Slovenia Team Preview

When you think traditional biathlon powers it is highly highly unlikely that your mind will turn to Slovenia. And you wouldn’t be wrong! Slovenia is having a bit of a moment in the sports world. In the NBA Luka Doncic looks to be a future MVP winner and will be a force for years to come. In the world of cycling Tadej Pogacar, still just 24, already has two Tour de France Yellow Jerseys hanging on his wall. And that doesn’t even take in to consideration Primoz Roglic who pushed Pogacar every step of the way in those two wins! Nearing the end of his career is Anze Kopitar, five-time NHL All Star and two time Stanley Cup Champion with the Los Angeles Kings.

In Slovenia’s biathlon history there are very few athletes that have made a massive impact on biathlon. However, as of this season we still have the all time greatest Sovenian biathlete still active! So we’re going to do a little celebration of this year’s Slovenian biathlon team and a look at the future when iron man Jakov Fak decides to call it a career.

Men:

Quota: 4 athletes to start

We’ll start with those that we expect to see most on the World Cup level. Then we’ll look at group of athletes who might primarily be IBU Cup members but we might see in the World Cup as well. We’ll finish up by looking at some younger members of the IBU Cup and Juniors that I’m keeping an eye on. Not all of these biathletes will be stars but just a few names to keep a look out for for the future!

World Cup Regulars:

Jakov Fak (35)

I stole this from Fak’s twitter account. I just think he was really putting himself at a disadvantage racing with a baby!

Ask a biathlon fan to name a biathlete from Slovenia, and if they don’t name recently retired Klemen Bauer, its going to be Jakov Fak. He’s the winningest biathlete in Slovenian history with eight total wins and 25 career podiums. The closest to him is Janez Maric with one win and four podiums. In his career Fak has two overall top 5 finishes, 3rd in 2014-2015 and 4th in 2012-2013. Up until last season he was doing an amazing job of holding off Father Time remarkably ending up 11th overall in 2020-2021.

We likely didn’t do a good enough job of celebrating what a great season Fak had in 2020-2021. He started out the season on fire with four straight top 7 finishes in the back to back weekends in Kontiolahti. Fak had 13 total top 10s which included a 3rd place in the Mass Start in Antholz and 5th in the Mass Start at the World Championships in front of the home fans. We certainly didn’t appreciate that as much as we should have at the time!

Last year we saw what may have been the beginning of the end for Jakov Fak. His ski ranks really collapsed all the way down to 50th. This was his worst skiing in a full season since 2008-2009. His shooting also got a little looser with overall hit rate dropping to 83.9%, his worst full season since 2015-2016. Shooting times slipped a little bit as well down to 29.4 seconds.

Prone %Standing %Total %Shooting Time
2017-201892.291.291.731
2018-201983.988.586.228.8
2019-202091.986.389.126
2020-202193.887.690.727.2
2021-202283.384.483.929.4

All of this lead to some speculation that Fak was ready to retire. Yet here we are days away from the start of the season and Fak is fully expected to be a full time member of the World Cup squad once again! At this stage of his career it is hard to know what to expect of Fak. Was last year the canary in the coal mine signaling that he’s slipping off the cliff? Or was it just a one off bad year and the later years of his career will be a more gentle fall off, more like Simon Eder. Only time will tell at this point and I won’t make any predictions. I can’t even tell you what stat in particular to watch because last season was a general decline everywhere. I would say my hope would be that he can recover some shooting consistency while limiting further losses in the ski times. That may help buoy him back to the top 40s.

Miha Dovzan (28)

With four total spots to fill every week Dovzan looks to be one of the regulars in that role and in the relays. At age 28 Dovzan should be entering what should be the peak of his career. So what have we seen to date? Well to be honest not a lot. We know that he is a really really fast shooter. Over the last four seasons he’s been top 15 fastest every year. Last year that resulted in an average shooting time of just 25.8 seconds. Very good! His shooting percentages have also been pretty good. He’s averaging usually between 84-88% if you take out the 2018-2019 season. In particular he’s a stellar prone shooter finishing at 95.2% last season!!

