It finally happened, the thing I’ve been silently dreading really since the end of the Beijing Winter Olympic Games. The 2021-2022 IBU World Cup season has come to an end. I feel this way at the end of every season. It feels like it is going to be forever until the next season begins. And there is a little bit of sadness as we have to say goodbye to some of our favorite athletes as they announce their retirements. But there is always the excitement of looking forward to the next wave of athletes coming up. Before we do all of that though, let’s take one last look back at the last weekend of action for this season!
Best Overall Women’s Performance: Tiril Eckhoff – We spent a large portion of the season talking about Tiril Eckhoff like she had taken a step back from her enormous peak of the previous two seasons. She started to look good again during the Olympics. In Kontiolahti she won again. But it was here in Oslo that she looked dominant again. She won two of three races. Best of all though she just “looked like” Tiril Eckhoff again. It was so much fun to watch.
During the Sprint race she won by 7 seconds of Tiril Hauser. This was a classic Eckhoff race because she won with a miss over somebody that was clean. That was pretty much the story of Eckhoff’s season last year. She was the fastest on the course over her teammate Røiseland by 8.2 seconds and even shot faster than Røiseland by over 4 seconds. She was faster than Elvira Öberg, the 3rd fastest on the course, by almost 30 seconds. That’s just absolutely wild.
In the Pursuit race she was even better. She won the race over 2nd place Røiseland by 24.9 seconds and 3rd place Paulina Fialkova by 50.5 seconds. She had equal misses to Røiseland and beat her on the course by 13 seconds. Her 2 misses were actually better than average for the race which you can’t always saw for Eckhoff. She was so far ahead that she was able to back off down the stretch, wave a flag, bow to the crowd, and was still within 22 seconds of a now on form Franziska Preuss. This was Tiril Eckhoff. This was fun.
Best Overall Men’s Performance: Sturla Holm Lægreid – See what I wrote above and and repeat it here. Sturla Lægreid hasn’t been able to quite recapture the magic of last season. To be fair he set the bar incredibly high! In fact he still finished this season #2 in the overall rankings, he just wasn’t quite as close as he was last season and didn’t have nearly the amount of success. However let’s not lose track of how great he was this weekend!
Since January Lægreid has shown a level of ski form that he has never quite had in his life. This weekend though he took that up another level. For the first time in his career he was the fastest man on the course. He did it not once but twice! The difference this season has been that he just hasn’t been as accurate in the latter stages of the season as he was last year. This weekend he went clean in the Sprint race. The result was he won by 22 seconds over the man of the year, Quinton Fillon Maillet.
He wasn’t able to shoot quite as well in the Pursuit races. He still was able to finish 3rd in the Pursuit and he finished 2nd in the Mass Start by .5 seconds to Sivert Bakken. In doing so he moved up to #2 in the Men’s Overall Rankings and he won the Under 25 Crystal Globe. Ask me what the first thing is I will remember from the men this weekend and I’ll say Erik Lesser. The second thing though is Sturla Lægreid’s performance.
Best Young Women’s Performance: Elvira Öberg – I know what you’re thinking. Elvira Öberg was the best young woman? Surely you’re kidding. I am not. Sure she was 17th in the Sprint and 8th in the Pursuit. And sure she missed out on her first discipline crystal globe by .1 seconds. But honestly what I was watching was how she responded. How she reacted to the pressure of expectations.
She came into the weekend with the most extreme outside shot at the Women’s Overall crystal globe. She of course didn’t win it. By the end of her first shooting in the Sprint with 3 misses she was basically out of it. She came back with a perfect 2nd shooting. She still went all out and finished with the 3rd best course time. The next race in the Pursuit she moved up from 17 to 8th. Again the 3rd fastest course time, this time just 5 seconds behind Preuss even with 2 misses to Preuss’ perfect shooting. In the Mass Start she was right there in the mix yet again. She was making things happen.
When she finally found out how things shook out with the crystal globe she wasn’t angry. She didn’t pout. She didn’t complain about things being unfair. Instead she actually sounded, to me, resolute. She’ll be back next year stronger than ever!
Best Young Men’s Performance: Sivert Bakken – Talk about closing a season strong. In the last eight races Bakken has been no worse than 16th. Four of those finishes were in the top 5. In all of that he saved the best for last.
He started out the weekend with a finish of 16th. That’s his worst finish since the Olympics. At the time I thought maybe his end of year peak and burst of high finishes may be coming to a close. He came back in the Pursuit race though and moved up to 7th. He had just one miss on the day which allowed him to move up even though he was still 1:37 behind Erik Lesser’s win. In the Mass Start though he had his perfect race. He went 20/20 including a slow, but perfect, last shooting. He was only 9th fastest on the day, but had just enough at the end of the race to outsprint Lægreid for his first career win.
