Sweden Team Preview

Sweden feels like a nation that should have a long and glorious history in biathlon. And indeed Magdalena Foresburg’s 42 total wins over just an 8 year period we’re truly phenomenal. Bjoren Ferry was no small factor in biathlon for period of time earlier this century as well, finishing inside the top 10 of the overall standings on five different occasions. Recently though, so often they end up looking up as Norway, their neighbors and friendly rivals to the west dominate the podiums and medals. The winds might be beginning to change though.

At least for the women anyway. I have said this many times before but the women of Swedish biathlon appear to be on the verge of what may be a golden generation of biathlon talent. As we will discuss it isn’t just the top tier talent but the depth of talent is truly terrific right now. While the men might not have the same numbers, Sebastian Samuelson appears to have talent to put him in the absolute upper echelons of the sport. Without further ado let’s dive right in.

Women

Quota: 6 Athletes to Start

I mentioned above that I feel the Swedish women are possibly watching a golden generation of biathlon. The women we are about to discuss have the potential to do some really special things, so let’s just get right into it.

World Cup Level

Elvira Oeberg (23)

Can you believe Elvira Oeberg is still just 23? I think I say that almost every time she races. But it’s still true. She’s 23 and she is the prohibitive favorite to win this seasons overall Crystal Globe. She’s just an amazing talent.

Honestly what all does anybody need to say that hasn’t already been said? Elvira is very fast. Last year it was between her and Justine Braisaz-Buchet for fastest woman on the World Cup. With JBB on maternity leave the door is wide open for Elvira to claim the throne as fastest woman. Yes there will be a little competition coming from a few other women but it would be genuinely stunning if Elvira wasn’t the fastest this season.

For Elvira to reach her full potential as world beater she just needs to improve just a little bit more on the shooting range. Over the last three years her shooting has improved from 79.3% to 82.3% to 85.3%. She’s right in the range where she needs to be now for crystal globe winning. Just look at last season. She came in 2nd place behind Marte Olsbu Roeiseland having a remarkable season.

Prone %Standing %Total %Shooting Time
2019-20207682.779.332.5
2020-20218381.582.329.5
2021-202282.687.985.329.4

What is the outlook for Elvira Oeberg? Sky high. As I said before her 85.3% shooting is right on the edge of allowing her to win every race regardless. She’s just 23 and showing improvement every season. She could absolutely take home the overall trophy this season. In all likelihood she is going to win at least 2-3 her career. Could the first one happen this year? Honestly why not?

Hanna Oeberg (27)

Hanna Oeberg is in the strange position of being one of the best in the world at her sport but not even the best her own family. Strange except for Tarjei Boe in the same sport and active at the same time. That’s weird right? Two amazingly successful biathlon families competing at the same time?

I think that Hanna has been so consistent, and Elvira such a bright and shiny object, that we don’t really appreciate Hanna Oeberg as much as we should. Over the last four seasons she has been in the top 5 of the overall rankings every single year. We talk about Elvira being fast but Hanna has been top 20 every year the last five years. Last she was all the way up to 6th overall in ski rank. She’s even getting faster shooting! Her average shooting time last year was just 25.9 seconds.

Prone %Standing %Total %Shooting Time
2017-201885.789.587.629.6
2018-201991.585.588.527.4
2019-202090828625.7
2020-202185.283.884.526.7
2021-202280808025.9

The only thing that isn’t pointing upward for her is shooting. The last four seasons have been a slow downward slide. Four years ago she was at 88.5% overall. Last year she was down to just 80%.

So can Hanna Oeberg overtake her sister this year and regain the title of greatest Oeberg? And in doing so can she get to the #1 overall position? Absolutely. Honestly all it will take is to get her shooting back to where it was. Now that’s a huge ask because her shooting was really really good. But if she can be top 10 skiing and 87-88% shooting especially with 26 seconds average shooting that’s all consistent with a crystal globe. We could be in for a Swedish sister battle for #1!

Linn Persson (28)

Linn Persson is one of my must watch athletes for this season. The last three seasons she has shown the ability to get to the top of the podium but hasn’t quite been able to get there coming up with 10 top 5’s. She also hasn’t been able to string together longer stretches of good performances. She has ended up with finishing 19, 14, and 19 overall.