Obviously knowing that and looking at his overall season ranks there must be a downside somewhere. Well he’s not quite cracking the top 100 in ski ranks and that’s absolutely been holding him back. Can we expect any improvement? At age 28 probably not much. If you look back at his juniors and IBU Cup level ski performance he was far better than he is now. In Juniors he was consistently top 20s and IBU Cup top 50s. So maybe a little improvement in skiing but don’t bet too heavily on it. It looks like unless something absolutely wild happens we should expect something similar from Dovzan this year: good fast shooting, slower than average skiing. Likely overall rank between 60-80.

Prone %Standing %Total %Shooting Time
2017-201889.68084.826.9
2018-201986.772.479.526.5
2019-202088.984.486.725.4
2020-202192848825.3
2021-202295.275.285.225.8

Rok Trsan (30)

Rok Trsan (what an absolutely top tier name!) looks to be the last of the regular World Cup regulars for Slovenia this season. Like Dovzan he profiles to be a full baked biathlete without a lot of growth potential likely. Interestingly enough he also shares many of the same characteristics as Dovzan. He’s a really good, decently quick shooter. His total shooting percentage was 91.8% last season which is absolutely stellar and had him ranked 6th overall. Also similar to Dovzan he’s a subpar skier. Over the last five seasons he’s never ranked higher than 113th in ski rankings.

Trsan is a 30 year old male which puts him, as we’ve discussed, at an age where we shouldn’t expect tremendous growth in his ski abilities. Also it is hard to expect that he will continue shoot at that amazing level. That isn’t to say he can’t but I wouldn’t predict anyone to maintain that amazing shooting level. As a member of a relay, he can be decent with the fast and accurate shooting. But he’s definitely going to drag them backwards a little bit. As for solo success I think that he’s likely in line for something similar to what we’ve already seen. Expect a finish somewhere between 60-90s.

Prone %Standing %Total %Shooting Time
2018-201987.58083.829.4
2019-202090.988.289.625.7
2020-202186.783.785.226.1
2021-202290.692.991.837.1

World Cup Possibilities:

With 4 spots on the World Cup roster and Klemen Bauer’s retirement that leaves at least one open spot on a regular basis. So who will fill that spot? Well here are some contenders. It’s no sure thing that any of these men will be full time on the World Cup. In fact in all likelihood they will all split some time between the World Cup and the IBU Cup. This is also where things get very interesting as everybody left on this list is very young.

Alex Cisar (22)

Alex Cisar goes down as not only the most decorated of the young Slovenian biathletes but also maybe the most interesting? In addition to burgeoning professional career he’s also a private pilot. Check out his instagram where he posts frequent videos of flying between training locations. Pretty wild!

I mentioned his biathlon success and its no joke. At the 2019 Youth World Championships he won the Sprint competition over his teammate Lovro Planko and Finnish young hope Otto Invenius. He then backed that up with a win in the Pursuit. Some other names you might recognized from that race include Tommaso Giacomel, Niklas Hartweg, and Didier Bionaz. He then followed that up with a bronze in the 2020 Junior World Championship Pursuit race and silver in the 2021 Junior Worlds Individual race.

So what does this tell us about his prospects for this coming season? Well he actually spent the majority of last year on the IBU Cup. As a 21 year old he finished the season ranked 77th. His ski ranks, which as a Junior were consistently top 15, spent most of the season in the 40-50 range. Not terrible for his age. His shooting however took a massive step back. As a Junior he consistently shot around 85%, and in his last season as a Junior neared the 90% overall mark. On the IBU Cup that dropped down to around a 75% average. As for shooting times he was the fastest on the IBU Cup last year.

