Dominance: New and Old

When I think back on this season the first thing that comes to mind is, and likely will be in the future, the dominance of several stars of the sports. The dominators came from some usual suspects but there were also a few that experienced their first taste. It’s not that we didn’t have fun races. We had many. In fact I have a whole article coming soon about my favorite races of the season! And it’s not that we didn’t have some new and exciting winners and competitors. But at the end of the day, many of the top prizes were dominated by just a handful of athletes.

Women’s Overall: Marte Olsbu Røiseland

As you can see from the chart below, helpfully made by RJ Weise from @biathlonanalyt1 on twitter and biathlonanalytics.com, Marte Røiseland took over the yellow bib after the Hochfilzen Sprint race. She never gave it up the rest of the season. In fact the closest anybody got after that was Elvira Öberg at 30 points back after the Annecy Mass Start. By the Olympics she led by 62 point over Dzinara Alimbekava and the gap never got closer from there. She ended up winning by an easy 134 points, clinching the overall Crystal Globe after 3rd place in the Oslo Sprint race.

Even though the race wasn’t officially clinched by Røiseland until the last weekend of the season, it certainly “felt” like it was over long before then. Let’s take a look at some of her results. For the purposes of these numbers we’ll leave out the Olympics and discuss those later as they didn’t count towards her Crystal Globe campaign.

Total Races20 (Skipped 2 races in Antholz)
Wins6 (27% of all races)
Podiums13 (59%)
Top 5’s15 (68%)
Top 10’s19 (86%)
Worst Finish12th

You can see from the numbers above that above that not only did Røiseland win often (she won the most of any woman on the World Cup), when she didn’t win she was near the front of the race. During one stretch from the Hochfilzen Pursuit race through the start of the Olympics, 10 total races, she had 6 wins, 8 podiums, and finished no worse than 6th. When we talk about dominance that’s what we man. Nobody could hope to maintain contact with her during that stretch. She was clearly heads and shoulders above the rest of the field.

Near the end of the season she appeared to show some vulnerability. She had two of her worst finishes of the season, 8th and 4th, in Kontiolahti. It’s worth mentioning that when that’s your “bad” weekend you’re having a heck of a season. She would later mention that she was finding it hard to concentrate on racing as the war in Ukraine was just underway. She slipped to 10th in the Otepää sprint before finishing with four straight podiums including all three at home in Oslo to clinch the World Cup Crystal Globe.

All of those numbers don’t quite get to the heart of it. All season long she had the “feeling.” From the beginning when Eckhoff wasn’t at the same level she had been the last few seasons it felt like it Røiseland’s time to shine. She grabbed it and owned the season from start to finish. Especially during that amazing run from Hochfilzen through Ruhpolding it truly felt like she was going to win every single race. Røiseland has dominated for short stretches before, such as the Antholz World Championships in 2020, but never before for a stretch like this. It was incredible to watch and Marte Olsbu Røiseland absolutely earned and deserves her place in the Norwegian pantheon of great champions.

Men’s Overall: Quinton Fillon Maillet

Marte Olsbu Røiseland was dominant. Quinton Fillon Maillet was somehow even more dominant. Take a look at the jersey chart below, once again from RJ Weise from @biathlonanalyt1 on twitter and biathlonanalytics.com, and you might not think it. QFM didn’t take over the yellow jersey for good until Ruhpolding, a solid three race weekends after Røiseland. Prior to that six different men had worn the yellow jersey. In the end though he won by 278 points, actually clinching the Crystal Globe in Otepää with a whole weekend of racing still to go.

We’ll do the same thing now that we did for Røiseland that we did for QFM and look at all of his races, wins, podiums, etc. Keep in mind that unlike Røiseland, QFM did not skip a single race the entire season. That means that he raced all 22 solo races of the World Cup schedule plus every possible race of the Olympics. Again, like Røiseland these numbers only look at World Cup events though.

Total Races22 (Skipped 0 solo races)
Wins8 (36% of all races)
Podiums13 (59%)
Top 5’s14 (64%)
Top 10’s18 (82%)
Worst Finish32nd

QFM won an incredible eight races this season. He had three of those wins in a row over Oberhof and Ruhpolding when he really grabbed ahold of the yellow jersey race for good. Over 1/3 of all races competed on the World Cup he won. Of those he won all but two Pursuit races. He finished 16th in the first Pursuit race and 2nd in the last. That means every Pursuit race from Hochfilzen through Kontiolahti he won. (We didn’t include that here but that also includes the Olympics).

