Olympic Preview: Relays

I truly cannot believe that we are in the final countdown to the Olympics. So much has happened both on a global scale but also personally since Pyeongchang. A part of me feels like the 2018 Winter Olympics were just last year and another part of me feels like it was a decade ago. Not to get too philosophical but I think that part of that is just how life is. While we’re focused on the details of every day life like your first child being born, learning how to swaddle, watching them learn to roll and crawl and stand and start to walk an entire year passes in the blink of an eye. A couple of those together and suddenly its time for the Olympics again. As the years go by I actually find myself more and more excited for the Olympic Games. This year is even more special because for the first time I get to watch with my son. He’s far too young to be able to absorb anything but it is going to be an amazing experience for me regardless.

I wanted to take the next few days (and they are rapidly running out!) to do some previews of the upcoming Beijing Winter Olympics. I’m going to do it in three extra long articles focusing on: Relays, the Women’s competition, and finishing up with the Men. The format will quickly become apparent but for each discipline I’m going to name a handful of favorites with a brief discussion of a few from each discipline. I’m going to try not to double dip so for example if I talk about Røiseland under the Pursuit category I will try not to go deep on her chances for any other discipline. This is already going to be a long article so without further ado…

Mixed Relays: The mixed relays in Beijing will be in a 4x6km format. I’m basing this off of what is written on the olympics.com site. I mention this because its a different format than 2018 in Pyeongchang which was 2×6 and 2×7.5, and different from Oberhoff which was 4×7.5km. So this could be incorrect information. However I don’t believe it’s going to change anything about what I’m going to say.

Guessing Composition: This will be the first biathlon race of these Winter Olympics. I’m not sure how I feel about that. If I’m one of the coaches and trying to strategize for the Olympics there is a bit of a difficult decision here. Do you go with your stars to lead off? Or do you try to maybe “steal” a medal by going with less than your absolute best while trying to save your best for the rest of the 2 week competition. This may be an even bigger decision because of this particular Olympics. As we know the venue is at about the maximum altitude allowable by the IBU and with the weather expected to be cold and windy it has potential to be an exhausting games. Fortunately for the athletes (some of them anyway) the course is relatively flat. One note, when I lay out my guess for the relay composition for each squad that isn’t necessarily the order I believe they will race in. I couldn’t find a confirmation for the order (ex: W, W, M, M vs. W, M, W, M) so I didn’t put it in any particular order.

Favorites:

1.Norway: Not much speculation here as it appears that Norway is going with their big guns to open the Olympic Games. They are going with Marte Olsbu Røiseland, Tiril Eckhoff, Tarjei Bø and JT Bø. A year ago this would have looked like an unbeatable squad. This year it might just be extremely good. Also interestingly a year ago we would have said without question JT Bø and Eckhoff would be the leaders. I think that’s flipped at the moment as Røiseland especially, but Tarjei Bø as well, have looked better this year so far than last season’s men’s and women’s overall crystal globe winners.

Much has been made this season about Norway’s speed, myself included, but they are going to bring as much speed to this competition as anybody else. It didn’t always look that way this season but the Norwegians appear to be back to just being plain faster than just about everybody with one big exception. Over the last month Tarjei Bø has been faster relative to the field than he has been in several seasons. JT Bø showed in Antholz that his form is coming back around and while he may not be dominant he still has potential to be the fastest biathlete in these games. Røiseland has maintained her position near the top of the women’s speed rankings all season. Surprisingly the “slow one” will be Tiril Eckhoff. She started the season on the back foot and has never been quite able to return to top notch form. Don’t get me wrong nearly every other team would like to have Tiril Eckhoff as their slow leg, she’s just not quite up to her all star level the last 2 season.

That speed is going to allow them to make up for a few mistakes on the range. Eckhoff and JT Bø have both shown the tendency this season to have the untimely miss. To be fair though, JT Bø looked much much better in Antholz and it is possible that he has found his confidence with the rifle again. I won’t count on that though. However even with those obvious potential flaws they are going with all that said, this team is going to be my favorite.

The one mixed relay of the season they led basically wire to wire. The Norwegian men have won 3 of the 4 men’s relays this season and several with fairly enormous leads at the end. While the women have only won 1 relay it hasn’t been because of Røiseland. If they do go with these 4, or even if they sub Tandrevold for Eckhoff, this team has to be the favorite. At the end of the day they are going with 3 past crystal globe winners, the current leader of the women’s overall, and more pure talent than any other team can put out there. Let’s not over think this. Okay that was a lot…I can’t go that long on every team or I won’t finish this article before Friday!

