Well we’ve reached the halfway point of the season. I honestly don’t believe it. How is it possible that there is just half the season of the World Cup left? Antholtz, the Winter Olympics, Kontiolahti, Otepää (Estonia), and Oslo. That’s it. That’s all that’s left. Still a lot of racing but I’m starting to feel the first pangs of withdrawal coming. Let’s make the most of the rest of the season!!
I’m actually going to do things a little differently for this week and next as we head towards the Olympics. Since several members of the top 10 are out either for COVID or for training/rest in the buildup to Beijing I am going to freeze the rankings right where they are. The lists 1-10 won’t be updated this week or next. Instead what I’ll do is discuss the athletes who performed and also a few who may be getting to ready to join them once the lists unfreeze. 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) – If we were going to have active rankings this week QFM would be even more solid in the top ranking than before. Yes granted this week there were several top contenders not racing. And several others are possibly experiencing a small dip prior to the Olympics. But QFM won both races fairly easily. He showed top speed with the fastest course speed in the Sprint and he went 28/30 on the range this weekend. What else can you ask for? His lead is up to 97 points and that will almost certainly be larger with Samuelsson not racing this weekend and Jacquelin looking like he’s racing at less than 100% right now. He has 5 of his 11 career wins this season. He’s the best in the world right now.
2. Emilien Jacquelin (2) – Jacquelin continues to have an irregular 2022, looking very good one day and completely off the next. This weekend he was completely out of sorts on the range in the Sprint race. He had 4 misses which ruined what was actually a very good day on the skis until he packed it in on the last lap. In the Pursuit though he was 18/20 on the range but just 15th fastest on the course including the 45th fastest 2nd lap. Even still he moved up from 53rd to 20th. I mentioned this on Twitter immediately following the race but to take the next step Jacquelin needs to be able to limit his losses on his bad days. You would never see JT Bø or Røiseland just completely give up on a Sprint race. In doing so he not only gave himself a poor finish but put himself completely out of position for the Pursuit. He almost missed the Pursuit altogether. That’s just one more step he needs to take in his progression.
3) Sturla Holm Lægreid – Off this week for altitude training in Italian Alps.
4) Sebastian Samuelsson – Samuelsson had what would be a relatively mediocre (emphasis on relatively) and he still moved from 3rd to 2nd in the overall. He was just 18th in the Sprint with 2 misses on a mild day on the range. Even with the 5th fastest course time that just wasn’t going to cut it. He did come back with 7th in the Pursuit but again was just 1 miss away from a top 5. He went 17/20 on the day and two of those misses were in his last shoot. Once again though he was very fast with the 3rd fastest time on the course. We saw something similar last year in the weeks leading up to Worlds and I have to believe he’s focused almost entirely on Beijing at this moment. Even still he’s a dangerous racer. Next time we see him race is in China and he’s definitely going to be a favorite.
5) Tarjei Bø – Off this week for altitude training in Lavazé, Italy.
6) Alexandr Loginov – Loginov continued his comeback 2022 with spectacular rise from 32nd to 2nd in the Pursuit race. His final time just 8 seconds behind QFM doesn’t indicate the true gap between the two as QFM had stopped racing well before the finish but it was still a huge performance from the Russian. It was nearly a perfect race going 19/20 with the fastest time on the day. Since the New Year he’s going 1, 5, 32, 2. In the first 4 weeks he had just 1 top 10 combined. Not surprisingly his ski speed rankings are 5, 3, 16, 1 over that period. No major improvement in shooting so that is almost the entirety of his improvement. No matter what though he’s got to be taken seriously as an Olympic threat.
7) Eduard Latypov – Off this week for the second week with COVID.
8) Vetle Sjaastad Christiansen – Off this week for altitude training in Lavazé, Italy.
9) JT Bø – Off this week home in Norway with family for rest.
10) Johannes Kuehn – Off this week with COVID
Others to consider:
a) Anton Smolski: Huge bounceback weekend for the Belarussian after a disappointing time in Oberhoff. Finished 3rd in both races with a much much better overall performace. Ski ranks of 3rd and 7th after ranking 20th both races in Oberhof. Meanwhile his shooting was miles better going 27/30 this weekend after 21/30 in much more difficult conditions in Oberhof. This was Smolski we saw the first weeks of the season.
b) Simon Desthieux: Desthieux took advantage of so many men being gone to finish 9th in Sprint and 4th in Pursuit. Those are his best finishes since Hochfilzen. It’s been a bit of tough going since then but this looked much much better.
c) Erik Lesser: The German took full advantage of being on home snow to finally start showing his potential again. His four races since the return from the holidays have been 15, 8, 6, and 6. Besides a 10th in Annecy these are his 4 best finishes of the season. While they’ve done a decent job patching things together this season the Germans needed somebody to take the reigns from Arnd Peiffer and right now its falling to Lesser.
