February 21, 2022 Power Rankings

The Power Rankings are back!!!! The Olympics are behind us and we’ve seen all of the men and women of biathlon back in competition all at the same time! It is time to unlock the power rankings and we’re in for some wild movement this week. Some athletes looked like they jumped 3-4 levels and others definitely slid backward. I imagine there may be some arguments to be had and honestly I would love to hear how everybody’s rankings shake out.

Women’s Power Rankings:

1.Marte Olsbu Roeiseland (Previous 1) – I don’t believe anybody would argue that Marte Olsbu Roeiseland is the top woman on the IBU World Cup this season. Especially coming off an Olympic Games in which she was by far and away the strongest woman on the course. Sure other women ended up faster on individual days but nobody was as strong on a consistent basis as Roeiseland. Let’s just look at one statistic that shows her unbelievable dominance. In the first three races of the season she had two of her “worst” finishes of the season finishing 10th and 12th. Over the next 14 races Roeiseland has been on an unreal run. In that span she has 8 wins, 12 total podium finishes, and has never been lower than 6th. So yeah, Marte Olsbu Roeiseland has been dominant.

2. Elvira Oeberg (2) – If Roeiseland has been the best woman then Elvira Oeberg has decidedly been the 2nd strongest woman. We just discussed how dominant Roeiseland has been over the last 14 races. Over that stretch there have been just 6 races where Roeiseland didn’t win and Elvira Oeberg won 3 of those races including twice in the recently completed Beijing Olympics. In addition to those 2nd place finishes she has 5 more podium placements. While she hasn’t had it recently, at her top notch nobody has been able to touch her speed on the course. Importantly though, over the last several weeks she’s shown improvement on the range. It’s too early to look ahead now but just think about the potential if she can keep this newfound accuracy on the range and pair it with her speed she had to start the season.

3. Justine Braisaz-Bouchet (Unranked) – It’s at this point in the rankings that things probably get a little more conflicted. Braisaz-Bouchet gets the 3rd spot here because, while she’s not the most consistent woman around, her peaks are higher than anybody else but the top two right now. All season long she’s been one of the 3 fastest women in biathlon, usually the only one who could compete with peak Elvira Oeberg. The only thing that held her back was her shooting, and the result was wildly inconsistent finishes.

This is perfectly exemplified with her performances over the last two competitions. She starts out Antholz with one of the greatest performances of her career by winning the Individual competition. Not usually known as a good shooter, nobody was more accurate than her 19/20 shooting. With Elvira Oeberg and Roeiseland skipping the week it comes as no surprise that she was the fastest woman over the 20km course. Over her next 3 races, one in Antholz and the first two solo races at the Winter Olympics, she went 5th, 40th, and 48th with a massive drop off in ski speed. And yet, in the final competition at the Olympics, there she was waving the French tricolor down the closing stretch to celebrate another win.

With Roeiseland taking up so many of the wins there haven’t been that many opportunities left for everybody else. Elvira Oeberg has 3 of those 6 “non-Roeiseland” wins and Justine Braisaz-Bouchet has 2 of the others. She’s certainly going to have deeper valleys but at this point I’m not at all surprised to see her near the podium/win.

4. Dorothea Wierer (Unranked) – Over the last two months Dorothea Wierer has done something really important: she’s gotten back to looking like Dorothea Wierer. Few women have been more consistently good since the start of January. We’ve documented several times her steadily progressing upward trajectory of performances starting in Oberhof, to Ruhpolding, and then peaking with the win in the Antholz Mass Start. Well she didn’t come away with any wins at the Beijing Winter Olympics but she showed no reason to be taken out of this position either. She had two top 6 finishes including the medal she so cherished, the bronze in the Sprint race. The only surprise I had was that she didn’t medal in the Pursuit when she started in the 3rd position. But as I said she was able to win a medal which was her stated goal all season long. And she looked absolutely joyous about it. If a race were to be held this weekend, based on her recent performances I would absolutely expect to see Wierer in contention and that’s exactly the point of these Power Rankings.

Image from races in Ruhpolding

5. Kristina Reztsova (9) – Kristina Reztsova hasn’t won her first IBU World Cup race yet, but it feels like it is coming. She continues to have high finish after high finish. During the Winter Olympic Games she had three more top 10 finishes including a high finish of 5th in the Mass Start. Since the start of the racing in Annecy le Grand Bornand she has had 8 top 10’s in 12 races. Over that time she has never once been below 9th in ski rank and ranked 6th or higher in that category in each of the races in China. It’s clear that she’s taken herself into the top tier of contenders beneath the superstars Roeiseland and Wierer. She’s just being held back by her shooting. In those 12 races in which she has had 8 top 10’s, she has had 7 races of 80% hit rate or worse. If she can get her shooting even just a small bit more accurate she can start to get some wins. It may not happen this season but it feels like it is coming soon.