2. Sweden – Norway, as of the time I am writing this, appears to be the only team that has announced what their team is going to be so at this point we are going to be doing some educated guessing. I think that we can make some safe assumptions for Sweden though. Likely that it will be:
Elvira Öberg
Hanna Öberg
Sebastian Samuelsson
Martin Ponsiluoma

Those four are as fast as anybody in biathlon. We don’t need to spend too much time on it but Elvira Öberg has obviously been at the top of the women’s ski speed rankings nearly all season. Samuelsson was the same for the men for a large portion of the season as well. Hanna Öberg and Ponsiluoma each aren’t too far behind. At least on the course they are going to be able to hang with the Norwegians if not have a lead. The problem they can run into is on the range. All season long the top Swedes have been blazing on the snow and the only reason they don’t have an enormous number of wins is that they keep missing on the range.

We’ve discussed at length that this has been the biggest thing holding back Elvira Oeberg from dominance. The scary thing for the women’s field is that over the last few weeks she showed definite signs of improvement shooting. It’s a small sample size but we got to see the potential of the “full strength” Elvira Oeberg. Also lately we’ve been seeing signs of Hanna Oeberg shaking off her poor shooting as well. She had a couple of very good pursuits lately but has still showed some difficulty with her rifle in the relays. For the men Samuelsson has been very consistent on the range but that’s not exactly a good thing as he’s been staedy in the low 80’s. But its Ponsiluoma especially has struggled shooting just 71% on the season.

There is large boom or bust potential here. If they shoot well they can outski anybody. If they don’t shoot well they could finish several minutes off the podium. In the first mixed relay of the season Sweden finished 4th primarily because of their struggles on the range. Interestingly Ponsiluoma was the best shooter on the day but Sweden ended up with 3 penalty loops and finished in 4th place just 7 seconds back of France who had no penalty loops. It’s a perfect example of the potential strengths and weaknesses of this team. I choose to believe that was the bottom end of the range of performances they could have had which is why I place them in 2nd.

3. France – France is a team with many options for the final makeup of the members of the mixed relay squad. From the men’s team they will likely pick 2 of QFM, Jacquelin, and Desthieux. If this was a couple of weeks ago I don’t think there would have been any questions at all. QFM and Jacquelin would have easily been the top choices as for much of the season they’ve been the top two men. However, the last few weeks have been a little rough for Jacquelin. He’s shown a significant weakening of his ski form and has discussed openly feeling fatigued physically and mentally. The other choice is Desthieux who is more of the “steady” choice. He certainly hasn’t been as fast as Jacquelin’s peak, but over the last 2 weeks of competition he’s shown a more consistent form. Their shooting is also very similar. It’s possible that the little break between Antholz and Beijing will recharge Jacquelin. But it could also be that he’s just overcooked from an early season peak. Only the French team and coaches will now.

There is another factor though. Deshieux has experience while this will be Jacquelin’s first Olympics as a true contender. That could be a lot of pressure for somebody who was feeling mentally fatigued. Sometimes with athletes in this position its best to get them into the races right away to break the anticipation. But there is a good argument to make that going with the steady hand in Desthieux would be a better choice. I think ultimately they go with Jacquelin because his peak is higher than Desthieux. But I wouldn’t discount Desthieux here.

For the women it’s a choice between Anais Chevalier-Bouchet, Justine Braisaz-Bouchet, Julia Simon, and Anaïs Bescond. Once again I think it’s a choice between 3, with Bescond being on the outside looking in. Prior to last week I would have said you don’t even consider Braisaz-Bouchet because of her potential to sink the relay on the range. Her shooting is always an adventure. The last couple of weeks she’s been shooting much better and we’ve seen the results including winning the Individual race in Antholz. She is the only woman that can match Elvira Öberg in speed but in a relay you really have to make sure you don’t get killed on the range. All the speed in the world doesn’t matter if you keep getting stuck on the penalty loop. Julia Simon is a bit similar to Braisaz-Bouchet except a better shooter and not quite as fast. I think she’s a lock for this relay as she’s been one of the 4-5 best women on the World Cup since the start of the Annecy le Grand Bornand. Finally you have Anaïs Chevalier-Bouchet, the antithesis of Justine Braisaz-Bouchet. I say this because she’s got a lower ceiling but a much higher floor. Much less likely to hurt you. So the choices is between the two Bouchet’s. I’m not sure who I would go with but I think the French go with the following lineup:
Julia Simon
Anaïs Chevalier-Bouchet
QFM
Emilien Jacquelin

This group has the potential to win. Those four at their peak can go toe to toe with the two teams above them. They likely need those two squads to open the door for them to get gold though.

