2022 Winter Olympics Under the Radar Stories

Part 3 of our 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics Wrap Up

The title of this piece might not be perfect but basically I wanted to share a handful of stories that caught my eye. These weren’t things I saw a lot of people focusing on but I just thought they were interesting and worth watching. Not all of these were completely “under the radar” so to speak but they weren’t the headline stories. Also they weren’t big enough to create a whole piece about. Think of these as just the fun odds and ends I saw from the 2022 Winter Olympics.

Image from the races in Antholz

1.Ukalek Astri Slettemark – We’ll start out with one that I’ve already discussed a little bit and did thankfully get some traction at least on social media. Ukalek Slettemark is not a very well known biathlete. She was born in Greenland and competes under the Danish flag. She comes from a biathlon family as her father, Ostein Slettemark, qualified for and raced at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics and her mother, Uiloq, raced at the 2012 World Championships. Being a biathlete from Greenland, or even Denmark, is by definition off the radar. In fact if you do a quick Google search for biathletes from Greenland or Denmark the entirety of the list is the Slettemark family.

I first became aware of the current generation of Slettemark biathlon via Kristian Wulff on Twitter. He’s a former Danish cross country skier and biathlete (who doesn’t show up in the aforementioned Google search) and now commentator for Danish television. I’ve been following since he first mentioned her early in the season and it’s been incredibly rewarding.

Slettemark entered the Olympic Games as the ultimate underdog. A young biathlete, just 20 years old, from a nontraditional biathlon nation, and without the support structure of the larger nations like the Norwegians or Germans. Coming in to the Olympics she had just seven races on the World Cup level in her entire career and just two this season. Her career best finish was 62nd in the Individual in Antholz just prior to the start of the Olympics.

Image from races in Antholz

During these Games she participated in just two events and she did herself proud. She finished 53rd in the Individual, a career best, and 65th in the Sprint. But it wasn’t the finishing places that made her stand out. It wasn’t even her underdog story for how she got here. The reason she made a mark on these Olympics is because she did the undoable. In at times challenging shooting conditions Ukalek Slettemark had a perfect 100% hit rate. She hit 30/30 in her two races. She was only competitor, man or woman, to shoot perfectly in the Olympics. Even if you break it down to any two race stretch nobody else shot perfectly.

She finished well outside the top 10 or the podium. It doesn’t matter. She had undeniable success. She went to the Olympics and raced her absolute best. You can’t ask for anything more than that. Looking forward she is only 20 years old. She wouldn’t be expected to be at her competitive peak for another 6-7 years at least. Just look at the best competitors at this Olympics, Røiseland is 31, JT Bø 28, and QFM 29. She’s clearly has the potential to be a good shooter. Give her a few more years to get the legs in shape and we’ll see what happens. I’m not saying she’s going to be a future medal winner but she’s going to be fun to watch!

2. Maxim Tsvetkov – This is one of the craziest stories that I never saw reported on at all during the Olympics. Maybe I wasn’t looking in the right places but I just never saw anybody talk about Tsvetkov’s history at all. I did the best I could trying to put it together and here is what I found:

While many people may not remember Tsvetkov’s name, he’s no newcomer to biathlon. He made his World Cup debut in 2013 and became a regular member of the top level Russian team in the 2014-2015 season. He stayed on the top level of biathlon through the end of the 2017-2018 season when he reached his career peak. In a two week stretch he had four straight top 10’s including a Mass Start win in Tyumen, his only career win. Early in the 2018-2019 season he was dropped from the national team for which I cannot find an explanation. At the time I was not that plugged in to the granular details of biathlon and even so it may not have been something that was well publicized. While he did have that brief stretch he was never consistently one of the best biathletes usually finishing in the 10-20’s.

Image from races in Ruhpolding

He spent the intervening years training on his own and representing a local ski club. He raced only local and national events during those years. I have done a lot of work trying to piece together exactly what he or how he ended up here but I couldn’t find much information at all. There just doesn’t appear to be a lot of local or national coverage of biathlon on that level in Russia.

Regardless he returned not only to the Russian national team in 2022. Even this is interesting. He doesn’t appear on any rosters for the first weeks of the season and made his season debut on the IBU Cup level in Obertillich in December 2022. In a decently strong IBU Cup field he finished 3rd in the Individual behind Germany’s David Zobel and Italy’s Dominick Windisch (See below), and just ahead of Russia’s own Anton Babikov. Two days later he again finished 3rd in the Sprint. That was enough to vault him to the World Cup level when the season restarted in Oberhof, benefitting from an opening due to Eduard Latypov’s COVID diagnosis.

