January 24, 2022 Power Rankings

As a reminder I’m actually doing things a little differently for this week 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) – Oh how a week can change things. I noted last week that if these were active rankings QFM would have solidified his position at #1. After Antholz it is a decidedly different story. For the first time all season he showed a few cracks in the armor, particularly on the range. All weekend he never looked comfortable, several times readjusting his scope and checking the wind. He shot 15/20 in the Individual and 14/20 in the Mass Start. By hit rate percentage these were two of his three worst shooting performance back to back. I’ve commented many times throughout the season about QFM’s mental sharpness. This is going to be his biggest test of that all season though, he’s got to forget this weekend immediately. That’s even harder though because just as he showed his first weakness the Norwegian men, who will be his biggest competitors in China, all showed their best form of the season. He’ll still be a favorite going to Beijing but the difference is he is no longer the favorite.

2. Emilien Jacquelin (2) – It was another not great weekend for Jacquelin. While he did finish 10th in the Individual race, and contrary to QFM he shot very well, he definitely struggled on the skis. He ranked 30th in course time on the day which was one of his worst performances of the year. You could actually argue it was his worst of the day because even though he previously had rankings of 30th and 38th, the difference was this time he actually tried all the way to the finish. He said after the race that he was struggling with fatigue both mental and physical. Like his teammate QFM this is not the last mental picture he needed prior to Beijing.

3) Sturla Holm Lægreid – It was a great weekend for Lægreid who continues to show renewed form ever since the calendar flipped to 2022. He finished 5th and 3rd which is now four straight top 5 finishes. Over those 4 races his ski ranks are 7, 2, 4, and 5. Prior to the holiday break his average ski rank was 23rd. This is a substantial improvement that clearly isn’t a fluke as he maintained it throughout the month even with taking a week off for heavy altitude training. He’s not skiing at his fastest relative to the field that he has in his short World Cup career. The only fly in the ointment is that his last four shooting performances have been four of his six worst outings of the season. For sure he’s still good as his “worst” was just 80%. If he gets his shooting back up to consistently in the 90% range, which is still less than his career average, he’s going to be contending not just for top 5’s but wins.

4) Sebastian Samuelsson – Off this week for altitude training.

5) Tarjei Bø – Tarjei Bø, becoming something of an Individual specialist scored his second 2nd place Individual race of the season and also nabbed the discipline crystal globe for the season! Like Laegreid he’s also been showing some significant speed gains ever since the World Cup season restarted in Oberhof. Over the last 4 races his ski ranks have been 1, 1, 2, and 4. Those are stellar ski ranks and his best four race stretch since the 2015-2016 season. He’s giving himself a top end ceiling that he hasn’t had in several years and giving himself just a little more leeway for misses on the range. His best ever solo finish at the Olympics was 4th in the Pursuit in Pyeongchang. At this point he’s not just looking for good finishes in China but he’s a favorite for medals.

6) Alexandr Loginov – Loginov only raced one time this weekend, in the Individual race, and he finished 9th. That’s four out of five races since the World Cup took to Oberhof that Loginov has finished in the top 10. This is a significant improvement not just over his performance in the first four weeks of this season but over last season as well when he had four top 10’s for the entire year. He also continued to show off his terrific ski speed, also finishing 9th in ski speed rank in the Individual. He didn’t do anything to hurt himself this week and he will remain a threat to medal at the upcoming Olympic Games.

7) Eduard Latypov – Latypov made his triumphant return to the World Cup this weekend. He missed the Individual but did participate in the relay and the Mass Start. He looked to have good form in the relay finishing with the 2nd fastest time in the closing leg. He followed that up with just the 12th best ski time in the Mass Start. However he clearly was rusty on the range. He shot just 60% in the Mass Start and also contributed a penalty loop to Russia’s effort in the relay. This is pretty clearly a step back from where he was the first four weeks of the season. That’s not a surprise considering he wasn’t just home training but with COVID which restricted his ability to train normally. I don’t know for certain but likely also kept him off the range and may have contributed to his rustiness. He’s a terrific question mark for the Olympics. I have no idea what version of him we’ll see. I would absolutely believe either that he finds his form or that he lost his magic and is unable to get it back.