Looking towards the 2022-2023 season he will more than likely spend a lot of time on the World Cup level as there is an open spot. This might be just a touch too early for him. Regardless what I would love to see from his is a revision to his career shooting averages, back to the mid or even upper 80s. Whether that requires him to slow down a little bit shouldn’t matter much as he was averaging just 25.4 seconds per trip to the range. We know from his prior ski history that he has some talent in the legs. Let’s see if he can’t move on up the ski standings towards the top 25 range IBU Cup range. I don’t know where that would place him on the World Cup but frankly I don’t care too much. This is a growth season. He’s got a career outlook that could put him as a top 30-40 overall biathlete, competing for the occasional top 10, which is something Slovenia would love to see.

Anton Vidmar (22)

As a 21-22 year old biathlete Anton Vidmar had the opportunity to spend the majority of the season on the World Cup level. At just 22 and coming from a non traditional biathlon nation there were not enormous expectations for him which allowed him to have a bit of a low key season.

Last year saw Vidmar ranked over 100th in every key characteristic. He was 145th in skiing, 133rd in shooting, and 130th in shooting time rank. The real question is should we expect a major growth from Vidmar. Looking back at his juniors experience his course time ranks were anywhere between 30th-50th. During his one IBU Cup season his ranks were down around 50-70th which is makes sense. His shooting times have also always been on the slower end so this wasn’t surprising either.

However his shooting should improve. As a junior athlete he was able to shoot in the mid to high 80s. The more racing he’s done on the IBU Cup and the World Cup though, those numbers continue drop. Last season he ended up shooting just 75.7% overall.

Truthfully, projecting Vidmar out is difficult. He doesn’t have the historical characterstics that would project to major improvement as his career goes. You might expect to see him finish out in the realm of Miha Dovzan at best. As I always say though hope is free and he’s still young!

Lovro Planko (21)

The other best young hope for Slovenians right now is probably Lovro Planko. Like Cisar he has won medals at Youth Worlds with a 2nd in the Sprint in 2019 and a 3rd in Pursuit in 2020. His other results haven’t quite been as good as Cisar though, which is why Cisar gets the nod as the leader of the two.

Interestingly though Planko was given 13 starts on the World Cup level last year including three starts at the Winter Olympics giving him valuable experience. Near the end of his time as a Juniors level athlete he regularly finished top 20 in course time rank, steadily improved his shooting up to the low 80s, and was one of the fastest shooters of the junior ranks.

Making the sudden leap to the World Cup was a bit of a shock to the system. In his only season on the highest level of biathlon he was 110th in overall ski rank and shot just 72% overall. He also saw his shooting time ranks balloon up to 33.6 after being below 30 his last three junior seasons. Those are just not very competitive numbers for the 21 year old. Hopefully it wasn’t too much too soon. Hopefully he can grow with Cisar to be the core of the next generation of biathlon for Slovenia. We’ll be watching to see if he can start moving those numbers, particularly shooting percentage and shooting times, back toward his career averages. If he’s able to do that we’ll call it a win for the year.

Matic Repnik (21)

With mostly Juniors level numbers to go off of for these last three, Repnik stands out for actually having a few IBU Cups starts to his name. During the COVID-impacted 2020-2021 season he was given six IBU Cup starts to go with six more last season. He had some mixed results. His ski ranks were consistently near the bottom, but he’s balanced that with phenomenal shooting around 90% almost every race.

His numbers as a Junior last year were, not surprisingly, the best of his young career. While still having a few down moments he was consistently finishing 20s to 30s overall. His ski ranks were the biggest jump up from the bottom to middle of the pack. Not to rain on his parade though but if at 21 he is just middle of the pack with ski ranks it is hard to see a high ranking future for him. Let’s keep those fingers crossed that we see some continued growth in all areas.

Pavel Trojer (17)

Our youngest Slovenian man is just 17 and I’m exceedingly hesistant to say too much about somebody so young. I will just say this though: last year at Youth Worlds he went 6th in Individual, 7th in Sprint, and 4th in Pursuit. He has shown potential with both good skiing and having regular total shooting in the 90% range. I won’t say anymore but lets dream big dreams!

