do believe that when you look at his race by race stats he is trending upwards. I don’t believe we’ve seen the best from QFM yet and he’s already just 2 points back (and I didn’t order it this way but he’s actually 2 points up if you drop races like they will in the end). If QFM does continue on that upward trajectory the crystal globe is his to lose.
The women’s race is shaping up to be a two woman fight with Hauser and Hanna Öberg with outside shots. The men’s race is going to be an absolutely messy brawl with so many men so close together. The yellow jersey is likely going to change hands on a nearly race by race basis. I can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to this!