8) Vetle Sjåstad Christiansen – Of the four main Norwegian male competitors he looked the “worst” of all of them. That says far more about his teammates than it does him though as he still finished 13th and 14th. In the openings weeks of the season he was a threat to win just about any time he put his skis on. That certainly hasn’t been the case the last two weeks that he’s raced with his best finish being 13th place twice. Unlike his Norwegian teammates he’s, if anything, a little slower relative to the field now than he was the first four weeks. This weekend he was 6th in course time in the Individual and 13th in the Mass Start. For comparison, besides Hochfilzen which seems to have just been an off weekend for him, his worst course time rank the first trimester of the season was 12th. He also hasn’t shot better than 80% in any of the four solo races he has competed in since the season restarted in Oberhof. Looking ahead to the Olympics in China I would say that he’s defiitely a major asset as the 4th man in a relay. His chances to medal in a solo race, while still real, are definitely dimming.

9) JT Bø – I covered JT Bø fairly extensively in the weekend wrap up so I’ll just summarize here what I wrote there. This was his best weekend of the season and that includes his win in Annecy. He showed a return to form on the skis with the 1st and 2nd fastest ski ranks in the two races this weekend. He also had the fastest course time by about 15 seconds in the relay. He even admitted after the weekend was complete that he probably got a little too excited early in the races which sapped him of speed for the closing laps. Not likely a mistake he’ll make twice. Probably the most important thing he showed though, was renewed confidence in his rifle. He shot 17/20 in both races which, while fairly average for his career, was a massive improvement over the last time we saw him in Oberhof. Also in the Mass start he had the fastest shooting time in the field. He’s still not dominant JT Bø by any means but he’s definitely back in the mix for golds in Beijing.

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10) Johannes Kuehn – Johannes Kuehn rejoined the World Cup after missing last weekend in Ruhpolding with Covid. He had a fairly average return to the tour finishing 19th. Sometimes an athlete will look really good but have one disastrous shooting ruin the effort. For Kuehn though his 19th place in the Mass Start looked like a 19th place effort. He had 2 misses on each of his last 3 trips to the range and had the 14th best ski rank. While he’s become something of a Sprint specialist this season, prior to Covid we still would have expected a bit better from Kuehn. Like Latypov it’s unclear what we’ll get going forward.

Others to consider:
a) Anton Smolski: This highlight of Smolski’s weekend was the Mass Start when early in the first lap he stepped out of his ski, nearly crashed to the ground, and had his race saved by Strolia’s good sportsmanship. When that’s the highlight of your weekend you know it wasn’t a great one. He finished 19th in Individual and 18th in Mass Start. This was a pretty big step backwards from Ruhpolding but not nearly as bad as Oberhof. Two possibilities I can see: 1) He’s been training very hard and that took priority over results this weekend or 2) His form is starting to falter from his early season highs meaning he is in a place where he can dial it up occasionally but oftentimes won’t have it. High variance alert for Smolski going to the Olympics.
b) Simon Desthieux: Desthieux meanwhile added to his solid performance in Ruhpolding with a 6th place in the Individual race. He’s a veteran athlete and he’s showing form at the right time. I wouldn’t count on him for a medal by any means but I also wouldn’t count him out.
c) Erik Lesser: Took the weekend off for training prep for the Olympics
d) Benedikt Doll (new after Antholz): A new German stepped in to lead the way with Lesser out for the weekend. Doll finally delivered the win that has been so elusive for the Germans this season with a tremendous Mass Start. Truthfully it’s probably the best race of his life. He does have two prior wins with both in Sprint races. A Mass Start can be such a mental race and in this particular race he spent a huge chunk of it trying as hard as he could not to let JT Bø, showing improved ski form, ski away from him. He did an amazing job holding the gap down to a manageable effort, and then outshot Bø at the end to ski away for the win. Tremendous effort!
e) Anton Babikov (new after Antholz): In one of the absolute shock wins of the season Babikov shot 20/20 and won the Individual race. We’ve been talking for the last several weeks about the renewed depth of the Russian men so why is this shocking? Because Babikov was just announced before the racing started for the weekend that he was being left off of the Olympic team! Whoops. After the race the Russian team confirmed that he would not be added to the team. That’s such a tough decision. Regardless he had a great race and when these standings become live again shortly he’s got a good chance to sneak into the official top 10.