When you consider that he never took a single week of competition off, while nearly each of his top competitors did, it looks even more amazing. Yes that means he had another weekend to get more top finishes, which he did. But that also means that he never had a single weekend off. Every possible weekend he was racing nearly every possible race (except for a couple of relays mid season). You would think that this would mean come the end of the year he would be out of gas. Not at all. After the Olympics he finished in order: 1, 1, 1, 2, 2, 2, 7.

We spent a lot of last year wondering whether QFM would be up to living up to the massive expectations set by Martin Fourcade. As it turns out, the answer is yes. Just like Marte Røiseland, new dominance.

Relays: Swedish Women and Norwegian Men

Women’s Relay: Sweden

Okay let’s be honest, the Swedish women weren’t dominate. They were the only group that didn’t fit my construct for this piece and rather than come up with a whole new idea I just decided to squeeze them in there.

If you count the Olympic Games, which we will, the Swedish women won two of the six races, but missed the podium just one time. The ended up winning the crystal globe on a technicality with France being disqualified but they won it. 50 years from now it won’t matter why they won it but they won it.

I’ll make this argument for their dominance. The Swedish women have five women aged 28 and under who could make up the core of a terrific biathlon team for the next 4-5 seasons: Elvira Öberg, Hanna Öberg, Linn Persson, and Anna Magnusson are the core. I also add in Stina Nilsson to the mix as she continues to show more comfort with with the rifle she has actually become somebody who can be counted on in the rifle. That could be a team that comes to define women’s biathlon over the next Olympic cycle. Talk about new dominance.

Men’s Relay: Norway

Talk about old dominance. The last time the Norwegian men did not win the Men’s Relay discipline globe was the 2016-2017 season. So yeah, this isn’t exactly a new story. This season they took it to a new level. The men won every single relay event except for Ruhpolding when their relay team consisted of AF Andersen, Sverre Dahlen Aspenes, Johannes Dale, and Erlend Bjøentegaard. That relay also had the bizarre event with Peppe Femling firing at the wrong target.

The rest of the time the men were winning the relays. They won in all sorts of ways. They won some with absolute dominance. Some relays they won with Vetle Sjaastad Christiansen coming up with absolutely critical clean shooting late. It didn’t really seem to matter what the situation was, Norway came away with the win.

This doesn’t really seem to be something that is in danger of disappearing any time soon. The Norwegian team is completely filled with young talent. Below are a sampling of the men that we saw on the World Cup this season:

AthleteAge2021-2022 Best Finish
Tarjei Bø332nd Place x3
Vetle Sjaastad Christiansen291st Place x2
Johannes Thinges Bø281st Place x3
Sturla Holm Lægreid251st Place x2
Johannes Dale2423rd in Östersund Pursuit
AF Andersen248th in Oslo Pursuit
Sverre Dahlen Aspenes2425th in Ruhpolding Pursuit
Sivert Bakken231st in Oslo Mass Start
FF Andersen222nd in Kontiolahti Sprint
Martin Uldal2020th in Oslo Sprint

Not a lot of teams can challenge that. Now is that to say that of course they’ll win ever year? Of course not. But even as the older men retire you’ll see young talents like Bakken and FF Andersen slide into those roles. This doesn’t even mention the immense talent the Norwegians have in Juniors biathlon right now. So do we call this new or old dominance? Doesn’t matter. Just dominant.

Olympics: Marte Olsbu Røiseland, JT Bø, Quinton Fillon Maillet

Inevitably in an Olympics season, one of the major stories that dominates the season is going to be what happened at that Olympic Games. Well the main storyline coming out of this Olympics was…you guessed it, dominance. We saw previously unseen dominance in biathlon and we saw it three times over.

Before 2022 in China the most medals won in a single Olympics by a single athlete has been four. The ultimate goal being achieved by, of course, Ole Einar Bjørendalen (who else?) with four gold medals in 2002 in Salt Lake City. At the time there was no Mass Start or Mixed Relay to compete in but he won the Sprint, Pursuit, Individual, and the Norwegian men won the relay. Besides Bjørendalen, no other biathlete has worn more than three medals at a single Olympics.