He didn’t immediately make an impact finishing 52nd in the opening Sprint race with 4 misses. In the Pursuit race though he made up 40 places and finished in 12th. That was when he first caught my eye. The next weekend in Ruhpolding, the site of his last races in 2019, he went 21st and then 9th in the Sprint and Pursuit. I distinctly remember at that point highlighting him when discussing the potential depth of the Russia team. Even at that moment though I would never have guess what was to come. He did show some good signs though, in both of his terrific Pursuit races he ranked 5th overall in course time. It also helped that after his rough first race back he shot 95%, 90%, and 90%.

Image from races in Ruhpolding

Tsvetkov showed up to the Olympics overshadowed by his Russian teammates. Loginov had a terrific January, exploding back into contention. Eduard Latypov, when last seen in December was on of the top 5 men on the World Cup. Said Khalili is a popular up and coming youngster who has shown the ability to get to the podium. He was even overshadowed by Anton Babikov who wasn’t even on the Olympic team but had won the Antholz Individual race.

So what did Tsvetkov do? Well he went out and got 4th place in the first solo races of the Olympics! He won 4th in the Individual race and 4th in the Sprint race, missing out by a combined 5.5 seconds. He was 3.8 seconds off the podium in the Individual race when he was the first finisher in bib 1 and JT surpassed him immediately in bib 2. In the Sprint race, again with an early bib, Tsvetkov set the time to beat. He again watched a Bø surpass him, this time Tarjei Bø, and missed the podium by an agonizing 1.7 seconds. In the last two solo races he finished 17th and 20th.

Right now that has to absolutely sting. He did win a bronze medal with the ROC men’s relay but he was very close to a miracle underdog Olympic story. Hopefully at some point he will be able to look back and be able to appreciate what he accomplished. To come back from obscurity to not only make it to the IBU Cup, not only make it to the IBU World Cup, but to challenge the fastest siblings in the world for a medal is incredible. He’s 30 years old so it’s not clear what the rest of his career holds. It’s been a nontraditional career so far to say the least. But for the rest of his life he’ll be able to look at that bronze medal and know what he accomplished.

3. Norway Overtakes Germany – Okay so this is a little one and it won’t take much time. Norway did what has looked inevitable for a few years now and has overtaken Germany as the nation with the most biathlon medals. This does come with one very large caveat…this is only since the reunification. If added in East and West Germany would still keep Germany in the lead. It took a tremendous effort for Norway to do so with record tying performances by Marte Røiseland and JT Bø. As we depart China and look forward to Milano-Cortina in 2026 here is the overall medal table by nation:

NationGold🥇Silver🥈Bronze🥉Total
Norway 22171655
Germany20211354
France1291132
Russia105823
USSR95519
Sweden66618
Belarus44311
East Germany34411
Slovakia3317
Czech Republic0437
Italy0167

4. Franziska Preuss – This isn’t so much under the radar, but its a story I wanted to talk about and I couldn’t quite find anywhere else to put it in. We’ve all been watching and sympathizing with Franziska Preuss as she’s struggled through a year to forget. For anybody who doesn’t know Preuss came out of last season after a career year, primed for another big season fighting for podiums and medals. She started out the year with several episodes of a poorly timed miss keeping her off the podium but otherwise looking good. Then she hurt her ankle before the racing started in Annecy le Grand Bornand. While rehabbing that injury she suffered another set back when she contracted COVID. She was one of the top storylines I was watching throughout the Olympics.

When she arrived in Beijing we hadn’t seen her race in nearly 2 months. We had no idea what to expect and neither did she. She wasn’t put in the mix for the German Mixed Relay team to open the Games giving her just a few extra days to prepare. When she did start to race, not surprisingly she didn’t leap up to the top of the standings right away. Her first race was the women’s Individual race. She finished 25th nearly 4 minutes behind Denise Herrmann’s time. She was ranked 23rd in course time and had 4 misses, all while standing. To be honest I was pretty pleased to see her back like that. I was expecting that after that long away and those two particular hurdles to overcome that she would be in really rough shape. For Preuss though, she admitted it was hard to race that hard and see such poor results.

Things didn’t immediately get better. The next race out was the sprint where Preuss finished even lower at 30th, nearly 2 minutes back of Marte Røiseland’s gold medal winning time. Her course rank was actually a little bit worse, ranking 31st and she once again had 2 misses while standing which raised questions about the health of her ankle. At this point she started to publicly discuss her disappointment and raise the possibility of retirement. It’s also right around here that things started to shift for her.

Two days later was the women’s Pursuit competition and the first hints that she was starting to come around. She moved up from the 30th position to finish in 15th in the Pursuit making her one of the big risers on the day. She also had only 1 miss, this time while prone, her best shooting since her return. Her course time was still ranked just 33rd but she came off the course after this race with a smile. She discussed post race feeling the good feeling of racing again. She was having fun.