Sivert Bakken has an incredibly bright future. He’s shown over these last weeks that he can compete with the best on the planet. Next season he’s going to have the opportunity to do it every week. He’s fortunate in that he’s got several men on his team that should take the pressure and expectations off of him. He’s also got Lægreid on his team who may be able to mentor him through living with the expectations.
Best Women’s Race: Mass Start – We’ll all remember the Mass Start for the drama at the very very end of the race. But it was a great race all the way through. Things really start to get interesting after the 2nd shooting. At that point Linn Persson, Lisa Theresa Hauser, and Elvira Öberg. It was a fascinating lap. Linn Persson led for about 80% of the lap with Elvira resting in the back and Hauser snug in between them. Elvira took over for the last section of the lap leading in to the shooting.
In shooting 3 Hauser went clean while Persson and Elvira both fell back after a miss each. They became part of a larger chase group that included Preuss, Røiseland, Tandrevold, Hettich, Wierer, Herrmann, and Braisaz-Bouchet. By the end of the lap they had cut the 14 seconds with a chance to win should Hauser miss. And guess what? She did. And so did Røiseland. And Herrmann. And Persson. And Elvira Öberg. And Tandrevold. And Wierer. In fact the only one who went clean was Justine Brasiaz-Bouchet.
Over the last lap Braisaz-Bouchet burst away from everybody and pulled away for the surprise win and the crystal globe. Franziska Preuss came in a remarkable 2nd place. She had the worst luck all season long with injuries, and COVID, poorly timed misses, and now she finishes off the season with her best finish of the year. Marte Røiseland finished her crystal globe season with yet another podium. And only then do you get to the Linn Persson/Elvira Öberg finish. It was a terrific race even without that.
Best Men’s Race: Pursuit: The Men’s Pursuit race wasn’t necessarily great because there enormous movement. There wasn’t somebody coming from way behind to win the race. There wasn’t a dramatic last shooting with a dozen men with a chance to win. But it was amazing for an entirely different reason. It was incredible because Erik Lesser won.
A few weeks back Erik Lesser announced that he would be retiring. Since then he has clearly been doing everything he can to empty the tank and give it his all. Just look at his results from the first five weeks and compare them to the last few weeks. Through the first five weeks he had just two top 10’s. Since then he has just two finishes outside the top 10 with one of those coming in his only Olympic race. In just World Cup finishes his worst finish is 12th. In the last six races of his career his worst finish was 7th. This win, just the 3rd of his career, was incredible. It was somehow unlikely and at times inevitable. I will never forget it for the rest of my biathlon fandom.
Oh and the other two men he shared the podium with were Quinton Fillon Maillet, the Overall World Cup winner, in 2nd and Sturla Lægreid, the Overall World Cup #2, in 3rd. So he didn’t exactly beat pushovers. What an incredible win!
The Norwegian Men: The future is bright. I mean has there ever been a time in recent memory where the Norwegian men didn’t appear to have a bright future? For the last 20 years they’ve been able to run out Ole Einar Bjorendalen and Johannes Thingnes Boe. That’s a pretty good duo. But look at the depth they have right now. And look at how young they are! The Norwegian men by age:
|Athlete||Age||2021-2022 Best Finish|
|Tarjei Bø||33||2nd Place x3|
|Vetle Sjaastad Christiansen||29||1st Place x2|
|Johannes Thinges Bø||28||1st Place x3|
|Sturla Holm Lægreid||25||1st Place x2|
|Johannes Dale||24||23rd in Östersund Pursuit|
|AF Andersen||24||8th in Oslo Pursuit|
|Sverre Dahlen Aspenes||24||25th in Ruhpolding Pursuit|
|Sivert Bakken||23||1st in Oslo Mass Start|
|FF Andersen||22||2nd in Kontiolahti Sprint|
|Martin Uldal||20||20th in Oslo Sprint|
If you made an entire team of men aged 25 how high could they get in the Nations cup? Could they be in the top 7? It’s not inconceivable. And this doesn’t even look at Norway dominating the Junior World Championships last month. The future is bright for the men of Norway.
Women’s Mass Start Globe Race: At one point this was built out into an entirely separate column. It broke down the race, how everything stacked up points wise, and the situation in the final meters. I discussed how likely it was that the Swedish coaches knew the exact score at that moment and if it was possible that Linn Persson and Elvira Öberg knew exactly what Elvira Öberg needed to secure the globe. I looked at frame by frame images of the final meters to see how likely it was that Linn Persson would have known that Elvira was right next to her. Then I looked at the consequences of if Persson knew and beat out Elvira anyway.
