We’re two steps into this mega Olympic preview so you should know the general outline by now. We’ll look at each discipline, break down the favorites, the next tier, and then the under the radar selections. For this bunch I’m going to try to only focus on 3-4 per discipline and not discuss the same athlete twice. This should tighten things up a bit. You’ll notice a lot of names showing up again and again. Well that’s the truth isn’t it? It would be completely disingenuous to try to pretend that Quinton Fillon Maillet is not going to be in contention for every single medal.
These athletes are also ordered in a very rough outline. Please don’t take these as my “predictions” as those will come the day of the race! (If these end up being more accurate than my day of predictions please feel free to use these as my predictions!). Really what I’m trying to do here is identify the top 2 tiers of contenders for each race and then look at somebody maybe a bit off the map. The off the radar is just that. They aren’t my true #11 but somebody that isn’t being discussed much at all. Also we’re going through in order of the events as they will be competed throughout the games.
Before we get started I realized as I was going through the men vs. the women that I have a much better feel for the women’s biathlon this season than the men’s. I think that’s because outside of a select few there has seemingly been much greater variability in the top 10’s from week to week. Even more than just variability there have been significant changes in form for certain athletes throughout the season, much more so than on the women’s side. Finally since the season restarted we’ve seen so male athletes missing weeks either for training or for COVID. We haven’t seen all of the top athletes together since before the holiday break. All of that means I have a LOT less confidence in my previews for the men than the women. Doesn’t mean I didn’t try hard but it just felt very hard to select a solid 10 + 1 off the radar for each discipline. With that enormous caveat lets get to it!
Individual: The Games are starting off with the most brutal test in biathlon. How cruel is this? The venue is at over 1600 meters, the temperature there as I’m writing this is -29, and there are predicted to be strong winds. The snow is manmade and cold so likely to be slow. Talk about draining the legs from day one. Some athletes are going to come into the Olympics in great form and some are not. Those who aren’t are going to be hurting right away. We’ll see the strong women separate from the pack here and those who didn’t have good prep could be on the back foot for the next 2 weeks.
1.Sturla Holm Lægreid
2. Tarjei Bø – The elder Bø brother, oftentimes overshadowed by his younger and highly decorated younger brother, he is quite talented and successful in his own right. While he has a gold and silver medal in the Olympics both are in relays, so he heads to China still looking for his first solo Olympic medal. He does have an overall crystal globe trophy but even still he may be heading to the Olympics with some of the best form he’s ever had.
While the Individual is historically his weakest event in terms of podium percentage for his career. This year though he’s turned that on its head by winning the discipline crystal globe. He finished in 2nd place in both the season opening Individual race and the Individual in Antholz. He did it both times with 2 misses.
I mentioned above that Tarjei Bø is coming into the Olympics with some incredible form and it wasn’t an exaggeration. Currently he ranks 3rd for the season in ski rank. His ski rank per race for his 4 races since the holiday break have been 1, 1, 2, and 4. Those back to back races of being the fastest man on the course were his first time that he was the fastest man in a race since the 2015-2016 season. All of that is with his shooting at or slightly above his career average.
Performing on that level Tarjei Bø is going to have a chance to medal in literally every single race in these Olympic Games. It would be huge for him if he could take that monkey off his back in the very first solo race. If he’s able to replicate what he did in Östersund and Antholz he’ll do just that.
3. Johannes Thingnes Bø
4. Quinton Fillon Maillet
5. Simon Desthieux – Simon Desthieux’s career peaked in the 2018-2019 season with his 4th overall finish in the World Cup standings. Over the last three years his form has been fading a touch which isn’t terribly surprising at 30 years old. Like fellow 30+ year old competitor Tarjei Bø though, that hasn’t seemed to bother him at all in the Individual races. He finished 3rd in Östersund and 6th in Antholz for two of his six top 10 finishes of the season.
As an 85% shooter he’s a fairly average. And while he’s fairly quick he isn’t to be confused with the likes of the Bø brothers or his compatriots QFM and Jacquelin. So why does he do well in the Individual? Well there’s a nearly impossible to measure mental strength aspect to the Individual. Like the Sprint race it is run entirely alone without anybody go gauge against except the clock and the splits. This can be difficult for many young athletes so it’s not entirely surprising then to see older athletes who have had both success and experience finish highly in Individual races.