She’s got the skiing form to compete for the wins. The last three years she has ended up top 25 in skiing. Her shooting is solid and has potential to keep improving as well. Her prone shooting has solidified normally in the upper 80’s but with a little dip to 86.5% last year. Her standing shooting however is still down around 80%. This is the biggest area where she can improve. She just has to get back to prior shooting levels. Combine that with her improved skiing and the potential is palpable.

Prone %Standing %Total %Shooting Time
2017-201889.385.787.533.2
2018-201987.187.987.533.3
2019-202089.382.185.731.6
2020-202189.178.683.830.9
2021-202286.58083.230.2

Persson is one of my must watch athletes this year because it really felt like she was right on the edge of a breakthrough. In 8 of her last 15 races she shot 90% or better. Over that same period she was top 26 in skiing every single race. As a result she had 10 top 15s in those races. Every race she felt like she had a chance to finally break through for that first elusive win. I really feel like that can happen this year. And if she is just a bit more consistent, cutting out the sporadic under 50 finishes, she could end up in the top 10 overall without much difficulty. She could really breakthrough this year.

Mona Brorsson (32)

At age 32 Brorsson feels like the experience vet of the group. She has 210 World Cup races in the last 10 years. While not the highest flyer of the whole crew she is a steady hand who has been around for several years. She doesn’t seem to get too excited or too low. She has the consistency (that we just discussed Persson is looking for). She is exactly what this wildly talented team needs,

The other important thing though is that Brorsson can compete. Last year she set a new career best finishing at 16th overall for the season. She’s s really solid all around athlete. Her skiing has been good if not absolutely great. Her year end ski rank was 31 and she showed high ability with a course time rank of 6th at one point. She was consistently scoring course time ranks from the teens to 30s. Meanwhile her shooting is consistently steady. Her prone shooting has been just over 92% the last three seasons. Her standing shooting is starting to catch up and that boosted her total shooting up to 87%.

Prone %Standing %Total %Shooting Time
2017-201894.382.988.631.9
2018-201986.584.785.632.7
2019-202092.97583.932.1
2020-202192.476.584.430.7
2021-202292.481.287.130.2

I tend to believe that Brorsson’s ceiling isn’t as high as Persson’s mostly because at age 32 we’ve most likely seen it. Persson has lots of room to grow whereas with Brorsson her skiing is probably about as good as it will get. However, let’s not act like she’s not good. She’s very good. She still has top 15 overall potential. And at the very least with her stats and top 60 shooting time she is maybe the best 4th leg out there.

Anna Magnusson (27)

Anna Magnusson is yet another Swedish woman entering what should be the peak of her career. Not only that but she’s also showing signs of being on the ascent as well. Just like Elvira and Hanna and Linn and Stina. My goodness this Swedish team!

Over her last four years of World Cup competition she’s seen her overall ranking rise from the bottom up to 33rd last season. She’s been able to maintain her shooting right around the mid 80’s (ignoring last year’s dip) every single year. Last year was some of her most even shooting to date with almost equal prone and standing shooting. Meanwhile her skiing has been improving year over year. Last season she ended the year ranked 41st overall in skiing, her best ever. She was consistently in the teens to 30’s in course time rank.

Magnusson on nearly any other team would be looked at as a potential rising star or breakout candidate. Because she is on a team full of those she is a bit overlooked. She really shouldn’t be though. Her progression is about 1-2 years behind Persson’s. Maybe she doesn’t have the same high ceiling because she hasn’t yet shown the same peak skiing. So for now while Persson is taking aim at a top 10 overall finish let’s put Magnusson pointing towards top 20.

Stina Nilsson (29)

This is the year Stina Nilsson takes over biathlon. Just kidding. But it feels like everybody is just dying to say that right? Ever since Nilsson made the jump over to biathlon there is an urge to declare that “she’s arrived.” It’s completely understandable. She wasn’t just a competitor on the FIS World Cup, she was a 5 time Olympic medalist and 7 time World Championship medalist and she won the 2019 Sprint title.

As it turns out she has not dominated biathlon right from the start. She has shown some improvements. Not surprisingly her skiing is still very good. It’s taken some adjustment as skiing with a rifle is a little different than without. She has also had to dedicate lots of time learning how to shoot. It has taken a little time but she’s been making improvements there too.