Around 11am EST that all went in the trash and you know what? I actually feel better about it. Persson posted in a reply on Instagram today explaining that she didn’t have an accurate idea of where exactly Elvira Öberg needed to finish to secure the globe. She assumed that because Wierer had been dropped that Elvira Öberg would win the globe and nobody updated her on the situation. That puts a new context to her quote after the race about being competitors with Elvira on the course.
At this point it looks like down the final stretch Linn Persson did know who was there and she was racing in friendly competition with Elvira to beat her out. And in doing so she secured her 2nd best finish of all time! It appears she did NOT know that her finishing in 4th would keep Elvira from attaining the globe.
My thoughts about that are fairly nuanced. Regardless I don’t think that Linn Persson did anything “wrong.” I still think that the Swedish team should have a pow wow and make sure that everybody is alright. I’ve pointed out several times before they are all young and extremely talented. They should be competing together for years to come and can reach a very high level of success. They need to make sure that everybody is okay with the situation before it festers. Honestly by the time I’m writing this they probably already have!
Personal High Finishes:
Linn Persson – I know we just discussed this above but I want to make sure we celebrate what Persson did! 4th place in the Mass Start was her 2nd best ever finish. I actually have a bigger piece on Most Improved coming and spoiler alert Persson is going to be on it.
Jessica Jislova – Finished 6th in the Women’s Sprint race for her 2nd best finish of her career! She actually finished 18th in ski speed, also the 2nd best of her career, while maintaining her excellent shooting accuracy. It finishes off a career best season in style! I can’t wait to see what next season brings.
Paulina Fialkova – 3rd place in the Pursuit and 8th in the Sprint! Both were easily the best finishes of the season for her. It was her first podium finish since the 2020 Ruhpolding Pursuit race. Since Antholz her finishing places werer: 16, 11, 42, 14, 10, 26, 13, 12, 22, 15, 8, 1, 19. That’s the most consistent she has been since the 2019-2020 season. Really strong close to the season!
Chloe Chevalier – The 26 year old finished off the season with a 10th place finish in the Sprint which was her 4th best ever finish. This season alone she has had 8 of her 14 best finishes and finished 22nd in the Overall standings. I know she discussed her doubts about continuing her career but I sincerely hope we see her again as she’s definitely on the upswing of her career!
Janina Hettich – A bit of a rough season compared to last year but she did finish on a high note. Her 12th place finish in the Sprint was the best of her season and it was her 4th best finish ever. She followed that up with a 16th in Pursuit. Then she closed the season with 9th in the Mass Start to tie her 2nd best finish of all time! Hopefully she uses that as inspiration for next season!
Ragnhild Femsteinevik – The 26 year old Norwegian finished in 15th in the Sprint race this weekend which was by far a career best. Her prior career best was 34th in the Sprint race in Ruhpolding. It was a great way to finsh off the season!
Paula Botet – Score a career best 28th place in the Sprint. With so few races she’s in her career and so much talent she’s going to keep breaking this personal best almost every weekend!
AF Andersen – Not to be outdone by his brother’s success this season he finished 9th in Sprint and 8th in Pursuit which were both career best finishes. We discussed above how much talent the Norwegian team has but its seriously wild.
David Zobel – Finished 11th place in the Sprint which was his 2nd best career finish at the time. He then finished 11th in Pursuit and 8th in Mass Start for a new career best! The 25 year old has on 11 career IBU WC starts but I would anticipate we see a lot more of him going forward.
Tommso GIacomel – His 14th place in the Sprint was the 2nd best finish of his career. The best ever was his 7th place in the Ostersund Pursuit at the start of the season. Hopefully the 21 year old Italian uses this season as experience and a springboard to the future!
Adam Vaclavik – The 28 year old had a career best weekend. His 21st place in the Sprint was his 2nd best ever and he finished 24th in the Pursuit the next day to tie his 3rd best ever finish. Solid racing!
Tereza Vobornikova – One of the stars of the Junior World Championships closed out the season with a 24th place in the Pursuit finish. She’s just 21. If Davidova decides to stick around the Czech Republic could be entering a golden generation. Pretty exciting after they just finished 5th in the Nations Cup!
Emilien Claude – Finished in 20th place in the Pursuit for his career best. The 22 year old Frenchman has just 9 career starts but could be in a line for a few more now with Desthieux’s retirement.
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