Jasa Zidar (20)

Like Repnik, Jasa Zidar was given several opportunities to compete during the COVID-impacted 2020-2021 season. It was a tough go of it with a high finish of 57. Being just 18-19 years old though that really isn’t too terrible. Last year was back to the Juniors though. In his season with the most overall racing he showed quite a bit of inconsistency. He was up and down in almost every aspect except for his shooting. His shooting was tremendous hitting 90% or higher in 6 of the 10 races. He’s a young man so lets give him time to find his legs. With shooting like that he doesn’t need to be blazing just consistent and solid. Fingers crossed!

Women:

Quota: 4 athletes to start

Anamarija Lampic (27)

I’m going to start off the women by putting Anamarija Lampic all on her own. The cross country start made the decision that several recent female cross country stars have made recently and decided to up the challenge and add shooting to her skiing competitions. Before we get into what we can expect from her lets admire her amazing cross country skiing resume.

She comes to the IBU after becoming a very successful FIS XC career. She first showed her potential by winning the u23 overall for the FIS XC ski rankings in 2017. Over the last three seasons she’s gone on to become a Sprint superstar. She’s gone 2nd, 1st, and 3rd overall in the FIS Sprint XC rankings over that stretch. She’s also risen up the overall rankings finishing 8th in the overall standings both of the last two seasons. In addition to that she won a bronze medal in Sprint at the 2021 Cross Country World Championships.

Knowing all that it is plain to see that Lampic is very fast. You might expect that comes right out and starts blowing people off the course. As we’ve seen with Stina Nilsson, who came similarly came over after a successful early career in the FIS, it can be more challenging than that. Like Nilsson Lampic is going to start her career, smartly, on the IBU Cup. This gives her time to grow without the pressure of coming in and trying to be a leader right away.

Her goal this season is twofold. First, learn to shoot. I’m sure she’s been working on that intensely over the summer Secondly, learn to ski with a rifle. She’s going to need to learn new positioning. She’s also going to have to master the trasnsitions from skiing to shooting and vice versa. You can still see Nilsson struggle with that at times. This won’t be a quick or necessarily easy transition.

The possibilities though are so enticing. You can see from Nilsson starting to have success last year that success can come relatively quick. However Denise Herrmann shows how high that success can truly be. She’s not only regularly one of the fastest, last season she grabbed an Olympic Gold medal for Germany in the Individual competition, and finished the year 6th overall (her second highest year end ranking behind 3rd in 2020), and the unquestioned leader of the German team. I don’t want to set expectations that high for Lampic but lets just say we’re all going to be watching her intently.

World Cup Regulars:

Polona Klemencic (25)

While we’re waiting for Lampic to arrive on the World Cup scene Polona Klemencic is the leader of the Slovenian women’s team. At just 25 she already has five seasons under her belt. Unfortunately in those five seasons she hasn’t had a ton of success as of yet.

In five seasons racing full time on the World Cup her best overall finish is just 84th. When looking for reasons why she hasn’t had success the answer is…everything. There isn’t really one area where she has shown any obvious signs of large improvements. Her skiing has improved a little bit and she moved up from 151 in 2017-2018 up to 82nd last year. Her shooting though remains poor with shooting percentages not yet reaching 80% for a full season. Her best season, last year, was the most hopeful on that front when she finished at 79%. Her shooting times at least are not that bad. She finished right around 30 seconds for the last three full seasons.

Prone %Standing %Total %Shooting Time
2017-201863.383.373.332.2
2018-201982.469.475.931.4
2019-202070.76467.330.5
2020-202175757529.1
2021-202281.876.475.630.1

Looking ahead to this year what can we expect from the elder Klemencic who will in all likelihood be the leader again this year? Taking the optimistic approach she has incrementally improved year over year in skiing and shooting. If we’re going to be hopeful, (and why not?) lets hope that she is able to get her ski ranks into the top 70. If she can finally shoot into the 80s. That would optimistically put her in the range of Julia Schwaiger. Last year Schwaiger was 68th in skiing and her season average shooting was 83%. The result was season rank around 70th, easily her best of her career.