Desthieux has entered the phase of his career where there is more variance in his performance. He can still really bring it for big events as evidenced by his 2nd and 5th in the Sprint and Pursuit at last season’s World Championships. He also has the endurance and form to perform at altitude as we saw in the Individual in Antholz. This is going on a bit of limb to portray him as one of the favorites but I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see Destheiux taking aim at the Individual podium.
6. Vetle Sjåstad Christiansen
7. Said Khalili
8. Fabien Claude
9. Simon Eder – So far in this discussion of contenders for the Individual race we’ve discussed some of the older athletes in the field. Why not continue that with one of, if not the, oldest competitor in the field. Simon Eder, at the sprightly young age of 38 isn’t completely out of the discussion for a top 10 or even top 5 at these Olympics. It would be quite the capstone for one of the most respected male biathletes.
Eder is well past what we would consider his “prime.” He still ranks 58th in skiing this season. This puts him on par with and ahead of, many athletes much younger than him. But he’s maintained his ability to find his way to the top 10 due to some truly exceptional shooting. This season he’s shooting 90% which puts him, tied with Benjamin Weger, as 2nd behind only Sturla Lægreid amongst men with more at least 10 races this season on the IBU World Cup.
This season he does have one top 10, a 6th place in the first Pursuit race of the season. However just last week he finished 11th in the Antholz Individual race. At a time when many biathletes ranked ahead of him have significant questions (Jacquelin and Smolksi for example) somebody who shoots as well as Eder does can absolutely make the top 10. That’s especially true in a race where shooting accuracy is as prized as the Individual race. He also has some history in this race, finishing 7th in the Individual at the World Championships last season and his 4th place in the Individual at the Sochi Olympics being his best ever finish at the Olympic Games. If he is going to finally snag an Olympic medal it may very well be in this race.
10. Sivert Bakken
Under the Radar:
11. Christian Gow – Christian Gow is going to be a popular “under the radar” pick for the Individual race which makes him difficult to justify in this spot. However ranking 45th overall in the World Cup I still think he fits.
So why is Gow such a popular underdog pick? Well just like Eder he’s a very good shooter. This season he’s shooting 89.33% which ranks just behind Simon Eder. However remember how I mentioned Eder being faster than many men much younger than him? The 28 year old Canadian ranks 83rd in ski rank this season.
This season he has been able to achieve one top 10 though and that was in the Östersund Individual race. That day he went 19/20. In the Individual in Antholz he was 14/15 and in position for another great finish until 2 late misses. He finished 2:33 back from the top 10. He’s going to need to do at least go 19/20 again if he’s going to be able to surprise his way to a top 10 in the Olympics. There aren’t a lot of men who are more likely to do it though so he at least has a chance!
Sprint: The Sprint race will take place 4 days after the Individual race. This is such an unusual pattern for biathletes. Yes they the World Championships every year are spaced out but never this far. It will require the appropriate balance of rest/recovery as well as training to stay in top form. Then you jump right back in with the Sprint race. This is hard and fast. I’ve heard it described as running up several flights of stairs and then trying to thread a needle. While many of the same athletes are going to be competitive in the Individual and the Sprint the Sprint will favor those athletes with powerful burst.
1.Quinton Fillon Maillet
2. Sebastian Samuelsson – Over the first month of the season there was no faster male biathlete on snow than Sebastian Samuelsson. He was the fastest man in four of nine races in that first month of racing, and 2nd in three other races. With Samuelsson and Elvira Öberg leading the way the young Swedes were the talk of the World Cup. Nobody could hope to keep up with them early. He went out and won the first two Sprint races of the season and he looked untouchable in that race early on.
Like Elvira Öberg though he was held back only by his rifle. In those two Sprint victories he went a combined 19/20. In the next Sprint races he shot 70, 90, 80, and 80% and finished 14, 9, 18, and 14th. In total for the season he is shooting just 83.5%. The combination of explosive speed and streaky shooting are why the Sprint is such a perfect fit for Samuelsson. He only has to survive two trips to the range while his speed can really shine.
However since the break his speed has seemed to take a dip. However that doesn’t worry me. Actually that makes me feel more sure about his potential for the Olympics. Sebastian Samuelsson did exactly the same thing last season. He looked very good over the first month, took a dip in January, and then came out at the World Championships in Pokljuka with his best form in 2 months. He made mention that it was the plan to follow the same plan this season with the aim to peak for Beijing. Are there any signs that he’s been successful? In fact there are. In his four races in 2022 his ski ranks are: 14, 7, 5, and 3. He’s got the right trajectory. He’s shown he can build for a February peak before. All signs point to him aiming squarely at a return to the Olympic podium and the Sprint is the most likely race for him to do it in.
3. Johannes Thingnes Bø
4. Emilien Jacquelin
5. Alexandr Loginov – Loginov has been one of the most shocking athletes of this season. That’s not because we didn’t know what he was capable of but rather it was because we just hadn’t seen it in so long. All of last season he was somewhat mediocre outside of his surprising Individual win in Antholz. He finished just 17th in the overall World Cup standings. This season started out looking much the same.
Once the calendar rolled over to 2022 he suddenly looked like an Alexandr Loginov that we hadn’t seen in several years. He started out by winning the Sprint in Oberhof. That was followed by finishes of 5th, 32nd, 2nd, and 7th leading up to the Beijing Olympics. Over the first four weeks of the season he had just one top 7 finish of 4th. However, importantly for this discussion, that 4th place was in the Sprint race in Hochfilzen. It was one of a few little signs you could see that this potential was buried in there.
If you looked closely at the Sprint races from the first four weekends of the season you could see the potential was there. His four best races in the first trimester were the four Sprint races where he finished 10, 13, 4, and 12th. You could also see the start of his improved ski speed starting in Annecy. Prior to Annecy he ranked top 10 in course time just once. Starting with Annecy his rankings were 14, 8, 3, 5, 3, 16, 1, 9. That’s a clear leap in form.
Take those two pieces of information: the dramatically improved ski speed, and the clear track record of best performances being in the Sprint races and it is impossible to leave Loginov out of the discussion for a Sprint race Olympic medal.
6. Tarjei Bø
7. Sturla Holm Lægreid
8. Vetle Sjåstad Christiansen
9. Johannes Kühn – The German men entered this season without the man who has led them for the last several seasons, Arnd Peiffer. The question has been who would step up to take his spot? It turns out it hasn’t been a single individual but more a committee approach. The first man to help fill the void was Johannes Kühn. Kühn, it may be hard to remember at this point, was a bit of a surprise to the biathlon world when he won the Sprint race in Hochfilzen. This was a man who was left off of the lineup for the season opening weekend in Östersund and instead competed on the IBU Cup. When he got his chance though he did great things with it, later saying it was the first win he could remember in he didn’t know how many years.
Since that race Kühn has gotten himself in the mix a few more times but the Sprint has remained his best discipline. He opened the 2022 portion of the campaign with a 4th place Sprint finish in Oberhof and seemed like he might turn himself into an outside contender for the Sprint crystal globe. However he then got COVID and missed the Ruhpolding leg and only raced the Mass Start in the Antholz.
So we haven’t seen much of Kühn this season as he’s missed a total of 5 races (2 Östersund, 2 Ruhpolding, and 1 Antholz). We don’t know how his body will have responded to COVID. It would be reasonable to speculate that even if he had no negative effects from COVID he still would be behind on training. Any missed training days midseason can set you back especially as you’re building to a peak, and even more so when you are having to compete at high altitude. Having said all of that, if I’m building out a top 10 potential podium finishers he has to be on the list. When he’s healthy he’s shown the speed and the ability to not only get on the podium but to win a gold.
10. Benedikt Doll
Under the Radar:
11. Martin Ponsiluoma – Martin Ponsiluoma has been extremely difficult to predict. For just a brief illustration of this in his first four sprint races of the season his finishing places were 79, 11, 2, and 71. That’s the Ponsiuloma experience all summed up. High ceiling but equally low floor. So why is this?
Well Ponsiluoma is sort of the extreme version of his Swedish teammates. Like Samuelsson and the Öbergs he can be very very fast. This season he ranks 12th in ski speed and in six different races he has ranked in the top 5 in ski speed. He’s also, at times, a terrible shooter. He’s currently at just 71% for the season and ranked 152nd of 180 men that have completed a race this year.
The Sprint race, as we’ve discussed, limits his exposure on the range. With just two shoots if he can really lock down and limit the mistakes his ski speed can carry him. In Hochfilzen he went 9/10. He was 5th fastest on the course and ended up in 2nd place overall. So if we’re looking off the radar Martin Ponsiluoma is a man for whom, if it all comes together, can not only get into the top 10 but could end up on the podium.
Pursuit: As we all know the Pursuit race is unique to biathlon as it is directly set up by the Sprint race. Have a disaster in the Sprint race and you’ve taken yourself out of the Pursuit as well. But it also allows for redemption. Say you have just one untimely miss and finish off the podium? Well you’re easily within striking distance for a comeback. The Pursuit race in general will reward 2 things: Good shooting, and competitive spirit. Of course good shooting makes sense because you can make up a big chunk of time if you shoot clean while those ahead of you head to the penalty loop. But on the course as well, the ability to mark those athletes ahead of you and either not let them get away or even claw back ground, plays a major role as well. Nor surprisingly some of the favorites in this event are the best of the best.
1.Quinton Fillon Maillet – Quinton Fillon Maillet is the current yellow jersey and has had by far the most complete and most consistent season of any male biathlete. From the very beginning of the season he’s been in contention nearly every single race. He has just three finishes outside of the top 10 with two of those in the first four races of the season. He seemed to build momentum as the season progressed. This was the man we all expected to see last season, taking over the leadership of the French team, after Martin Fourcade retired.
He did this by being a solid all around biathlete without relying too much on any one particular attribute. He is absolutely very fast currently ranking 4th in ski speed. However he’s a better shooter than he sometimes gets credit for, shooting nearly 86% on the season. I believe though, that the most important part of his performance this year is unmeasurable. This season QFM has shown a nearly unshakable mental strength. All season long he’s shown nearly no nerves. And when the race is on the line he’s shown remarkable ability to buckle down and close the door turning several potentially high finishes into wins.
In particular he’s been almost unbeatable in the Pursuit races. QFM finished 16th in the first Pursuit race of the season. Since that race he’s won the next four Pursuit races which is a huge reason why he’s currently leading the overall race. To do this he’s started anywhere from 1st to 9th showing he has both the mental fortitude to hold a lead with the entire race chasing you and he also has the bulldog mentality to keep chasing down competitors until he has the lead. One interesting note about the Pursuit race he won from bib 1, he got much stronger after missing and allowing the lead to briefly slip away. After that he never looked back.
But one thing that can’t be left out of this discussion is his performance in Antholz. For the first time all season he looked just a touch uncomfortable. Nearly every time on the range he was looking up between shots, checking the wind, and seemed to never quite look comfortable. I mentioned above that he’s had unshakable confidence. This is going to be the biggest test of that yet.
Having said all that, if QFM is anywhere close to the lead at the start of the race he has to be one of the favorites. He’s just been too dang good at this discipline all season long.
2. Tarjei Bø
3. Sebastian Samuelsson
4. Johannes Thingnes Bø
5. Alexandr Loginov
6. Sturla Holm Lægreid – Sturla Holm Lægreid was the major revelation of the 2020-2021 season. In his first full year on the World Cup level he pushed the two time defending champion Johannes Thingnes Bø all the way to the very limit. He came into this season with sky high expectations that only got higher after he won the Individual race in Östersund to start the season. That’s when things seemed to go a little sideways.
Lægreid followed up that season opening win with a 37th place finish in the Sprint race. And he looked really rough in that effort as well. The rest of the first trimester was up and down, peaking with a 5th and 6th in the Sprint and Pursuit respectively in Anney le Grand Bornand. It was clear though that he wasn’t close to the same biathlete from last year. His ski form in particular was waaaaaay off from the standard he had set. Last season he ranked 7th overall in ski speed. In the first four weeks of this season he was regularly finishing in the 20’s in course time.
Lægreid told us all along that Beijing was the most important thing on the schedule and that he was only worried about being in form for the Olympic Games. As it turns out we should have listened to him, and we should have trusted him. He came out of the holiday break all of a sudden looking like the Lægreid that we came to know. He raced four times between Christmas and the Beijing Olympics while taking off the Ruhpolding weekend for an altitude training camp with the rest of the Norwegian team. In those four races his ski ranks were 7, 2, 4, and 5. His finish places were 3, 4, 5, and 3, easily his best stretch of the year.
