We’re through five full weeks of competition and we have had our last regular weekend until the Olympics roll around. I truly can’t believe the next Winter Olympics are almost here. 2018 in Pyeongchang really doesn’t feel that long ago!
Starting next weekend with Ruhpolding we’ll start to see athletes break away for their pre-Beijing training camps starting next weekend primarily with the Norwegian men as well as Tandrevold and Ida Lien with Eckhoff and Røiseland planning to train during the Antholtz weekend. As a result this will also be our last “regular” Power Rankings for a few weeks. What I’m going to do after this is freeze the rankings and instead offer just a bit of a breakdown about how each competitor in the respective top 10’s performed that weekend. I will also be highlighting a few potential contenders to break into the rankings when they are unfrozen. It shouldn’t look too terribly difference except that for athletes not competing I’ll just note where they are training if we have that information. With that out of the way let’s get to it…
Men’s Power Rankings
1)Quinton Fillon Maillet (Previous 1) – He was #1 before the break and he won a race. Can’t move a man down for winning a race. Especially when he looked like QFM did winning it. After falling down to as low as 20th in the race he steadily worked his way back up. He was 15/15 in his last three shoots and he had the 6th fastest course time on the day. He’s currently 4th fastest overall on the season with 23rd ranked shooting at 87%. That’s in the range of where he needs to be to win the overall title at the end of the season. He’s not as dominant as JT Bø at his peak or Fourcade but he’s got 3 wins which leads the men’s World Cup right now. I don’t think there is much debate, as of today’s the best there is this season.
2. Emilien Jacauelin (2) – Certainly a weird weekend for Jacquelin. He started off the weekend looking very good getting 2nd in the Sprint race. Overall it was a solid race. 8/10 shooting in tricky conditions and the 6th fastest time on the course. It wasn’t quite up to his peak performance but overall very solid. If not for an incredible day from Loginov he would have had yet another victory. The Pursuit was a whole different story. From the very start he was losing time to not only Loginov to pretty much everybody. He clearly gave up at the end after his last shoot but even before that his course time ranks per loop were 38, 23, and 26. He said he felt fine and it was an equipment issue. That sounds reasonable because just 2 days earlier he was 6th fastest on the course. But Fabien Claude had the same equipment and wax and had a pretty similar performance to his Sprint race. And the techs said the equipment was fine. I tend to think that Jacquelin’s form is fine because it looked okay just 2 days prior but he’s definitely the man I’m most interested in seeing this weekend.
3) Sturla Holm Lægreid (9) – The man I’m next most interested in watching is Lægreid. I cannot get over how good he looked this weekend. He did not have a great start to the season. While shooting a touch better than last season he was much much slower. He was insistent that his main goal this season is Beijing and he would be ready by then. Well he’s clearly trending in the right direction. Whatever he did in December and over the holidays is working. His ski rankings this weekend were 7th and 2nd, by far his best since last season. His previous best this season was 17th. He had an uncharacteristically bad shooting day in the Pursuit and still managed to finish 4th by a ski tip to Tarjei Bø. But what I’ll remember most was Lægreid leading a pack up the climbs. That’s a man who is confident in his skis. His shooting will return. And Lægreid will win again…soon.
4) Sebastian Samuelsson (3) – In the Sprint race it was clear that Samuelsson had put in some very hard training over the holiday break. He definitely appeared a little sluggish on the skis. He was sort of the opposite of Lægreid, going from being the fastest man in the World Cup to now ranking 14th fastest in a race, his slowest since last season. Just two misses in such bad conditions was encouraging though. However in the Pursuit suddenly the Samuelsson of the first month of the season was back. Still only 7th fastest but he shot 19/20 and finished 2nd in a really tremendous bit of racing. We know the speed will come back. He did the same thing last season and he ranked 6,4,16,6 in the 4 solo World Cup races which was clearly a peak over the previous post break racing. I anticipate that his speed will come back. He won’t always shoot this well but he’s definitely going to be competitive and even without his best he can steal a win.
5) Tarjei Bø (4) – This is probably over reaction but I feel Tarjei Bø now looks better than he has in years. His results might now show it finishing 7th in Sprint and 4th in Pursuit but if you dig in just a tiny bit then you can see some really good signs. First off Tarjei Bø was really fast this weekend. How fast? He was fastest man on the course both races. No big deal he’s known to be fast right? The last time he was the fastest man in a race was the 2015-2016 World Championships and he just did it back to back. In the Sprint he was 6 seconds faster than JT Bø and 14 seconds faster than Serokhvostov. With 3 misses he still finished 7th, 23 seconds back of Loginov and 17 seconds back of Jacquelin. His shooting is just about at his career average. The stats back it up, Tarjei Bø is on a very high level right now.