She finished off the Olympic Games with undeniably good races. In the women’s 4x6km Relay the German team won the bronze medal with an all around solid performance from every member of the team. Preuss was in the 3rd leg of the relay and when she took over on the course the Germans were in 4th and 45.9 seconds back. She passed off to Denise Herrmann holding the place in 4th but closing to just 37 seconds back. Watching her celebrate the bronze medal with her teammates you could see the joy was back.

Finally she finished off the Olympic competitions with her best finish since the races in Ostesund in December. Preuss finished in 8th place working until the very end. She had 4 misses, which on the trickiest shooting day since the Mixed Relay was actually pretty good, and she was 13th in course time. She was undeniably happy at the end. It was really something to watch her finding herself again throughout these competitions. I’m hopeful that over the next few weeks she’ll continue to find her strength again. It’s another month of racing and she should only be getting stronger while some athletes are fading from their Olympic peaks. She might be able to find some great finishes going forward. Also she is only 27 so if she wants to the 2026 Olympics are certainly a possibility!

Image from the races in Antholz

5. Katharina Innerhofer – Don’t know much about Katharina Innerhofer? Honestly I can’t blame you. Besides relays she doesn’t get a whole lot of air time. While she does have 1 career win on the World Cup, she only has 5 career top 10’s and none in the last 2 seasons. She’s far overshadowed by her teammate Lisa Hauser and is at present the 4th highest ranked Austrian in the IBU World Cup standings. This season she hasn’t even been full time on the World Cup, starting out the season on the IBU Cup until the racing in Annecy le Grand Bornand. Heading into the Olympics she had just four solo races on the World Cup finishing: 71, 63, 78, and 31.

She came to the Olympic Games with minimal expectations and really just hoping to enjoy the experience because at age 31 it is likely her last Olympics. She missed out on the Mixed Relay team so her first was the Individual. She finished 26th which was already her best finish this season. She was 21st in course time which was about her average and had 4 misses, all while standing. That alone would have a been a very good Olympics result for her. It turns out that would be her worst result of the 2022 Winter Olympics.

Image from the races in Antholz

She went on to race the Sprint, the Pursuit, and qualifying for the Mass Start as well as racing in the relay. In those three solo events she finished 21st, 22nd, and 14th. In the Sprint she showed her best speed of the season ranking 12th in course time. In the Pursuit she ended up holding her ground but rose as high as 13th at one point before 3 late misses dropped her back down. It was the Mass Start though where she had her biggest opportunity. After the 3rd shooting she was in 4th place and just 30 seconds back. Unfortunately the pressure got to her on the last shooting with 3 misses and she dropped back to 14th. Still finishing 14th was her best finish anywhere since January 2020 and it was her best Olympic finish ever.

It’s impossible to say what this means for her career going forward. Will it be a resurgence or was it just a really great two week stretch? Regardless she leaves China after two weeks of great racing knowing that she absolutely gave it her all and left it on the course. She is a classic example of how success in the Olympics isn’t always about medals. Sometimes its just about going out there and doing your absolute best on the greatest stage.

Images from the races in Ruhpolding

6. Dominik Windisch – I just really quickly wanted to point out that Dominik Windisch had a nice performance at these Winter Olympics. Windisch’s career highlight of course was his surprise bronze medal in the Sprint at the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics. We heard a neat story this year about how he took a piece of that medal and turned it into an engagement ring for his now wife. He quite nearly earned another medal this Olympics and you wonder if she would have requested another ring? I wouldn’t have blamed her one bit!

2016 through 2019 was the career peak for Dominik Windisch. It included his highest finishes in the overall, peaking at 14th in the ’16-’17 season as well as his two victories and his Olympic bronze medal mentioned above. Since the 2018-2019 season Windisch’s career has been on a bit of a downward trajectory. That season he finished 17th in the overall rankings and had his last victory, the Mass Start of the World Championships. In 2019-2020 he finished 25th overall with a high finish of 7th. Last season his overall ranking was down to 38th with a high finish of 19th. This season he’s all the way down to 47th in the overall rankings with a high finish of 13th in the Ruhpolding Sprint. However he has just 2 finishes better than 30th this season and even was bumped down to the IBU Cup at one point.

That just gives you a bit of context as to where Windisch was entering the Olympic Games. He came right out of the gate in the Individual race finishing 14th, nearly matching his best result of the season. His ski rank of 21 for the race was a little better than his season average but he only had 2 misses which was a huge improvement over his season average of 75%. The next two races were two more top 30 finishes going 30th in the Sprint and 26th in the Pursuit. While not amazing finishes they were two more top 30’s giving him 3 for the Olympics, already better than his entire season to date. The Mass Start though was his great day. On a difficult shooting day he had just 3 misses and paired that with the 5th best course time on the day, by far his best skiing day on the season. He ended up just 26 seconds from his second Olympic medal. What a story that would have been!

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