Image from races in Hochfilzen

6. Dzinara Alimbekava (4) – When speaking of consistency this season one of the names that immediately comes to mind is Dzinara Alimbekava. Unfortunately for her she was not able to carry that through to the Olympic Games. Coming into the start of the Games she hadn’t had a finish outside of the top 10 since Annecy. She started out the racing well with a 5th place in the Individual. At that point I was very high on her chances to get a medal. From there she went 15th, 19th, and 12th. Her ski speed failed her a bit with some of her slowest racing of the season relative to the field. It’s hard to think it was a wax issue as Hanna Sola meanwhile had some of her fastest racing of the year. It may very well be that after such a run of high level performances she is finally seeing a fading of her form. At this point though she has shown enough this season to keep a high placement in the Power Rankings.

Image from races in Ruhpolding

7. Julia Simon (6) – it’s hard for me to know what to make of Julia Simon. In general I am a very big fan of hers. I love her guns blazing racing and true “go for it attitude.” Watching her perform at such a high level for such a big stretch in January was really fun. What lifted her level of performance so much during that time was improved consistency in her shooting abilities. There were far more outings with hit rates in the 90% realm and near total elimination of the catastrophic days on the range. That paired with her normally very good skiing made her one of the top women in the month of January. Coming off of those performances, including four 2nd place finishes, the Olympics were a mild disappointment. She was still able to squeeze out two top 10’s in the Pursuit and the Mass Start. The Pursuit especially was a tremendous race coming back from the 29th position to finish in 8th.

Image from races in Ostersund

8. Lisa Theresa Hauser (8) – It feels weird to put a woman who currently is 4th in the overall standings this low. Unfortunately though her winning a race, or even finishing on the podium, feels like a bit of a stretch. Her ski form never quite came around this season and it just looks like more of a struggle on the snow than it was last year. And now with a few more misses shooting recently she needs nearly everything to go right for a high finish. Even still she very nearly pulled it off, finishing 4th in the Sprint race for her best finish at the Olympics. I’m not sure what to expect from Hauser going forward the next few weeks. It might be a season with no peak or she might fall off entirely. We’ll just have to wait and see.

Image from races in Ostersund

9. Anais Chevalier-Bouchet (7) – Speaking of women I don’t know what to do with, Anais Chevalier-Bouchet is squarely in that category. She has shown the ability to finish on the podium which she has done four times this season including a Silver medal in the Individual race. However she also has shown the ability to have true stinker races, like finishing 68th in the Sprint race at the Olympics to miss the podium.

10. Tiril Eckhoff (Unranked) – Tiril Eckhoff decided to start looking like Tiril Eckhoff again! Now it wasn’t perfect by any means. For the first time this season she had the same speed that made her so successful over the last two seasons. She was the fastest woman at the Olympics. She still had some wild adventures on the shooting range though. However when she shot reasonably well she was quite competitive. While a year ago a bronze and a silver wouldn’t sound like a terrific result this time around they showed that she is starting to find her form again. At this time she is still a boom or bust biathlete. Some days she’s going to shoot well and when that happens she might even win. Other days she’s not going to shoot well and she’s going to be in the teens.

Men’s Power Rankings:

1.Johannes Thingnes Bø (Previous 9) – What a day! JT Boe rises all the way back to the top of the rankings! If you wanted to argue for QFM I would listen to the argument. Here’s where I draw the line: JT Boe has a weapon with his speed that QFM doesn’t have. QFM is probably still more consistent at this point but Boe has the top end that QFM doesn’t have. Boe has also started to show signs of having his old confidence back. He’s still not shooting as accurately as he has in the past but when he gets to the range in crunch time situations he’s really shooting for it. Is he JT Boe from even last season? Not yet. But he’s good enough to win two gold medals in solo events and sprint away from the field to do it.

2. Quinton Fillon Maillet (1) – QFM didn’t do anything to hurt himself. How does that mean he drops from 1st to 2nd? Even during the best season anybody is having? Well as I said above he doesn’t have the top end that JT Boe has. Besides that though he’s the next fastest man on the circuit. The only problem is top end JT Boe is just that much faster. He continues to be a better than average shooter as well and for the most part when he’s had a chance to close down a race he’s been able to do it. Over the course of the season he has 7 wins including his 2 Olympic gold medals. It’s JT Boe and QFM at the top and nobody else.

3. Tarjei Bø (5) – While the top two men are in a league of their own, after that it gets a little more difficult to tell. Over the last couple of months Tarjei Boe has been racing better than he has in a few years now. His ski speed improved to a level he hadn’t had in nearly 7 seasons. He’s always been tough and a better than average shooter so the rediscovered speed led to his best finishes of the season. He was able to carry this forward with two terrific races coming away with bronze in the Sprint and silver in the Pursuit. This made him to be the only man besides JT Boe and QFM to win more than 1 non-relay medal. Overall he came away with 4 medals which, any other year would have likely made him the man of the Olympics for biathlon. Long story short, of the “best of the rest” nobody else is racing better than Tarjei Boe.