6) Alexandr Loginov (Unranked)
7) Eduard Latypov (7) – The Russians are going to be ranked right next to each other this weekend. Loginov makes his debut in the rankings after winning the Sprint and getting 5th in Pursuit after leading most of the race. Honestly there was not much in his performances prior to this to indicate that this was coming. A bit out of nowhere (just one top 10 day before the break) he found his speed finishing 5th and 3rd fastest in each race and until the last shoot on Sunday he had gone 23/25 on the weekend. The last shoot was a bit of a mess with 3 misses which cost him back to back wins however this was a tremendous success for him. I have no idea if he will maintain this considering how little impact he had on the first month of racing. As for Latypov, he of course did have COVID. I left him stable as I didn’t feel it was fair to knock him. Many athletes returning from COVID have struggled but we’ll wait to see how he actually does first.
8) Vetle Sjaastad Christiansen (5) – A pretty mediocre weekend for Christiansen finishing 16th in the Sprint and 34th in Pursuit. He was significantly slower vs the field in these races ranking 24th and 30th in the field for his slowest and 3rd slowest days of the season. He compounded that with 2 misses in the Sprint and a whopping 6 in the Pursuit. Two possibilities here: 1) Christiansen is pulling a Samuelsson and is training hard for another Olympics and late season peak or 2) this is a regression to the mean. With so much history for Christiansen this looked more like a regression to the mean. Over the last 3 seasons his average finish has been between 15-20th. I’m going to be remain optimistic and hopeful though.
9) JT Bø (6) – I honestly don’t want to spend too much time on JT Bø because it makes me a little sad. I hate watching great athletes struggle for any reason and I always prefer to be optimistic. Simply put his shooting is a mess. I don’t know what is going on there. Last season he started to regress a little, then he was a little worse to start the year, and worse yet this weekend. I don’t want to go crazy over one weekend but 5 misses in the Sprint and 5 more in the Pursuit. In the Sprint his first shooting he shot as fast as I have ever seen and then in the second shooting was incredibly slow. He just looked incredibly uncomfortable on the range this weekend and in his interview he admitted he needs “a miracle” to get back to form for the Olympics. If we’re being optimistic it may look like the ski speed is a touch better lately ranking 2nd and 4th this weekend. And that’s with all of those penalty loops in his legs too. That’s about all I’ve got.
10) Johannes Kuehn (Unranked) – There are a handful of men you could argue for the 10th including Kuehn, Smolski, or maybe even Desthieux or Fabien Claude. Ultimately I went Kuehn over Smolski as Kuehn has showed a little bit more consistency and of course he does have a win this season so he’s proven he can do it. He does have good speed so if he can stay clean in the Sprint’s he’s going to have a chance. Thus far though hasn’t seen much success elsewhere though. This spot is up for grabs a little bit right now.
Women’s Power Rankings:
1)Marte Olsbu Røiseland (Previous: 1) – This is the easiest selection to make at the moment. I talked a lot about her yesterday in the weekend roundup but let’s do it some more. She never really looked challenged this week. Relatively solid 7 second win in the Sprint with 9/10 shooting in conditions that were not easy. Then she built a lead right from the start and never looked back in the Pursuit. She’s got the makeup of an all around champ. She’s up to 5 wins and 10 top 10’s in 11 races. What’s scary for the field is she’s actually looking even faster now than she was in the first 4 weekends of the season with no dip in shooting accuracy continuing to shoot at the best clip of her career. She’s easily the best biathlete right now.
2) Elvira Öberg (2) – Elvira Öberg had a relatively down weekend. She spoke over the break about some heavy training and expecting to take a step backwards in terms of speed and she definitely did with her 2 slowest races relative to the field. It wasn’t a major step back though ranking 5th and 8th. Her shooting was even a little better than average for this year. The results just weren’t there finishing 15th and 7th. I will tell you what I loved though, was her absolutely tearing up the course on the last leg of the mixed relay. She was a beast just absolutely dragging Sweden back from 9th to 4th. That might be what I remember most about her this weekend. Elvira Öberg knows one speed and its all out.
3) Hanna Sola (6) – Hanna Sola only had one race this weekend but she sure made the most of it. She was the fastest on the course in the Sprint and overcame two misses to place just 7 seconds behind Røiseland who only had one. It had appeared that she might be beginning to tail off a bit in Annecy but this put that to bed at least for one day. Her troubles in Annecy were shooting and the conditions were such that the Sprint was not a great judge of that. 2 misses really wasn’t awful that day. Her physical form looked very good and I would have liked to have seen if she could have paid back Røiseland for the Pursuit in Hochfilzen. Hopefully whatever caused her to miss the Pursuit is minor and she’s back to full strength this weekend!