Stina Nilsson’ aim is something like Denise Herrman. Herrman has not only learned to shoot but she’s been a very high performing including s top 3 overall finish and last season’s gold medal at the Olympics. Is that possible? It remains to be seen. She did manage her first podium at the end of last season. She definitely has internal competition to push her forward. I’m really fascinated to see how she develops from here.

Challenging the Top

Joanna Skottheim (28)

At 28 you might expect Skottheim to be one of Sweden’s rising stars that I listed above. Unfortunately she has seen her performances sliding backward the last couple of years, and when her compatriots are raising their levels she needs to do the same to keep her position.

Last year was a bit of a mixed bag. Overall she saw her skiing slide backwards in a hurry. I did not read anywhere about an injury but in the last two years she has gone from a ski rank of 37 to 107. Her shooting has actually slightly improved because of a wild 94.3% standing shooting. Meanwhile her prone shooting slipped back to 82.9% down from a high of 90% two years ago.

For Skottheim she needs to get her skiing turned around and quickly. There are just too many high level women on this team. They are also around the same age. If she wants to get herself onto the World Cup roster without somebody else’s bad luck then she is going to need to get faster now. Also it wouldn’t hurt to see her prone shooting improving again as well. If she can do that she has a chance to get back to the top level.

Sara Andersson (19)

I considered listing Sara Andersson as the one Junior on the list here but instead I just lumped her together with the rest because this is where I see her competing. She spent time the last two years on both the IBU Cup and the Juniors. And she has shown really high success with both. Last year on the IBU Cup she had 11 total races. She was lower than 20th just once. She had 3 top 5’s including a second. On the Juniors she has 6 races the last 2 seasons all at the Youth Championships. She’s been top 10 every race including a gold and a bronze this season.

Sara Andersson has world class potential. She was showing consistent top 5-10 ski ranks last season on the IBU Cup let alone the Juniors level. She also had a jump in shooting percentage from 75% to 80% last year. It was made almost entirely with improvement in prone shooting to 90%. Her standing shooting remained around 70%.

Sara Andersson has the highest potential in the world. She is 4 years younger than Elvira and is following along a path that could bring her to top 10 World Cup potential. Can you see her matching up with the girls a few years older than her? It might not happen this year but if she keeps improving and performing at this rate she’s going to force her way to the World Cup sooner than later.

Ingela Andersson (31)

We’ve now reached the point of the roster where this job becomes a little harder. The top of the Swedish team is so incredibly young and talented what is there to say about a 31 year old good but not great biathlete. Because of all of that up and coming talent she has spent most of the last several years on the IBU Cup. She’s actually been pretty good. She finished 3rd overall in 2018-2019 and 5th overall in 2019-2020. The last two years have been just a little lower finishing 17 and 21. She’s still had 6 top 10 finishes on the IBU Cup in that period.

This year expect to see more of the same. She may see a little further erosion of her skiing speed from near tops in the IBU Cup as that’s usually what happens when you are 31. The key for her is trying to keep that shooting percentage above 75%. That’s been her average the last two years. In general above that and she’s in contention. Below that she isn’t.

Emma Nilsson (29)

Over the past 4-5 years as the talent has risen in the Swedish system Emma Nilsson has been losing time on the World Cup and has become a solid IBU Cup athlete. She is coming off of a very up and down season. She started the year well with a few top 20’s. She then had a little rough patch for two weeks in the middle. Then she finished with a major hot streak pulling off five straight top 10s.

Nilsson is a very solid skier and hasn’t seen any deterioration in ski talent yet. She is consistently top 20 in course time last season. What led to the great finish was she was able to pair that up with shooting up over 90% for the last several weeks. That’s just a great all around combination. If she can start doing that again she might just force her way up to the World Cup roster. Let’s see how she starts the year first though.

Ella Halvarrson (23)

Ella Halvarrson is coming along maybe at the right time. She is the same age as Elvira and about 4-5 years behind the bulk of the Swedish team. This is going to give her the opportunity to train with the best, learn from them, and then step up when their form starts to slip. This is how you build a program to last. Now having said all of that can she step up to it?

As a Junior she showed that she can. She had several top 10’s at Junior Worlds. Since going to the IBU Cup she’s already had 5 top 10’s. She is really showing that her ski form is coming around. She had consistent top 25 course ranks last season and has always had absolutely amazing shooting. Last year her standing shooting slipped to 84.5%. But otherwise she regularly shooting 90% or above.

We said with Elvira that she doesn’t have to shoot perfectly or even that great to win because of her speed. Halvarrson profiles as the opposite. An amazing shooter who skis well and when she skis well enough she is in the top 10. Wouldn’t it be fun to see them going head to head with each other? One blazing skiing and one a deadly shooter? I can hope right?!?

Nicolina Lindqvist (25)

Nicolina Lindqvist is a very solid IBU Cup biathlete. Unfortunately on this Swedish team she is going to struggle to break through and you’ll rarely hear about her. She’s not bad at all. She finished last year with 5 straight top 30’s after making significant skiing gains throughout the season. She started the year with course time ranks in the 60’s-80’s and ended up in the top 40. Unfortunately her shooting took a major dip last year going from 88.3% to 79.4%. Lindqvist just needs to keep her head down and keep working. If she reaches her potential that’s all she can worry about.

Men

Quota: 6 Athletes to Start

World Cup Locked In

The women are absolutely stacked with talent. The men could use a little more depth. At the top Samuelson and Ponsiluoma are very good and will lead the way from near the top of the standings.

Sebastian Samuelsson (25)

Between Sebastian Samuelsson and Elvira Oeberg the Swedes have two extremely young and extremely talented biathletes. Every year for the next 5-7 years they are going to be a threat to double up with the crystal globe. Talk about potential golden age of Swedish biathlon.

Samuelsson is a little bit older and not quite as flashy. While he finished 3rd overall he is still not to the stature of QFM, JT Boe, Tarjei Boe, etc and as a result I think he isn’t quite talked about as much. That might speak to how many really good biathletes there are more than anything else. Let’s not kid ourselves though Samuelsson has the talent and ability to win an overall crystal globe.

Prone %Standing %Total %Shooting Time
2017-201885.285.285.229.8
2018-201983.676.48030.6
2019-202084.277.580.827.8
2020-202188.685.787.128.6
2021-202286.881.183.929

When you think of Samuelsson you fist think of the speed. And for good reason because will absolutely be a top 10 skier if not the fastest overall. He isn’t a terrible shooter though. Just look at his last 5 years, almost always between 83-87%. His shooting time has been under 30 seconds for the last three seasons as well. For me though the first thing I think about is grit. I will never forget him going head to head with JT Boe a couple of times in recent years and coming away on top. That’s a critics mental tool to have.

I don’t think I need to say it but Samuelsson’s potential is winning and he could do it as soon as this year. He’s one of the absolute fastest men. He has the ability to shoot upwards of 86-87%. We know that’s enough to win a crystal globe because QFM and JT Boe have both won it all with stats about like that the last two seasons. Let’s see him go out there’s fight!

Martin Ponsiluoma (27)

I can’t speak for anybody else but for me anyway Martin Ponsiluoma is one of the. OST frustrating athletes I watch on a week in and week out basis. He has all the talent to be a top 10 overall biathlete. He just did it last year. The problem is he just doesn’t follow through on that enough.

Just like Samuelsson, Ponsiluoma has the ski ability to run away from just about anybody on the World Cup but a select few men. Every week you see him come into the range for the first shooting in great place. The problem has always been the shooting. Two years ago he shot just 79.5% overall and was still #10 in the end of season overall rankings. Last year he slips to 74.5% and not surprisingly falls down to #22 overall.

Prone %Standing %Total %Shooting Time
2017-201874.391.482.927.2
2018-201982868427.8
2019-202069.178.273.628.4
2020-202177.181.979.527.3
2021-202275.672.874.228.3

Ponsi has he talent to win. He doesn’t have to be the best shooter or even a great shooter. He just has to be decent. Anything over 80% overall this year and he’s almost assured of a top 10 overall finish. That’s going to be our goal. As frustrated as I am, I am still going to be pulling for him to reach that. Cmon man!

Filling Out

With six spots to fill every week and only two men locked in there are LOTS of starts to fill up. So who is going to grab them? Here are the competitors

Pepe Femling (30)

In all likelihood Pepe Femling will be one of the guys on the World Cup every single week. But I still wouldn’t call it an absolute lock. He appears to be in the middle of his apex as an athlete but it isn’t so high that I consider him a sure thing to continue at that level, especially now in his 30’s. Femling did look really good at times last season including matching his career best with a 9th place finish. So how does he do it?

Femling is a solid skier and a better shooter. He doesn’t excel at either but just being solid all around is enough to get him into the top 50’s in the overall standings. Interestingly his shooting got a little better last year getting him up to 85.5% overall with 93% prone shooting. His skiing even nudged up just a bit as well. The big improvement for him last year was in shooting times which dropped down to 26.9 seconds per shooting on average.

Prone %Standing %Total %Shooting Time
2017-201884.673.979.233.3
2018-201973.878.876.332.5
2019-202082.780.981.829.3
2020-202185.68082.827.6
2021-2022937885.526.9

Pepe Femling is exactly what he is, a solid but not fantastic overall biathlete. Because he is so solid he probably will be on the World Cup every week. Because he doesn’t just rely on one talent he will rarely be totally out of a race. However because he doesn’t have the one super power he will also rarely be in contention for a win. This season with the absence of Russia and Belarus he does have potential for a top 35 overall. I hope he goes out and does it.

Jesper Nelin (30)

At first glance Jesper Nelin is very similar to Pepe Femling. He’s 30 and has several years of overall finishes in the middle of the pack including last season’s 54th. However if you dig into them as biathletes the similarities start to fall apart.

We mentioned Femling as a solid all around biathlete. Nelin though is a speed man who survives on the range. He’s been top 31 in the ski ranks each of the last 5 seasons. Meanwhile his shooting has never been over 80% including standing going to get over 70%. And while Femling shoots fast Nelin shoots slow averaging 31.5 seconds per shooting last season.

Prone %Standing %Total %Shooting Time
2017-201883.974.679.227.9
2018-201986.471.278.829.7
2019-202089.267.778.528.9
2020-202178.469.774.130.7
2021-202281.670.47631.5

Does this change what we think of Nelin vs. Femling? Well at first glance it does look like Nelin is trending downward. However remember what I said about Femling not having the one strength to rely on? Nelin does have it with the skiing. If he can just right the ship with the shooting a little bit, and he doesn’t lose anymore speed, he could easily leap back over Femling. Regardless I think they both end up around the same place, upper middle of the pack.

Malte Stefansson (22)

Just 22 years old Malte Stefansson is definitely a biathlete on the rise. Being that young he could definitely make a case that he deserves to have one of the World Cup spots on a weekly basis. Last season was his first full season on the World Cup and he only finished 88th overall. Taking the overview on his season though you definitely see the improvements.

Throughout the year he had a general rise in his ski ranks coming up from the 50-60’s and ending in the 30-40’s. If we look back at his IBU Cup racing he was attaining course time ranks in the teens and 20’s so he may should definitely have more room to grow. His shooting though made an enormous jump. To be fair he wasn’t starting high, but he still got to an overall shooting percentage of 74%. His previous starts on the World Cup had an average shooting percentage of just 56.7%. His IBU Cup performances show an average shooting in the mid 70’s so this is more in line with past performances.

I would look to see Stefansson primarily on World Cup this year. As I said about he should be able to improve his skiing a little more. But I’ll be watching most closely to see if he can finally break the mid 70’s shooting which have been the ceiling to his performances. As we’ve seen with Ponsi good skiing can keep you in it but you need to be able to break 80% to compete for top finishes. Stefansson is young so no rush to see these improvements this season but if we do see them it’s a really exciting development.

Oskar Brandt (27)

Already at 27 years old and without a massive amount of internal competition Oskar Brandt has struggled to get starts on the World Cup until last season. He has been showing slow improvement so maybe just a late bloomer and we haven’t seen nearly the best yet. Last year wasn’t what we would call a breakthrough yet with a career high set at 37. Certainly not anything to be upset with. But when we are looking at the depth of the Swedish women that’s not exactly what we are seeing here.

Throughout his career Brandt has been very much in the style of Ponsiluoma. He’s been carried by his skiing while his shooting holds him back. On the IBU Cup he’s consistently seen course time ranks in the 20’s to 40’s. His shooting is regularly in the low 70% range though. This has been his profile at every level of racing. Last year on the World Cup he showed the same thing, ski ranks 30’s to 40’s. His shooting though was just 65.9% overall and was just 57.6% standing.

It is plain to see what Brandt’s path to success is. It’s the same as it is for the vast majority of the Swedish team. Continue the upward trend of the skiing and dramatically improve the shooting, particularly the standing shooting. I think Brandt will see plenty of opportunities on the World Cup but now at age 27 he’s got to make them count,

Emil Nykvist (25)

Emil Nykvist is taking a slow and steady pathway up the levels. He was on the Juniors through the 2018-2019 season where he had decent racing, generally finishing top 30’s. Since bumping up to the IBU Cup he’s been slowly building upward. If you plot out all of his finishes it isn’t a straight line but the trajectory upward is obvious. He started with finishes in the 50’s-70’s and has steadily been building. Last season he ended with a stretch of six straight top 25 including a career best 10th. He also had a short burst earlier in the year with five of six top 25 as well.

Nykvist is a bit of an oddball when it comes to Swedish biathlon. He isn’t the fastest man but he has seen dramatic improvements over the last year. He ended up with several top 20 course time ranks to close the year. He was building to that all season too. However he’s odd because he by and large shoots well. He shot 85% two years ago. Last year was similar but he was regularly in the 80’s all season with an average dragged down by three very bad races.

Emil Nykvist hasn’t been flashy. He was never a young star. Here he is though at 25 years old and I actually am more optimistic about him going forward than anybody on this roster but Stefansson and Samuelsson. This year should be one more IBU Cup year. However if we are seeing his course time ranks in the 20-30’s and shooting consistently back to mid 80’s he will likely get the bump up to World Cup level for at least a handful of races.

Victor Brandt (23)

Viktor Brandt at 23 just made the bump up to IBU Cup full time last year. He did not have the greatest success as a a Junior with just one top 40 finish. Interestingly enough he started his IBU career with immediately success going 7 full races before having a finish BELOW 40. The rest of the year wasn’t quite as high flying though with only one more top 40.

How do you explain that? Well he came into the IBU Cup and he immediately was a top 30 skier, better than he had been as a Junior. That really fell off as the season went along. Shooting meanwhile was average. He shot 81.9% prone and 67.6% standing.

Projecting his future all depends on which version was the “true version.” Was it the great skiing to start the year or the just okay skiing to end? Well we know he has it in there, he just has to bring it out for a full year. And it also wouldn’t hurt to get a bit better on the range too.

Henning Sjokvist (24)

Henning Sjokvist has only raced two of the last three seasons after having no racing during the COVID year of 2020-2021. Whatever he did during that year does seem to have paid off. Prior to COVID he was on the Juniors and then spent a year on the IBU Cup level and sincd COVID has one more IBU Cup season.

As a Junior he was regularly finishing in the 40-60’s. He certainly didn’t have the profile of a future or even a solid World Cup level. On his first IBU Cup level he was generally below 40th. He was on the slower end of the skiing lists with shooting around 80%. After COVID he did make a bit of an improvement in skiing. Skiing jumped to consistently top 40 and he finished the year with 5 straight top 40 finishes, the best of his career. He’s young and still relatively inexperienced. Let’s hope we see more of that improvement though!

Oscar Andersson (20)

Oscar Andersson represents our one true Junior on this list at just 20 years old but even he has 15 IBU Cup races. In fact he has only 4 Juniors level races. They were good races though as he has a 7th, 4th, 3rd, and 19th. Against Juniors he was a decent skier with course time ranks of 28, 17, 16, and 66. He hasn’t yet had great consistent racing on the IBU level. At the end of the year he got a career high of 28th but only one other top 40 finish. Ski ranks were all below 50th. Shooting was good though with 9 of 13 races having a shooting percentage of 85% or greater. Big thing for Andersson is to go get more racing and keep improving on the skis. If he doesn’t improve at all shooting he’ll still be a top shooter for the Swedes.

One thought on “Sweden Team Preview

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