Nika Vindisar (22)

Looking at the remaining roster Nika Vindisar is the only other woman with any consistent World Cup level experience. With the lack of other experience it will likely be Vindisar filling one of the two remaining spots on the World Cup.

The last two years have been fairly inconsistent for Vindisar. Her ski ranks were not great finishing below 100 in overall rank both years. Her shooting was also poor with overall shooting percentages of just 76% and 79% both years. Although she did make marked improvement in her prone shooting from 70% to 81.5% year over year. Her shooting time though went up like a rocket. She went from averaging 31.5 seconds per trip to the range to just 26.6 seconds, good for 11th overall shooting time on the year. This appears to have been a point of emphasis for the entire Slovenian roster from top to bottom.

At just 22 years old Nika Vindisar should have lots of room to grow. When looking for indicators of what we might expect though we are left with only Juniors races as she has only 2 solo IBU Cup races to date. Over her last two years as a Junior she has mostly top 30 finishes including three top 10 finishes. This improvement was primarily related to her dramatic ski improvement so that her last years as a Junior she had almost all top 20 course times. This gives some indication that her skiing should improve the next several years. She might not be a super star but if she eventually get to the top 50-70 that might be around her ceiling. Looking at her shooting though she’s never been much better than she is now. All throughout her juniors she shot consistently in the 70% range. However her shooting was exceptionally fast.

So what should we look for? This season maybe some mild improvements in skiing can get her overall ranking into the 70-80 range. Long term I think a ceiling better than 50-60 overall might be optimistic. I would be happy to be wrong though!

Ziva Klemencic (21)

Ziva Klemencic, the younger Klemencic sister, is the last of the woman who has much World Cup experience going in to this season having spent the majority of last season there. At just 21 and with only one year of IBU Cup experience there were not a lot of expectations for Klemencic. It was an opportunity to get some experience and hopefully grow with her older sister.

Over the year she did show some decent shooting with a season total hit rate of nearly 82%. Not a superstar by any means but better than a lot of her age peers on the Slovenian team. It came with a very slow average shooting time of 36.6 seconds. Her skiing was also less than spectacular finishing ranked 102nd on the season.

The Slovenian team likely is pretty high on Ziva Klemencic’s potential though. Her last season as a Junior when she was 19 years old she had ski ranks in the teens and 20s and her lowest finish of the last two years was just 28th. For the Slovenian team that’s pretty good and gives reason for optimism. If she can live up to that potential and keep this shooting into the 80s she has a chance to be the non-Lampic leader of the team.

IBU Cup Athletes with World Cup Dreams

Tais Vozelj (23)

This next group of athletes are going to in all likelihood spend the vast majority of the season hopefully developing on the IBU Cup. We start with Tais Vozelj who has spent most of the last two seasons at this level.

Over the last two seasons Vozelj has not made an significant improvements. In fact over the last two years she’s actually had a slight downward trajectory in her finishes with last year no finish higher than 69. Her ski ranks are consistently in the 60-70 range. Her shooting is inconsistent between 70-85%. Her shooting times, like many other Slovenians though, are very very good.

None of that sounds all that great. If you are looking for some reason for optimism I honestly don’t have very much. Her career trended downward throughout the Juniors in terms of ski rank and overall finishes. Her shooting tended to be right around the 70s-80s as well. We’ll see what she can do though and keep our fingers crossed.

Klara Vindisar (19)

The younger Vindisar sister (we have a lot of siblings on the Slovenian team!) will in all likelihood spent the majority of this season continuing to grow on the IBU Cup/Juniors. At just 19 years she already has 15 IBU Cup races under her belt and she’s starting to show some improvement.

Over time her overall finishes are steadily progressing up to 30-40s. That improvement is primarily a result of her shooting coming all the way up to the mid 80s after starting in the 70s. Her shooting time ranks, stop me if you’ve heard this about a Slovenian before, are very very fast.