At this point Lægreid is one of my favorites for a medal in the Olympics no matter what the discipline. He’s maybe the best shooter on the men’s side of the World Cup and his ski form at present can only be matched by about 4-5 other men right now. And importantly none of them can shoot like he can. However if there is one place this can really shine its the Pursuit race or the Mass Start. He could very well fly home to Norway with a handful of medals.
7. Simon Desthieux
8. Anton Smolski
9. Tero Seppala – Prior to the season Tero Seppala would have been squarely in the “Under the Radar” category. No longer. Seppala has been one of, and quite possible the break out biathlete this season at least amongst men. Prior to this season he had just 5 career top 20 finishes. As of today he’s up to 13. He’s had just six of So not only is he having one or two really good races, he’s having sustained success.
It started with back to back 16th places finishes in the Sprint races in Östersund which at the time were his 3rd best finishes of all time before setting a new personal best with a 5th place finish in the Östersund Pursuit. That is tied with the Sprint in Ruhpolding for his season’s best so far. Most recently he finished 6th in the Mass Start in Antholz for his 4th top 10 of the season. He’s far from under the radar at this point.
He’s made this terrific leap by building on what he had, decent ski strength, and made significant strides on the shooting range. Throughout his career, Seppala has relied on consistently solid ski speed. For the last three seasons including this one he’s been ranked between 24-30th. If you look at his race by race break down you see that from week to week he’s very consistent as well. This isn’t a high variance that settles out into that good range, he’s almost always finishing between 20-30th in course time rank.
His big improvement this season has been on the range. Prior to this season he has been mediocre at best on the range, never shooting above 80% for a season. As of today he’s shooting 86.36% for the year. He’s at 90% shooting from prone. He’s gone from ranking 93rd in total shooting percentage last year to 29th this season. As it turns out if you spend less time on the penalty loop you’re going to have a lot more success.
This season, the 5th place Sprint in Ruhpolding aside, his successes have been primarily in the Pursuit race and the Mass Start. In these races he can put his new shooting form to the most use. He can’t challenge the top biathletes in speed so he needs this shooting accuracy to be able to finish in the top 10. I cannot say enough about how impressed I am with his improvements. I’m really keeping my fingers crossed that we see his best over the next two weeks!
10. Benedikt Doll
Under the Radar:
11. Roman Rees
Mass Start: This is just classic biathlon. 30 biathletes start on the line, first one to the finish wins. There are more strategy and tactical battles in a Mass Start than any other races and it’s always fascinating to see them play out. Winners are usually rewarded for their good shooting, with slower good shooters able to find their way to the top as they continue to avoid penalty loops. Speedsters are sometimes able to build themselves large leads on the course which allows them a few precious seconds to slow down on the range and avoid the misses. You have to decide when to step on the gas, and when to relax. Coming at the end of 2 weeks of difficult races in challenging conditions on undoubtedly tired legs and emotional fatigue this promises to be a wild race. If you’re looking for upset finishes this might be the place to look.
1.Quinton Fillon Maillet
2. Johannes Thingnes Bø – As you may have heard in the first episode of the Penalty Loop Podcast (Available on iTunes, Spotify, Overcast, Podbean, etc!), we briefly discussed how there are some athletes with a history so strong that it can cloud our judgement of their current form. JT Bø is a classic example of this. We have all seen him be absolutely stunningly dominant. And we’ve seen him do it over, and over, and over again. Last season somewhat, and this season especially, he has been competitive but nowhere close to his dominant self. However every time he shows us a hint of the dominant JT Bø, such as his Sprint win in Annecy or the performance in Antholz, we rush to say “He’s back!” (Yes I’m looking directly at myself when I say this).
What’s the true measure of JT Bø’s season, his current form, and his Olympic chances? Well, its complicated. JT Bø at his best is exceptionally fast on the skis, he’s confident and good, if not great, on the range. This season has been a bit of a different story so lets look at each attribute.
Even last year, while not looking like his normal dominant self, he was still the fastest male biathlete on the course. This year for much of the season that title was taken by the likes of Sebastian Samuelsson, Emilien Jacquelin, and he was even surpassed by his brother after the Oberhof races. After that, rather than go to altitude training with his teammates he went home and got some mental and emotional rest with his family. That seems to have done the trick as he came out absolutely blazing in the Antholz. He actually joked that he was feeling so good that he went out too hard in the Individual and Mass Start which was why he faded late. Now JT Bø is either fastest or 2nd fastest on the season depending on what measure you choose to use. It was just one weekend, and crucially the Swedes were not competing, but JT Bø does appear to be “back” at least last season’s level.
As for his shooting that remains a question mark. He started out the season actually looking very good. Small sample size alert but in the Östersund races he was shooting 90%. Then his shooting started to fade before the absolutely atrocious shooting weekend in Oberhof when he went 5/10 in the Sprint and 15/20 in the Pursuit. At that point he looked like he wanted to be anywhere else in the world. In the two solo races and the relay race he’s starting to look at the very least more like he did last season when he shot 85% for the year. He hit 17/20 in both the Individual and the Mass Start. In the relay he was a perfect 10/10 and very quick and confident on the range. Once again though, small sample size alert.
There continue to be huge questions swirling around JT Bø right now, not the least of which is will he actually get to compete since he is currently in quarantine due to COVID exposure. Even if he does compete was Antholz a mirage or a sign of things to come? Is he actually that fast again? Is he actually feeling more confident on the range or was that just a high point in an unusually up and down shooting season. And where is his mental state? Did going home for the Ruhpolding week really recharge him for the long haul that is this particular Olympic campaign? And how much pressure is he feeling to add to his Olympic medal haul and cement his legacy? We’ll know soon enough but I’ll just say now that I’m very optimistic about his chances.
3. Tarjei Bø
4. Sturla Holm Lægreid
5. Benedikt Doll – Doll was a very late addition onto this list. In fact he was the last man to make it on to my running list of favorites for the Olympics. For the most part of the season he was nearly invisible. Over the first four weekends of racing he had just one top 10, his 7th place in the Mass Start in Annecy le Grand Bornand. He seemed to wake up once they reached Ruhpolding and since then has looked more like the competitor we maybe thought he would be this season.
Over those last two weekends of racing he finished, 2nd in the Sprint, 11th in the Pursuit, 12th in the Individual, and then won the Antholz Mass Start in a remarkable race against JT Bø. I’ve written at length about this but for Doll to win that race showcased his potential, the ski speed and the mental strength to stay close to Bø on the course and the clutch shooting to pull away and secure the victory. It was a complete race and proves exactly why Doll has to be considered a factor in these Olympics.
Looking at his season from the mile high view you can see that his skiing form has been generally trending upward since the start. Over those last two weekends was when he started to reach a new level. In three of those four races he was one of the five fastest men on the course including being the absolute fastest by a hair over JT Bø in that Mass Start victory. While his overall shooting numbers are fairly pedestrian, in those instances such as the Ruhpolding Sprint and the Antholz Mass Start when he does shoot well, he has proven he can finish the job and find the podium.
6. Vetle Sjåstad Christiansen – For the first trimester of the season, Vetle Christiansen was the surprising standard bearer for the Norwegian men. Preseason both the Bø brothers, Lægreid, and even Johannes Dale (remember him?) were picked to finish ahead of Christiansen. Yet who was the most recent Norwegian to wear the yellow bib? Christiansen did briefly for the first race in Hochfilzen.
At 29 years old it was fair to wonder if he had peaked as a biathlete and how much potential for growth was still there. Christiansen proved there is still more talent to scratch out when he started out the season battling in nearly every single race. He started with three top 5’s in the first four races including a 2nd place and a win in the first Pursuit race of the season. After a slight setback in Hochfilzen he had a very solid all around weekend in Annecy finishing 8th in the Sprint, 3rd in the Pursuit, and 5th in the Mass Start. Heading into the break, while far from the favorite, he remained a significant factor in the race for the overall crystal globe.
Since the break through there has been a bit of a regression to the average for Christiansen. In the early part of the season he was a bit of the odd duck amongst the Norwegian men in that he was actually faster this season than last. That has not quite been the case over the four races in Oberhof and Antholz (he missed Ruhpolding while at the Norwegian altitude training camp) he has appeared to have taken a step back. The races in Oberhof he was at his slowest of the season. Meanwhile his shooting accuracy was for those four races was just 77%, far below his average of the first four weeks of 92%. For perspective his career average is 87%.