Women’s Power Rankings:
1)Marte Olsbu Røiseland – Røiseland split the wins with Elvira Öberg this weekend. If we were actively moving the rankings around it would be hard to drop her for a 2nd and a first place finish. There is no way to say it except that she just looks exceptionally good. She’s up by 88 points and that won’t change at all this weekend with both Røiseland and Öberg taking the week for altitude training. She’s currently 5th in skiing and 12th in shooting. That’s a balance that nobody else has which is why she’s attained such a strong lead in the overall standings. It’s looking more and more like her year and she’s absolutely earned it.
2) Elvira Öberg – You certainly can’t fault Elvira Öberg for her weekend. She won the Sprint in absolutely impressive fashion. The Ruhpolding Sprint race was peak Elvira Öberg and shows why at only 22 you can see the nearly unlimited potential she poses. She won by 22 seconds over Røiseland with just blazing speed and finally a clean 10/10 day. She was 18/20 in the Pursuit and a bit slower after some hard training. It didn’t really matter though because with Røiseland going 20/20 she needed to be nearly perfect to win. In this way the weekend was perfect though. She showed her dominant potential, she got in some hard training while taking the relay off, and she got a 2nd place in Pursuit, again shooting terrifically, even with her slowest race of the season relative to the field. That’s a long way of saying Elvira Öberg had an incredible weekend.
3) Hanna Sola – Hanna Sola had a significantly less spectacular weekend than the first two women on this list. She was just 36th in Sprint but did manage to improve to 13th in the Pursuit race. Looking just a touch deeper she was 10th in course time rank in the Sprint race. Her ranks by lap were 6th, 21st, and 4th. That 2nd lap was even before she had 2 misses on the range so really not clear what happened there. She certainly rebounded well. But on a day when shooting conditions were quite benign having 3 misses was just way too much damage. In the Pursuit like I mentioned she rebounded well. She was 18/20 and 4th fastest on the course. If this were a mass start she would have had the 6th best time. Not entirely sure what happened in the Sprint race but her performance in Pursuit was much more like what we are used to seeing.
4) Dzinara Alimbekava – Alimbekava had probably the 3rd best weekend of any of the women finishing 4th (of course) in Sprint and 6th in Pursuit. She at times has been a little bit of a forgotten women with so much focus Røiseland, the Öberg sisters, and even Eckhoff’s struggles. We shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that Alimbekava has moved herself into the upper echelons of biathlon. She’s 3rd overall and not by accident. While she doesn’t have the wins that all of the other women around her have had she has been incredibly consistent with 7 top 5 finishes in 13 races. If you’re looking for reasons to be optimistic that the best is yet to come for her you don’t have to look far. She has had 3 or her 4 best races of the season in course time ranking in the last 2 weekends. And while nobody is going to confuse her with Lotte Lie or Røiseland she has maintained her position as one of the better shooters on the World Cup.
5) Hanna Öberg – Hanna Öberg’s weekend was quite similar to last weekend. Started off with a somewhat poor showing finishing 12th in the Sprint and rebounded to 3rd in the Pursuit. Same story with 2 misses on the range in the Sprint followed by a much better shooting day, this time 19/20, in the Pursuit. It’s a bit of an interesting quirk that this season she is shooting 83% in Sprint and a slightly better 87% in the Pursuit. Not a huge difference but that 83% breaks down to 1 race of 10/10 and all of the rest 8/10. Over the last 3 weekends of competition she’s consistently shooting 10-15% better in the Pursuit race than the Sprint which means she’s having the same or even fewer misses in the longer Pursuit than in the Sprint. This is really just fun with small sample sizes as there are some compelling reasons why not the least of which may be comfort on the range increases as the weekend goes on. Also the weather in Oberhoff was atrocious in the Sprint and much better in the Pursuit. However just a fun little thing I’ll be watching for her as the season progresses.
6) Julia Simon (9) – By the raw finish numbers Simon did not have a terrific weekend. She finished 23rd in the Sprint but improved to 8th in the Pursuit. In the Sprint she was in good position but 3 misses standing sank her chances for the day. A really good sign is that she fought hard to the finish with the 3rd fastest 2nd lap and 2nd fastest final lap. The was 4th fastest on the course on the day overall. So there were definitely good signs there. She turned in a much better performance on the range in the Pursuit going 18/20 and with one of the fastest shooting times of the day. Still quick on the course with the 7th fastest time she actually had the best gross time on the day in the Pursuit.