4. Eduard Latypov (7) – You really have to feel for Eduard Latypov. He comes back from COVID with no clear expectations. He immediately is a part of one of the most exciting biathlon races of the year in the Mixed Relay. It all came down to a sprint in the final meters and Latypov came in 3rd of those 3. He showed that he was in remarkably good form though. He did win a bronze medal in the Pursuit race to prove that form. Then in the Men’s Relay he had one of the most painful legs in a relay in recent memory. Coming to the range with a massive lead he had 3 misses and the ROC had to settle for a final bronze. What do we take out of this? Latypov has the form to be competitive. He’s got potential to have several more podium finishes if not wins over the last month of the season.

Image from races in Antholz

5. Benedikt Doll (Unranked) – Benedikt Doll is the first man on this list, and only of the top 6 that did not win a medal in the Olympics. However he continues to show very good form. Coming off of an amazing show down with JT Boe in Antholz he had 3 more top 10’s. He continued to show his top end ski speed with top 5 course times in the Individual and the Mass Start. This is a continuation of his improved form that started in Oberhof. He struggled with his shooting a little bit but if he can get that back to where it was he has absolutely shown that he has the ability to find the podium again. Anybody who can go toe to toe with JT Boe like he did in Antholz has the mental game to challenge as well.

6. Martin Ponsiluoma (Unranked) – Martin Ponsiluoma makes his amazing return to the Power Rankings this week after a really good showing in China. He was the saving grace for the men’s Swedish team when he grabbed the silver medal in the Mass Start for the only Swedish male medal. Besides that his lowest showing in the Olympics was 12th. 12th would be good enough for his 4th best finish the entire rest of the season. Besides a brief dip in Annecy he’s been skiing fast all season long. The difference is he finally started shooting better. His 90% accuracy in the Mass Start was his best of the season that has otherwise seen more races with shooting accuracy below 80% than above. If this is a sign of better shooting to come he can compete. If he goes back to his old shooting then this will be a short stay here on the Power Rankings.

7. Anton Smolski (Unranked) – Anton Smolski is a similar story to Ponsiluoma. He has good ski speed but be can be undone by trips to the range. In the Individual race at the Olympics he shot 20/20. He was able to turn that into a silver medal for Belarus. That shows his incredible potential. He had three previously podium finishes as well as seven top 5’s this season but this was his highest finish of the year. It’s difficult to tell what the rest of the season will bring but at this point its fair to say that if he shoots well he’s a threat for a top 5. If he doesn’t then he’s still fast enough to finish in the top 20 if not top 10.

Image from races in Ruhpolding

8. Alexandr Loginov (6) – Loginov was one of the main stories of the 2nd trimester of the IBU World Cup season. After a decent, not great, start to the year that was about in line with his performance last season he suddenly started turning out top 10’s. This included a win in Oberhof. This was primarily driven by an incredible improvement in his ski speed. His course time ranks were in the mid-low teens until the races in Annecy le Grand Bornand. After that his course time ranks were almost all in the top 10 including being fastest on the course in the Ruhpolding Pursuit. Meanwhile his shooting percentages were all decent to good. Once he got to China though things started to go downhill all around. His course time ranks fell back to the mid teens and he struggled a bit on the range. It unclear if this is going to be a long term thing or it was just related to the Olympics. We’ll know pretty quickly whether the 3rd trimester looks more like the 1st or the 2nd.

Image from races in Ostersund

9. Sebastian Samuelsson (4) – Sebastian Samuelsson had one of the most disappointing Olympic Games of any of the athletes. Starting this season as the fastest man on the World Cup circuit he was favored all season long to compete for a medal. He had a bit of dip in speed in January but no worries because he was following the same pattern that he did last year, dip before a peak again for the championships. The only problem was this year there was no 2nd peak. During the Olympics he had his worst ski speed of the entire season bottoming out with a course time ranking of 25th in the Individual. At that point he would need perfect shooting and while he was good he wasn’t great. We’ll see if he’s able to rebound. The Samuelsson we saw even up to the Olympics was good enough for podiums and even wins. If that comes back he’ll be back to competing. If not though, then he either needs to shoot perfect or its time for Samuelsson to start getting ready for next year.

10. Vetle Sjåstad Christiansen (8) – Vetle Sjåstad Christiansen was one of the really fun early stories of the 1st trimester of the season. Initially ranking 4th or even 5th best Norwegian on most preseason lists he briefly wore the yellow jersey. While he hasn’t quite reached that early peak again he was able to have some amazing shooting performances in China. This included an absolutely crucial 5/5 in the last shooting of the Mass Start that won him a bronze medal. He also had an incredible shooting to help Norway win the Men’s Relay gold medal. He’s continuing to ski fast enough to compete and he’s shown the ability to shoot well, especially in the crucial situations. He’s a threat for a top 10 every time out. One of the fun things about Christiansen is he races at his own speed regardless of what anybody does. When it comes together like it did in the Mass Start he can find his way to the podium. When he can do it its fun to see!

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