Women’s Power Rankings:

1)Marte Olsbu Røiseland – Off this week for altitude training.

2) Elvira Öberg – Off this week for altitude training.

3) Hanna Sola – I’m going to start this week with the exact same first sentence I used last week: Hanna Sola had a significantly less spectacular weekend than the first two women on this list. What’s even more alarming about that this week is that neither of the top two women raced this week! Her 38th in the Individual was her worst finish of the season. She then was 26th out of 30 in the Mass Start and over 3 minutes behind. Her shooting was particularly bad with 13 misses on the weekend. I’m not going to make a big deal about her ranking 21st in course time in the Mass Start because in the Individual, a significantly bigger race, she finished with the 6th place course time. I think in the Mass Start once she was out of it the effort level diminished and I can’t blame her for that. But again, she missed 13 shots on the range in two races. That’s 3 of her last 4 races she’s shot 70% of worse. Quite a troubling trend.

4) Dzinara Alimbekava – Alimbekava on the other hand had a terrific weekend finishing 7th in the Individual before her best finish of the season, a 2nd place, in the Mass Start. Talk about moving in opposite directions. While Sola is going towards the Olympics with a bad last mental image Alimbekava has to be feeling very confident. Just looking at general trends she has continued what has been her best season to date on the range. Since the season restarted after the holiday break she’s actually hit an even higher level with her skiing form as well. I’m really impressed by her this season. Obviously our main focus at this stage is now who can medal in Beijing. I don’t think anybody will be surprised to see Alimbekava earning a medal of any color. I am just really hoping she avoids her dreaded 4th place finishes.

5) Hanna Öberg – Off this week for altitude training.

6) Julia Simon (9) – It’s been 4 weeks now of more consistent racing and I’m starting to wonder if Julia Simon is putting her up and down days behind her. This weekend saw Simon attain yet another podium with her 3rd place in the Individual race. The Individual race just feels like the kind of discipline Julia Simon should excel in. It’s the toughest test in biathlon and Julia Simon is one of the toughest women in biathlon. She’s only had 2 top 10’s in her 11 career Individual races though. Both top 10’s were podiums for what its worth. It’s of course very small sample sizes but it wasn’t surprising to me at all to see Simon perform well.

She also continued her recent run of good shooting. Including this weeks performances she now has shooting percentages of 80, 95, 90, 90, 85, 70, 95, 90, and 85% in the 9 solo races since Hochfilzen. That’s shooting 86.6% for 9 of 15 races on the season which would put her in the neighborhood of Davidova or Bescond on the range. With her speed that would make her potentially a top 5 biathlete. I really hope she’s able to keep this up!

7) Anaïs Chevalier-Bouchet – Anaïs Chevalier-Bouchet took an interesting strategy into the weekend by skipping the Individual and only racing the Mass Start. Call it the opposite Jacquelin. Turns out it was a great decision. She got in planned training sessions and then in her one competition she placed 3rd. She shot 19/20 and had the 12th fastest course time which is about her season average and it was better than her last several weekends of competition. Afterward she admitted that her legs weren’t quite there because of her training that weekend. You can see that as her course rank per lap went: 4, 4, 7, 12, and 25. I have to imagine that with the two weeks leading into the Olympics she’ll be at peak form. Her peak is good enough to medal as her World Championship Sprint gold showed last season.