Simon is going to have those bad shooting days but what she’s been able to do over the last 3 weeks of competition is limit their frequency. Her shooting started off this season just awful. But in the 7 solo races since Hochfilzen her shooting percentages are: 80, 95, 90, 90, 85, 70, 95. That comes out to 88% shooting over a stretch that covers 7 of the total 13 solo races of the season. That would put her in the range of Alimbekava in terms of shooting which is a good comparison because they are currently 9 and 10 in the solo rankings. Basically what I’m saying is, that if Julia Simon could keep up this shooting form for an entire season she’s looking at a top 3 in the World Cup overall type of season. That’s how good she’s been the last 3 weeks.
7) Anaïs Chevalier-Bouchet – Anaïs Chevalier-Bouchet had a good, not great weekend. 14th in Sprint and 16th in Pursuit just doesn’t light the world on fire. She didn’t show any particularly bad things but also nothing particularly good. That’s a bit how her season has been. She’s had some good with 2 early podiums, and some bad with 2 finishes worse than 50th. Over the last several weeks though she’s settled out into fairly regular finishes in the bottom half of the top 10 through about 15th. She’s very good just not great. I don’t think we need to go deeper than that.
8) Lisa Theresa Hauser – I continue to feel like Hauser is just on the verge of breaking out this season. Her finishes of 6th and 10th may not back up that assertion but I still feel that way. She’s always been a good shooter and I have faith that will continue to be the case. The difference for her between podium finishes and finishing 6-15 is her ski form. This past weekend she actually had her best full weekend in regards to ski form. She was 18th in the Sprint and 11th in the Pursuit. This is the first weekend where every race she was faster than 20th. For comparison last season when she was at her peak she was regularly in the top 10 in course time rank so she still has a little ways to go. She also has a little time to go before the Olympics, her ultimate goal. I’m going to remain optimistic that she can get there!
9) Kristina Reztsova – I want to start off this week by repeating what I said last week: Kristina Reztsova is having a great season. However this weekend just wasn’t her best. She finished 20th in Sprint and 36th in the Pursuit. I mentioned last weekend how she has been improving in ski speed every week but has been an average at best shooter. That has never been more clear for her this weekend. She was still incredibly fast this weekend finishing 6th and 9th respectively in course time rank. However her average shooting became below average this weekend with an 8/10 showing in the Sprint and a 13/20 in the Pursuit. For comparison to the field she ranked 63rd and 53rd in hit rate rank in those two races. Once you reach that point it doesn’t really matter how fast you are, nothing can bring you back. Hopefully for her this was the low point of her season and it’s back up after this.
10) Ingrid Tandrevold – Off this week for altitude training in Lavazé, Italy.
Others to Consider:
a) Dorothea Wierer – Just in time for the Olympics Wierer is starting to look like herself again. She’s had her two best weekends of the season including her first podium of the season with a 3rd place in the Sprint in Ruhpolding. She’s a bit like Hauser in that she is just a touch off of where she needs to be ski speed wise but with course time ranks this weekend of 12th and 13th she’s getting very close. That’s definitely her most complete weekend of the season both in terms of ski speed and overall finish.
b) Justine Braisaz-Bouchet – Braisaz-Bouchet is the opposite of Wierer in that she always has the ski speed but needs to find consistency on the range. This weekend she shot 9/10 and 17/20 which was by far her best shooting weekend of the season. For example her best pursuit coming into the weekend was 15/20. And she showed no signs of slowing down on the skis so she was able to convert that good shooting into 5th and 9th. Truthfully if she had been able to knock down 1 more target in the Pursuit she would likely have finished on the podium. We’ll see soon if she can make shooting like this a more consistent aspect of her performance like her teammate Julia Simon has.
c) Anaïs Bescond – Every time I want to move on from Bescond she keeps coming back with good weekends. The 34 year old is now performing at one of the highest levels of her career. This weekend she was 7th in Sprint and then had a truly excellent 4th place finish in Pursuit going 19/20 and was 7th fastest on the course. Her ski rank is now 2nd best of her career and her shooting accuracy is at its 3rd highest mark. She’s currently ranked 7th in the overall standings which would tie her best ever finish which she achieved in the 2017-2018 season. I’m not sure what is fueling this career resurgence but its not smoke and mirrors, its just good biathlon.