4) Dzinara Alimbekava (5) – Alimbekava finally made a podium! And of course I had to honor that by putting her back into 4th place. She appropriately did have another 4th place finish to pair with her 3rd place making it 5 times now in 11 races. That’s remarkable consistency similar to Røiseland just two steps back at the moment. We’ll see how the next two weekends play out but there is a slight chance Alimbekava could surpass Elvira Öberg in the standings before Olympics. So why isn’t she ranked above Sola? Well remember this is about who would win any given race tomorrow not about overall points. I’m not going to penalize Sola for not racing and her 2nd place was better than Alimbekava’s 2nd and Sola has looked excellent this season. (Also with dropped results Sola does inch ahead of Alimbekava in the overall so there!).
5) Hanna Öberg (3) – This weekend was the full Hanna Öberg experience. Looked decent finishing 9th in the Sprint. Nothing special though. She looked awful in the mixed relay. And then she looked tremendous in the Pursuit rising up to 2nd. And were it not for an equally brilliant day from Røiseland she may have had a look at a win. At her best Hanna Öberg is still one of the best right now. However it’s hard to tell which Hanna Öberg is going to show up on any given today. I’m hopeful that she is able to build off of that Pursuit and springboard forward.
6) Julia Simon (9)
7) Anais Chevalier-Bouchet (10) – Simon and Chevalier-Bouchet separated from their countrywomen after all were lumped together in the last rankings of 2021. Simon has been on an absolutely torrid run recently with four straight top 5 finishes including three 2nd place finishes in a row. She actually looked disappointed with her 4th place when crossing the line in the Pursuit. She is traditionally a very up and down biathlete and this round of success is driven by the best 4 straight races of shooting in her career ranking 3, 6, 9, and 19 in hit rate rank. She’s always fast and if she shoots like that she’s a contender. French fans have to hope that she’s finally starting to realize some of her enormous potential. If she ever gets the accuracy issues fixed for real she’s going to be trouble. She has a mental attitude like nobody else.
Anais Chevalier-Bouchet meanwhile had a remarkably quiet 6th and 5th place finishes. I don’t think I heard much of anything about her during either race but there she was having her best weekend since Ostersund and snagging a spot in her 4th and 5th flower ceremonies of the year. It might not always feel like it but she’s actually having a better season than she did last year, currently at 7th in the overall standings. Part of that is while she has some high finishes she also has some complete busts. For her she’s skiing a little slower than last season but her shooting is definitely improved but with 2 absolute horrific days mixed in. If she can eliminate those she’s going to continue to rise in the standings.
8) Lisa Theresa Hauser (4) – Sort of a ho hum weekend for Hauser. I went into the break extremely excited about her chances in the overall and for this next section of the season. I was anticipating that like last season she was going to find some more speed after the holiday break. It appears that is not going to be the case as her ski speed is pretty much exactly what it was before the break. Fortunately she can usually continue to count on her shooting to get her to the front of a race. It went missing during the Sprint with a somewhat shocking 2 misses to land her in 18th. However during the Pursuit she was 19/20 and rode that all the way back to the top. That’s her game this season, walking a very fine line with minimal room for error. If she’s on the right side of it she can find the podium. The wrong side and she’s going to be outside the top 10.
9) Kristina Reztsova (Unranked) – Kristina Reztsova is having a great season. She started completely off of my radar. I wouldn’t have been able to pick her out of a lineup. She’s not had five top 5’s including a recent streak of 4 in a row that ended with the Pursuit. Her ski speed has improved almost by the week making her now one of the fastest women on the World Cup. She’s just an average shooter right now which is what is holding her back. She’s like Elvira Öberg but not quite as fast (yet?). She was actually in position for her first solo podium in the Pursuit when I think excitement got her and she ended up with six misses in her last two trips to the range. Like with Elvira Öberg though she’s inexperienced and that will come. She’s already 25 so maybe she doesn’t have the ceiling of Elvira but she’s still got plenty of room to improve. With the speed she’s already gained even improving to a top 20 shooter would make her a real threat in future seasons. For now I’m going to enjoy watching her grow.
10) Ingrid Tandrevold (Unranked) – Welcome back Ingrid Tandrevold!!! Until this weekend Tandrevold had seen her performance sliding backwards in all categories and as a result hadn’t placed higher than 15th. This coming off a terrific season and her first win to close last season. It looks like she may have fixed a few things as she grabbed 5th in the Sprint and 9th in the Pursuit. Her ski speed definitely looked a little bit better and until the very end of the Pursuit race she was shooting better too. She’s also just 25 as well, the same age as Reztsova. I always forget that because I feel like I’ve been watching her for years and she seems so experienced at times. There is still room for growth and maybe having a little struggle will have provided that. I know I’m not supposed to play favorites but I really do enjoy watching her succeed and I am hopeful that we’re about to see a rebound.