There was some reason for hope in Antholz as he did seem to have a bit of a rebound finishing 6th in course time in the Individual race. It is quite possible that this was according to the training plan. We discussed previously with Samuelsson the dip in form following some very hard training over the break and in early January. If Christiansen was following the same plan it is very possible that his legs were dulled from the training and that he is only now seeing the gains. However it does raise a question as to where his ski form actually is right now. And it certainly wasn’t a good direction for his shooting to be going in.
So what to make of Vetle Sjåstad Christiansen on the even of the Olympics? I don’t know what to expect. (I feel like I’ve said that a lot in this piece but I mean it!). His ski form in Antholz was encouraging and even if he’s no better than he was then he can be competitive. However he absolutely has to find his confidence on the range again. He doesn’t need to be shooting 92% but even just 87-89% would have him on the edge of the podium conversation. We’ll find out soon enough!
7. Tero Seppala
8. Emilien Jacquelin – Is there anybody more confounding than Emilien Jacquelin? At his best, like he showed in the early part of this season, he is an absolute joy to watch. He can ski with anybody and is a good enough shooter that he can turn that ski speed into wins. He’s never looked better than he did in the first trimester of this season, peaking with the Mass Start victory in Annecy le Grand Bornand. In winning that race he took the yellow jersey into the holiday break.
He came out of the break looking like he was just going to keep rolling. He finished 2nd in the Sprint in Oberhof. That’s when the wheels started to wobble. The next day in the Pursuit race he was clearly slow. At the time Jacquelin was adamant that he was feeling well and that it was the fault of the equipment which equipment team denied. The mystery deepened in Ruhpolding when, while skiing well, Jacquelin shot exceptionally poorly in the standing portion of the Sprint, missing 3 times and 4 in total on an easy shooting day. That’s about where the wheels completely came off. He just barely got himself into the Pursuit putting out minimal effort. After admitting that he was tired mentally and physically leading into Antholz Jacquelin raced the Individual before shutting it down until the Olympics, again citing fatigue.
So what do we know about Jacquelin? At his peak, which he showed this year, he can compete with the best in the world and win. We also know that he has a troubling tendency to throw a race away if it isn’t going his way. This can completely wreck his ability to compete in the Pursuit which relies on being set up by the Sprint race. We also know that his performance leading into these Games has been showing concerning signs.
At this point I won’t be surprised about anything we see from Jacquelin. If he comes into these games without an improvement in his mental and physical state, racing at high altitude in difficult conditions could lead to some less spectacular results. However, if he comes in feeling well rested and physically and mentally refreshed, there is no reason Jacquelin can’t win at least 1 solo medal in these Games.
9. Johannes Kühn
10. Simon Eder
Under the Radar:
11. Sivert Bakken – I debated long and hard about whether or not to include Bakken in this list at all. If you’ve made it to the bottom of this you’ve seen that not only did he make the list but he’s actually a bit higher than this on some of the disciplines. However, because there was no other really good “under the radar” pick for Mass Start, and because Bakken is, I believe, “under the radar” in general for the Olympics I’m going to discuss him here.
Bakken is one of the many many young talented Norwegian biathletes. The difference is he’s actually carved out a role for himself on the IBU World Cup team, primarily coming at the expense of fellow youngster Johannes Dale unfortunately. Prior to this season he had just 2 career World Cup level races. At this point, he’s been showing enough promise that it’s hard to imagine him getting bumped off the World Cup level. So far he has four top 10 finishes, and two of those are in Mass Starts.
When examining Bakken and what we can expect from him I did take a small look into his IBU Cup stats. In general on the IBU Cup he was a very good skier but not quite the best. He was however a very good shooter, shooting nearly 90% last season. This year he’s seen his shooting percentage fall off dramatically down to just 84%. However while he ranked 13th on the IBU Cup last year in ski speed he’s 20th in ski speed this year on the World Cup which is a decided improvement.
The Mass Start would normally not be a race I would pick for such a young athlete. But he’s clearly shown a talent for it though so maybe we see a another top 10 or even a top 5 out of the young talent!