4. Russia – I think this is where there is a bit of separation in the teams. If everybody performs at their peaks the top three teams have an advantage on those below. However the Russians are definitely the best of the rest. I think their squad is fairly easy to guess.

For the men it is going to be two of Alexandr Loginov, Eduard Latypov, and Said Khalili. Loginov is an easy selection. Since the start of Annecy le Grand Bornand he’s looked better than he has in several seasons, consistently in the mix including a win in a Sprint race and two other top 5’s. Prior to getting COVID Latypov was one of the best men in the World Cup. If he’s healthy I think he’s an easy selection. As a backup they’ve got Said Khalili. The young Russian has raced well over the last several weeks including a 3rd in the Individual in Antholz. He’s performed well in the two relays he’s been a part of this season as well. If he is chosen I don’t believe he will hold the team back.

For the women Kristina Reztsova is an easy choice. She’s been having a break out season and has the potential to be one of the top women on the World Cup for the next 5-6 seasons. She’s become one of the fastest women on the World Cup, currently ranked 11th overall in skiing for the season. She does shoot only 81% so that will be an area she can improve on. However that’s not going to keep her off this relay team. For the next pick they can choose one of Svetlana Mironova, Uliana Nigmatullina, or Irina Kazakevich. Truthfully I’m not sure who they will choose here. Nigmatullina is the best shooter and Mironova is the fastest. Personally I would choose Nigmatullina. She’s by far the best shooter and not that much slower than Mironova. However if they choose Mironova I won’t be surprised. So team would be:
Alexandr Loginov
Eduard Laypov
Kristina Reztsova
Uliana Nigmatullina

At their peak Russia can be competitive. Loginov, Latypov, and Reztsova have all been competitive at the top of the World Cup level. While Mironova hasn’t she has experience. Also the Russians seem to perform at their peak in relays. There have been 10 total relays so far this World Cup season and the Russians have had a podium finish in 8 of them. Leaving them out of the favorites would be a big big mistake.

Need Some Help: This group could compete for a medal if anybody in the top group falters. They don’t make the top group though either because of big questions about the team or an obvious weak link. If the top teams start taking too many penalty loops these squads could be right there to swoop in and clean up.

5.Germany: This team has extremely high variance. From the women they have to choose two of Denise Herrmann, Vanessa Hinz, Franziska Preuß and Vanessa Voigt. A lot depends on how Preuß looks. She’s had such a tough year, first with the ankle injury and then COVID. I have the lowest of expectations for her. If she is healthy and looking good though expect her to get picked. She has by far the highest ceiling. It’s difficult to tell if that’s even going to be possible though. If Preuß can’t go I pick Vanessa Voigt and Herrmann but they could go any number of directions. For the men expect 2 of Doll, Lesser, and Kühn. Doll and Lesser have been performing the best lately so I would expect it to be those two. My pick:
Denise Herrmann
Franziska Preuß/Vanessa Voigt
Benedikt Doll
Erik Lesser

If Preuß is healthy and they can compete they could may be in the class ahead. I just can’t bet on that at this point so they get bumped down.

6. Belarus – Belarus is the first team since Sweden with a pretty obvious 4 person team:
Dzinara Alimbekava
Hanna Sola
Anton Smolski
Dzmitry Lazouski

On the surface this looks like a very solid team. Alimbekava, Sola, and Smolski have all been on the podium multiple times this season. Alimbekava is having one of the most consistent and best seasons of any woman on the World Cup and is showing no signs of slow down. Since Christmas her worst finish was 7th place. Sola and Smolski however have both been well off their peak performance lately. Lazouski meanwhile has just 2 top 20’s all season. If they can all perform at peak level they have a chance to make some noise and grab an early medal.