8) Lisa Theresa Hauser – That was absolutely not how Hauser wanted to go into the Olympics. All season long it has felt like she was either following a pattern to get ready for a post holiday peak or that she was just a touch off of the ski form she needed to be winning. She even had the surprise Sprint win in Ostersund. The wheels completely fell off this weekend. Normally one of the best shooters in biathlon she started off the weekend with 2 misses in her very first shoot in the Individual. She pulled it together after that to finish 17/20 and 9th overall. The Mass Start though was a bit of a train wreck. She had 7 misses shooting 65% and finishing 27th out of 30. She’s only shot worse than that 3 times in 182 career races. Now what she does have going for her is that she has all of that experience and she’s proven to be unflappable over the last year or so. However, she has yet to show the kind of ski speed she needs to be able to compete for medals in Beijing and that didn’t change this weekend. The optimist in me would say that is because she put in some hard training going into the weekend and with sitting out the relay but that might be just wishful thinking. I sure hope not.

9) Kristina Reztsova – Reztsova, in her efforts to reach peak form for the Olympics, ignored the Individual race and just raced the relay and the Mass Start. This was a terrific strategy. She had the fastest leg of anybody in the relay by 12 seconds. She followed that up by finishing 4th in the Mass Start with the 3rd fastest ski speed. She is continuing her ascendency into the upper echelons of biathlon. If she continues this trajectory we’ll be talking about her as easily a top 10 if not top 5-7 overall ranked woman. It’s sometimes hard to remember she still only has 26 total World Cup solo races to her name.

10) Ingrid Tandrevold – Tandrevold had a steady weekend this week which is what she needed. She finished 8th in Individual and 12th in Mass Start and anchored Norway’s gold medal winning 4×6 relay team. Since the restart in Oberhof she’s consistently in lower half of the top 10 in ski speed which puts her in contention. She just needs to find a way to knock 1 miss off of her shooting and get into the 90% range. That’s asking a lot but you have to be great to win races. She’s been good but she hasn’t been great yet.

Others to Consider:
a) Dorothea Wierer – This is what I said last week: “Just in time for the Olympics Wierer is starting to look like herself again.” Yep I think we nailed that one. Wierer along with the woman below had the best weekend of anybody. The ski speed is there and she looked like confident Dorothea Wierer on the range. I said this in the weekend recap but it bears repeating, these are her ski ranks since the Oberhof: 36, 26, 13, 12, 7, and 2. That’s a perfect trajectory. This was all the confirmation she needed that her strategy to sacrifice chunks of the season to build for Beijing completely worked. She’s reaching peak form at exactly the right time. The question will remain if this particular venue will reward those in the best form but at least she’s given herself the best possible shot at a solo Olympic gold medal.
b) Justine Braisaz-Bouchet – I’m going to pat myself on the back and say we nailed this one! Braisaz-Bouchet split the race wins for the weekend and both overcame their early season weaknesses to do it. Over the course of the season she has been the fastest woman on the course 9 times in 15 races. Her worst ski ranking was 4th. However her shooting has been holding her back, sometimes in a really big way. Over the last 2 weekends she has shot 90, 85, 95, and 80%. That is miles away her best shooting of the season. I have no idea if she’s going to be able to keep that up for another few weeks. She just has no consistency at all. However what I will say is that this version of Braisaz-Bouchet can beat absolutely anybody and she if brings this accuracy to China then she’s going to be a surprise to anybody who wasn’t paying attention.
c) Anaïs Bescond – This weekend was not very good. She finished 77th and 13th. I don’t care I still stand by what I said last week so I’m just going to leave it here word for word with just minor edits to make the timing make sense:
“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 Ruhpolding) 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.”
d) Marketá Davidová – Davidová has had probably the most active rising and falling of anybody in these rankings. She’s gone from starting the season in 2nd to off the rankings. Since then she’s settled into fighting for the bottom of the top 10 range. This weekend in the Individual she showed why she’s so hard to shake. There is nothing about her statistics that jumps off the page at you. She was 9th in ski speed which is definitely good, and she shot 17/20 which is also definitely good for that race it was fairly average amongst the top 30 or so women. She finished 6th which seems better than you would expect when you’ve looked at the numbers for awhile. Those aren’t numbers she is going to win with very often. However they are numbers that are just good enough to get her to jump into competition. This season for the most part she has been a high floor/low ceiling with 2 exceptions: Her season opening win and a 62nd place Sprint in Annecy. That makes her both predictable and unpredictable. She’s going to hang around but you never know when she’s going to leap into contention.

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