So should we expect continued improvement from the younger Vindisar? In all probability yes. Over that same period of time her finishes on the Juniors ranks have moved into the top 20s. Her ski ranks are up all top 30 now. She’s definitely young, but she’s showing progress towards being a solid World Cup level biathlete. In about 4-5 years I would expect to see her settle out as a top 40-50 level athlete.

Lena Repinc (19)

At just 19 years old Lena Repinc is my favorite of the young hopes from Slovenia. I am very hopeful for her future. However she did take a few starts on the IBU Cup during the COVID year of 2020-2021 and of all of the Slovenian Juniors lower on this list she’s had the most success thus far. Over the last two seasons at the Youth Worlds, six total races, she has never finished lower than 9th and that includes two wins!

During that first season of IBU experience her overall results weren’t anything that would blow you away. She did manage 3 top 12 finishes that season at just 17-18 years old. She also showed very solid ski potential consistently ranking amongst the top 25 in course time.

Last year was back to the Juniors for a full season and she showed another step in her growth. She kept her ski speed but bumped her shooting accuracy up to the best of her career. She hit 87.5% of her shots including 90% on standing shooting.

At just 19 years Repinc still has so much room for growth. I can’t wait to see what else she can do. I anticipate this season being another year split between IBU and Juniors. It should see her compete at Junior level at Worlds for the first time which is another step in her path. This young, and not coming from one of the traditional powers, you never want to project success too early. If her sking can continue to improve she could end up in the top 40-50 range on the World Cup. With shooting nearing 90% overall that could put her in the range of somebody like Jessica Jislova. Let’s just agree to keep an eye on her.

Juniors

These last few women are all primarily competing on the Juniors circuit at this point in their careers. We don’t have a lot to go off of yet but we’ll see what they are able to do.

Kaja Zorc (19)

The first of two straight Kajas on the list, Zorc has shown slightly more potential than her counterpart. This is primarily due to superior ski speed. The last two seasons she has only finished worse than 15th in course time on the Juniors level just one time. Her shooting though has been a fairly irregular averaging out to around just 75% last season. This combination has still allowed her to have a decent amount of success. She’s been able to accumulate six top 10 finishes on the Junior level but never higher than 6th.

She did spend the 2020-2021 season racing on the IBU circuit where she had some moderate success including a finish of 33rd in the Sprint at the European championships. The good news is that her attributes appeared to be similar to that of her Juniors racing just with the anticipated lower ranking course times.

Kaja Zorc, like Repinc, does have decent potential to be a very solid World Cup level biathlete for Slovenia. It is clear that she needs to continue growing as a skier to maintain her place. With expected growth she could be a top 40-50 skier on the World Cup. Add in some improved shooting and Zorc + Repinc could be the start of something food for Slovenia.

Kaja Maric (19)

The second Kaja on the list, Maric doesn’t quite have the success seen by Zorc. Over her 19 career Juniors level races she has a career best of 17th. Most of her finishes over the last two seasons have been in the 20-30’s. This isn’t bad but it’s nothing eye raising either. And at 19 she has plenty of time and opportunity to grow. We never close the door on a late bloomer here. She could stand to grow in pretty much every area. She has ski ranks usually in the 20-30s per race and shooting in the low to mid 70s. Broad improvement across the board while continuing to compete on the Juniors, and maybe some on the IBU Cup, is our goal for this year.

Zala Repe (18)

Repe, at just 18 years old, has only one season and seven career races under her belt. She had a season (and career) best of 25th. The rest of her finishes were mostly 40-60s. She saw middle of the road success with her skiing and shooting in the low 70s, but she was an extremely fast shooter. Let’s aim for success in all areas and see what happens.

Taja Zadravec (19)

Zadravec has four total races in her career. She finished 35, 43, 42, and 78th. With just four total races let’s wait do any analysis of her career.

Viktorjia Meznar (17)

17 year old Meznar made her Juniors debut last yaer at home in Pokljuka. She finished 43rd in Sprint and 40th in Pursuit. Hopefully we see more racing this season!

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