7. Italy – Just like Belarus this appears to be a pretty well established team:
Dorothea Wierer
Lisa Vittozzi
Lukas Hofer
Thomas Bormolini

Dorothea Wierer you could argue is performing as well as any other woman on the World Cup right now. However she can’t run the entire relay by herself. Lisa Vittozzi has been experiencing some extreme struggles on the range. However she still seems to pull it together for the relay. Lukas Hofer, like Preuß, has had a difficult season and in his races since his return he’s looked okay but not near where he was last season. Bormolini is a solid if not great man in the lineup. He shouldn’t hurt them, but the problem is this squad needs to do more than limit the damage, they need to attack as well. However it’s not hard to see a situation where one of the top squads falters and Italy is competing for the podium late in the race.

Off the Radar: These teams are certainly not the favorites. But if they have the perfect race they could find themselves in the top 5. One of the great things about the Olympics is that there can be success without getting a medal. That’s what we’re looking at here.

8. Finland – We’ve talked a bit about Finland this season for one primary reason: Tero Seppälä. He’s currently 14th in the men’s overall standings which is significant leap in performance for the for the 26 year old Finn. However, Mari Eder has also had some pretty good results this season as well. It will be the two of them that give this team a chance at a high finish. Their squad will almost assuredly be:
Tero Seppälä
Olli Hiidensalo
Mari Eder
Natassia Kinnunen

That’s definitely the weakest lineup that we’ve discussed. But if they had a perfect race with several teams ahead of them faltering they could challenge for a top 5.

9. Czech Republic – The Czech team doesn’t have a deep lineup of men or women, but the great thing about the Mixed Relay is you don’t need to be deep. You just need 1-2 men and women that can give you a chance. Lead by Marketa Davidová that’s what the Czech team has. Their team will likely be:
Markéta Davidová
Jessica Jislova
Michal Krcmar
Jakub Stvrtecky

Davidová can compete with anybody. Jislova is extremely accurate but she loses a lot of time on the course. Krcmar is sort of a mid range all arounder while Stvrtecky can get a bit loose on the range. They are going to need a perfect race: minimal misses, quick reloads and absolutely no penalty loops. If they do all of that though, and they get help from above, they could push for a top 5.

Women’s 4×6 Relay: Okay I’ve already talked about a lot of the women we’ll see so from here on out it will be much more brief. I’m going to list who I think will be the team and put them in order of expected placement in the relay and then why they have a chance to either medal or top 5. To make things more difficult I’m going to also try to guess the order for the team.

Strategy: The women’s relay, like the men’s, is going to be the next to last race of these Olympic Games. That means they will have a lot more information by the time we get to this race. We’ll know who is on form, who is competing well, and who would be better sat. That makes my job here much more difficult so I anticipate that many of these teams will look different that I assume today.

Favorites:

1.France – Likely team:
Anais Chevalier-Bouchet
Anais Bescond
Julia Simon
Justine Braisaz-Bouchet

Why is France the favorite? Well in each relay race this season they’ve finished on the podium including two wins. Based on the individual results from this season it’s also the strongest team from top to bottom. If you want to identify a weakness you might point to Braisaz-Bouchet on the range but she’s actually been very good of late. You never know how form will travel but a week before the Olympics you have to expect them to be the favorites.

2. Sweden – Likely team:
Linn Persson
Mona Brorsson
Hanna Öberg
Elvira Öberg

I am much less confident in the makeup of this particular team. I could easily argue Magnusson or even Nilsson could find their way on to this team, but Brorsson has been performing better lately so she gets the edge for me. Sitting here today this is the team I’m going to pick. As it is they have some incredible speed and if the Öbergs shoot well nobody can match that combo to close. Elvira Öberg in particular will be able to make up a mountain of time if necessary. I almost hesitate to speak it into existence but my biggest question here is Hanna Öberg’s mental space. She’s shown a tendency to get tight in big moments. For this team much will be determined in the first week of competition.

3. Norway – Likely team:
Marte Olsbu Røiseland
Tiril Eckhoff
Ida Lien
Ingrid Tandrevold

As I mentioned at the top if we were talking about an Olympic Games in February 2021 then Norway would absolutely have been the top team. Even so I think it’s hard to discount their chances. Tiril Eckhoff and Tandrevold have started to look more look more like themselves. And in the last relay before the Olympics Ida Lien looked absolutely spectacular. Put those three together with the clear leader in the women’s overall and you’ve got a solid team. I would not be surprised at all to see the Norwegian women celebrating a victorious Olympic Relay.

4. Russia – Likely team:
Uliana Nigmatullina
Svetlana Mironova
Irina Kazakevich
Kristina Restzova

Russia lost Valeriia Vasnetcova to COVID just days before the Olympics were set to begin. She was likely to be in contention with Kazakevich for the last spot in the relay and had been entrenched as the lead off for the relay team. Even without her though they’ve have enough to win a medal. Besides Nigmatullina none of them are terrific shooters so they will need to have a good day on the range but they can be on the medal stand in the end.

Under the Radar:

5. Germany – Likely team:
Vanessa Voigt
Vanessa Hinz
Franziska Preuß
Denise Herrmann

I’ve said before that I would put Voigt in the #2 spot and put Hinz back in as the lead. I know they are putting the rookie Voigt in the 1st spot because it is a little easier mentally to compete in that spot. I argue she’s good enough it wouldn’t make a difference. She’s an above average skier and one of the best shooters on the World Cup, hitting at a nearly 92% clip. I think it’s time to maximize the potential of this team. Hinz was good at leading off relays last season and has struggled a little more in the 2nd spot. If Hinz can get her confidence back leading off the relay, and Voigt can be Voigt, this German team could hand off to Preuß and Herrmann in the top 3. This leads to the continuing question of Preuss and that’s really what this all comes down to. If Preuß is Preuß of 2020-2021 then they have a chance. She may need to be replaced by Weidel, though, and if that’s the case then I don’t think they can medal. Important to note that they’ve yet to have a podium in any women’s relay this season.

6. Belarus – Likely Team:
Iryna Leschanka
Dzinara Alimbekava
Elena Kuchinkina
Hanna Sola

This team relies entirely on the abilities of Alimbekava and Sola to lead them to a medal. Leschanka and especially Kuchinkina need to have spectacular days on the range for them to be successful. In Ostersund when they finished 2nd that is exactly what happened with Leschanka going 10/10 and Kuchinkina with just 3 misses. However they are also going to need Sola to find her form again. In Oberhoff and Antholz she looked quite different than the woman we saw the first 4 weekends of competition. However, her ski form has been top 10 level as recently as Antholz so there is some reason for hope. As you can see though, when you get down to this point in the list it just takes more going right for each successive team to find the medal stand.

7. Italy: Likely team:
Lisa Vittozzi
Dorothea Wierer
Samuela Comola
Federica Sanfilippo

The Italians went with this order in the most recent relays and I think it was a good change. We discussed the mentality of competing a relay in regards to Germany and Voigt but that holds true here I think. With Viottozzi still deadly leading off a relay and Wierer competing at such a high level Italy should be in the mix or could even be leading at the 2nd exchange. This allows the weaker Comola and Sanfilippo to either have a lead or be on even footing. You might suggest putting one of them in the lead off spot but that’s tricky because of Vittozzi. Right now pretty much the only spot she’s able to reach her competitive peak is leading off relays. Inexplicably she still looks like a top biathlete in that one situation, so you have to leave her here. I could make the argument that you “play to win” and put Vittozzi in the closing spot hoping that if Italy is in position to win her competitive juices will be able to carry her home. I think though, that with two clearly weaker legs Italy’s best chance is to put their strongest weapons in the front of the race and pray Sanfilippo and Comola can hang on for dear life.

8. Czech Republic – Likely team:
Jessica Jislova
Tereza Vobornikova
Markéta Davidová
Lucie Charvotova

In the last relay in Antholz team was in position to shoot for the win before Charvotava’s accident, skiing off the course on a tight turn. Yes it was a weaker field but it wasn’t completely devoid of talent. You have to put the same team on the course and give them a chance to compete for a medal. Jislova isn’t fast at this early point in her career but she is an excellent shooter hitting over 91% of her shots, so she can, and will need to start off 10/10. Vobornikova is a similar story except not as good on the range and not as fast. She needs to just hang on for dear life. Basically those two need to have a perfect race to have a shot. But if they can get to Davidová within shouting distance of the podium, she can put Charvotova in position to bring home a medal. Charvatova has top 25 speed which is really good news because she’s a fairly dreadful shooter. At this point we would have to hope that she is just in a zone and blocks out the added pressure. While a medal might be a remote shot I’m far from ruling them out as a top 5.

9. Switzerland – Likely team:
Amy Baserga
Lena Haecki
Elisa Gasparin
Selina Gasparin

They are going to need pretty much everything to go right to pull of a top 5 finish. To start with they need a lot of help from the teams ahead of them on this list. However Baserga and Haecki performing at peak level can put the Gasparin’s in position to bring it home. Think of this as the Team Italy strategy except without athletes on the level of relay-Vittozzi and Wierer. Baserga is a good shooter but not fast. Haecki is better than average at both. The Gasparins are below average shooters. It is definitely a long shot but not impossible.

10. USA – Likely team:
Susan Dunklee
Clare Egan
Deedra Irwin
Joanne Reid

This might seem like a stretch but in the last relay they did find a way to finish 5th. It is important to note that the teams missing their stars, besides Sweden, all finished ahead of them anyway. They’ve clearly put in a lot of training aiming for a peak for these two weeks so I would almost ignore all of their stats from this season. I’m just saying don’t be blown away when after two legs you see the Stars and Stripes competing for a top 5.

Men’s 4×7.5 Relay: Like with the women I’ve commented on many of these men already so I’m going to be more brief. I’m going to list who I think will be the team and put them in order of expected placement in the relay and then why they have a chance to either medal or top 5. To make things more difficult I’m going to also try to guess the order for the team.

Strategy: The men’s relay, like the women’s, is going to be the next to last race of these Olympic Games. That means they will have a lot more information by the time we get to this race. We’ll know who is on form, who is competing well, and who would be better sat. That makes my job here much more difficult so I anticipate that many of these teams will look different that I assume today.

Favorites:

1.Norway – Likely team:
Sturla Holm Lægreid
Tarjei Bø
JT Bø
Vetle Sjåstad Christiansen

The Norwegian men have won every relay they’ve put this squad out there. Frankly none of the relays have been particularly close either. Christiansen usually has a massive lead and is able to take his time around the course. In fact sometimes it almost appears that he has too much time. I don’t think there is much to say that hasn’t been said. 1-4 this is the fastest team on the course. With Lægreid they have one of the best shooters. JT Bø starting to look like himself and Tarjei Bø having his best few weeks in several seasons leading into the Olympics. Oh, and their “weak link” in Christiansen wore the yellow jersey earlier in the season. This is an easy one.

2. France – Likely team:
Fabien Claude
Emilien Jacquelin
Simon Desthieux
Quinton Fillon Maillet

France has only twice put out their “A team” with this particular lineup. Both times they finished 2nd behind the Norwegian team above. Both times the final margin was within 1 penalty loop of time. Some of that was that Christiansen did slowing on the final lap. However there have been a few more question marks cropping up around this team recently. Last time out in Antholz QFM looked a little uncomfortable on the range. As I mentioned in the Mixed Relay section Jacquelin has been clearly trending in the wrong direction and opening discussing feeling fatigued. Destheiux did look good in Rhupholding and Antholz but he’s no longer near his career peak. He can still bring it on any given day though. Claude has been fairly consistent but he’s not a top level biathlete. If this is the healthy French team they can challenge for the gold. If they are the team that was appearing to limp into the Olympics they may finish off the medal stand. Big question marks here.

3. Russia – Likely team:
Said Khalili
Daniil Serokhvostov
Alexandr Loginov
Eduard Latypov

Russia meanwhile, outside of Latypov, seemed to have the opposite trajectory from France. Loginov has been on the ascendency over the last month and has re-established himself as a threat to win solo races. Khalili just had the best race of his career finishing 3rd in the Individual in Antholz. Serokhvostov is very young at just 22 but his worst finish in 2022 is 23rd. Then there is the big question around Latypov. The Russia men’s relay team has been on the podium in ever reyal of the year including winning in Ruhpolding. They appear to be getting better right now. They have to be considered a real threat to win the gold.

4. Germany – Likely team:
Erik Lesser
Roman Rees
Benedikt Doll
Johannes Kühn

Speaking of a team trending in the right direction, the German fans have to be encouraged by the signs they’ve seen the last few weeks. It started when Lesser seemed to wake up in Annecy with his first top 10. Then he added 3 more in the Oberhoff and Ruhpolding before resting in Antholz. Doll also had his first top 10 in Annecy before a 2nd place finish in the Ruhpolding Sprint and winning the Mass Start in Antholz. Kühn has been the most consistent German from the start, with a win in the Hochfilzen Sprint and top 10’s in Oberhof and Ruhpolding. Rees is a solid is not spectacular member of the team. This team has talent. They are starting to put it together, they podiumed in the last two relay races. The Germans are definitely a threat to win a medal.

Under the Radar:

5. Sweden – Likely team:
Peppe Femling
Jesper Nelin
Martin Ponsiluoma
Sebastian Samuelsson

Sweden is anchored by one tremendous powerhouse in Sebastian Samuelsson. We’ll discuss later this week all of the medals he could win this Olympic Games. He’s going to need a lot of help to add this medal to that list. So what do we make of the rest of the team? Well Ponsiluoma has the talent to be great. He’s got tremendous speed. Unfortunately he’s become a major liability on the range. He’s shooting just 71% on the year. In a very small sample size he is still shooting 85% in relays so maybe the competition of a relay helps focus him a little better. He remains a major question. Nelin and Femling are both solid mid level biathletes ranking 44th and 48th overall. Nelin is a little faster and Femling a better shooter but neither is a specialist. They will both need to have great races. So could Sweden medal? Absolutely. But I think for it to happen they need one of the top four teams to falter.

6. Belarus – Likely team:
Mikita Labastau
Dzmitry Lazouski
Maksim Varabei
Anton Smolski

Basically look at the breakdown for Sweden and copy it here. The difference is that Smolski isn’t quite the superstar that Belarus is and the rest of the squad is a little worse than Sweden’s. Still they’ve proven this season they can compete when they finished 3rd in the Ruhpolding relay. Their other finishes are 6th, 6th, and 12th. Of Labastau, Lazouski, and Varabei there are no major weak links but Labastau is the highest ranked of them at just 37th in the overall standings. The three of them are all average to below average shooters with average ski speed. So why are they ranked 6th with that less than spectacular report? Well they’ve got Smolski who at his best is a top 10 biathlete and nobody behind them is all that great. And they’ve performed well in relays with 3 top 6 finishes.

7. Ukraine – Likely team:
Artem Pryma
Dmytro Pidruchnyi
Bogdan Tsymbal
Anton Dudchenko

Ukraine top to bottom is probably a more solid team than any of the teams around them. They are all ranked between 34th and 62nd. None of them are particularly fast and none of them are sharp shooters. However none of them have major holes in their performances. This means they have a limited ceiling but also a higher floor than some other squads. And in one of those lovely quirks their results perfectly illustrate this. In the four relays this year their finishes are: 5th, 7th, 6th, and 6th. They aren’t going to hurt themselves but they are going to need a lot of help to reach the podium.

8. Italy – Likely team:
Thomas Bormolini
Dominik Windisch
Tommaso Giacomel
Lukas Hofer

Italy just has too many slower athletes to hope to keep up with the top teams in this race. Every single leg they are going to be giving up significant speed to Norway, France, Russia, Germany, and Sweden. Even if they have a terrific day on the range, because of the nature of relays having reloads vs. automatic penalty loops, those faster squads can make up the gaps. However I leave them here because even though it is slim there is a path to top 5 for Italy. First they need a windy day on the range and chaos above them (that’s a bad sign of you’re plan relies on chaos). However with this venue that’s possible. They need to perform well and they need Lukas Hofer to at least be Lukas Hofer from last season. If that happens you could see the Italians in the top 5. Don’t laugh though because it’s not impossible. In Ruhpolding we saw the Italians finish 4th by simply making fewer mistakes than anybody but the top 3 teams.

9. Switzerland – Likely team:
Sebastian Stalder
Benjamin Weger
Niklas Hartweg
Joscha Burkhalter

Switzerland was a very late addition to this list. They made it because of their performance in Antholz. Yes they only finished 7th but I’m counting on Benjamin Weger to be a step up over Jaeger. If you could replace Jaeger’s performance with an average Weger leg (the big key being removing the penalty loop) we could have easily seen Switzerland in contention for the 5th place. They were just 28 seconds back of France who finished 4th. How did they do it? Well besides Jaeger they had 3 misses total. That’s pretty much their only path to the top 5. But they’ve proven they can do it!

One thought on “Olympic Preview: Relays

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