This year in China each of Marte Olsbu Røiseland, Johannes Thingnes Bø, and Quinton Fillon Maillet, broke that record by winning five medals each. In fact they tied the record for most medals won by an athlete at a single Winter Olympics in any sport. That puts them on the short list of all time great performances for any sport in the Winter Olympics. There are now 14 individuals who have won 5 medals in a single Winter Olympics meaning a whopping 23% of those instances occurred at the 2022 Olympics in biathlon. That’s a level of dominance that is almost unheard of. And I can’t stress this enough, it didn’t just happen one time, it happened three times at these Olympics.

So how did they win those medals? Let’s take a look:

Marte Olsbu Røiseland:

Marte Olsbu Røiseland was the closest to Ole Einar Bjørendalen’s “perfect Olympics” as any of these dominant athlete came. She was the only one to win a medal in each of the four solo races of the Olympic Games. The only race in which she did not win a medal was the Women’s Relay in which she can hardly be blamed. By the time she took over in the anchor leg Norway was well back, and though she went all out on her leg, she was only able to pull the team back to 4th place.

Mixed Relay🥇
Individual 🥉
Sprint🥇
Pursuit🥇
Women’s Relay4th
Mass Start🥉

In the middle of a dominant season, Marte Røiseland was the dominant woman at the Olympic Games. She was terrific every time she touched the snow in China. This season was going to be a success regardless of what happened in China. I discussed above her tremendous success this entire season. But was the perfect capstone to this season. For the women, this was the season of Marte Olsbu Røiseland.

Johannes Thinges Bø:

Winning four gold medals you could argue that JT Bø was actually the closest one to Bjørendalen’s Olympic record. For at least the next four years, they will stand as the only biathletes to ever achieve four Olympic Gold medals in a single Olympic Games. Two of these races, the Sprint and the Mass Start, were just absolute classic JT Bø masterpieces. Just destroy the competition on the course and have fast and good shooting. He also was an integral part of the relay gold medals. JT Bø was part of a magnificent Mixed Relay finishing in a flat out sprint with Latypov and QFM, and pulling away in the last straight away for the gold. In the Men’s Relay his 3rd leg pulled Norway back into the race and opened the door for Christiansen to finish the job for the team.

Mixed Relay🥇
Individual 🥉
Sprint🥇
Pursuit5th
Men’s Relay🥇
Mass Start🥇

Obviously it wasn’t a perfect Olympics for Bø as he had the 5th place in the Pursuit after starting in 1st. However I think if you ask him, he’ll tell you that this was everything he could have dreamed of. He experienced many questions the first months of the season after some less than amazing performances. He got to answer those questions with resounding success. He also had the opportunity to stand on the podium with his brother twice which is something they had both discussed as a dream for them. By Bø’s high standards this was not a season to remember, but for a man who has won nearly everything, adding this Olympics performance to his resume puts him on the short list of greatest male biathletes of all time.

Quinton Fillon Maillet:

For much of the Olympic Games Quinton FIllon Maillet was the talk of the world. He was the first biathlete of the three to win four medals as he did it in the first four races. In doing so the story became could he match the all time Winter Olympic record with five? He did that with the silver in the Men’s Relay. Then the story was could he get six…? He was so so close. Once again Christiansen with a terrific final shooting won out and QFM finished 13 seconds behind in 4th. That sounds like a disappointment but what an incredible two week stretch.

Mixed Relay🥈
Individual 🥇
Sprint🥈
Pursuit🥇
Men’s Relay 🥈
Mass Start4th

Look at that. Alternating gold and silver for the first five races. As I said with Røiseland this season was going to be a success regardless. He is the strong man of the season for the men. Then he has this incredible gem of a performance in the Olympics to remove any doubt that he was the man to define this season of biathlon. Truly a terrific performance.

One of the most amazing things about the dominance of each of these athletes is actually how similar they performed. The each won a gold medal in exactly two of the solo events. The “worst” performance any of them had was JT Bø’s 5th place in the Pursuit race. They were in and animating every single race of the Olympic Games. Think back to a mental picture of the Olympics and you’ll likely imagine one of these athletes. Yep, dominance.

We already discussed how Røiseland and QFM were examples of new dominance. If that’s the case then JT Bø is the absolute opposite. We’ve seen him dominate the last several seasons. Let’s call this a mix of Old and New dominance, the perfect summation of the season.

One thought on “Dominance: New and Old

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: