General Thoughts from Kontiolahti
1)Racing is back! This isn’t a long one but its the most important one. We had racing again. Finally the last several months of speculation and wondering who would make “the leap,” who would regress, who would compete…it’s all racing now. I love it.
2) Women’s Overall Crystal Globe Race – Yes, I mentioned this in Part 1. I reread it and I think I gave it short shrift. This race is shaping up to be so much fun!!! The men you can already narrow down to a select few including QFM even with his slow first weekend. The women though have a large list who could to it.
I want to start this again by saying yes, Elvira Oeberg is the favorite. She was #2 overall last season and was decently in contention until the last weekend even with Roeiseland having a really great season. With Justine Braisaz-Buchet on maternity leave Elvira is the fastest woman in the world end stop. If she shoots decent, not even perfect, she’s in contention for the win. Just look at the pursuit. She pulled herself back from 12th and only perfect shooting from Julia Simon and Dorothea Wiere kept her from the win. Elvira Oeberg is the best all around biathlete currently active. If/when Tiril Eckhoff and Marte Olsbu Roeiseland come back we might revisit that statement. However with the news this week that Roeiseland won’t be back until January, and relatively little info at all on Eckhoff who knows when that might be.
After Elvira though there are still so many women who can compete for the overall crown. Let’s say this again, if Elvira shoots 87% or better its over unless somebody else has an out of this world year. Last year Elvira shot 85% just for perspective. Okay, who else can compete?
Lisa Vittozzi: Did she cure her shooting woes? If this weekend was anything to go by she sure has. She was definitely showing better shooting during the summer biathlon races. Those are a little low key so you never want to get to high or too low about those. But to back it up with a full weekend of racing in Kontiolahti is certainly a good sign. So far she is shooting 92% prone and 96% standing. Yes that unsustainable. However it’s a good indication of an improved shooting performance. Also important, she was the 6th overall skier in terms of time lost to #1 (Elvira) per km this weekend. She’s never ranked that high in her life. So yeah, right now Lisa Vittozzi is wearing the Yellow Jersey and a clear competitor for the Overall Crystal Globe.
Julia Simon: This is a bit of the same story as above. Simon is traditionally a fast skier with fast yet inconsistent shooting. Last year she had her best sustained stretch of good shooting of her career. However she started with such a rough beginning that she still only finished 12th overall, not quite her best ever. Right now she is the 5th overall skier in terms of time lost per km and she is shooting 94% overall. A part of that is shooting a ridiculous 100% prone. She of course won’t keep that up. And she has gone on runs like this before. We’re always just waiting for a long run of good shooting to become permanent. Also she’s starting off well so she isn’t digging a hole this year like past seasons. She’s off to a good start and is in the hunt.
Hanna Oeberg: RJ’s pick as an underdog to compete for the Crystal Globe has a lot of merit. The only woman who seemed to be able to compete with Elvira on the skis this weekend was her sister. The two had exactly the same hit rate going 42 for 50 on the weekend. The difference was Hanna had a great race where she shot 19/20 and got the win while Elvira did not. I would definitely still have Elvira ahead of Hanna in my list of favorites but Hanna absolutely has the potential to dethrone her sister and win the first Overall Crystal Globe for Team Oeberg.
Lisa Theresa Hauser: You didn’t really think I was going to forget her did you? She showed in the Sprint race why you have to take her seriously. Not her best race format and yet she won by 17 seconds. Clean shooting covers a lot of ills and nobody is going to confuse Lisa Hauser with the Oeberg sisters. However, Hauser never gets enough credit for her ski form as she has been top 25 overall in skiing the last two seasons. She also admittedly did not have the greatest training so while she currently ranks 21st in skiing right now you can expect that to get better. She is traditionally one of the cleanest and quicker shooters on the tour. The last two seasons she has put herself in contention week in and week out so you have to take her seriously. She can do absolutely do this.
Ingrid Landmark Tandrevold: Coming in to the season there were significant questions surrounding the Norwegian women. Mainly, what the heck is going on? Eckhoff had a rough summer. Roeiseland announces right before the season that she isn’t ready to go and has since extended her absence until after the holidays. Tandrevold missed the preseason races in Norway due to illness. After week 1 in Kontiolahti though, Tandrevold looks ready to take control of the team. No she doesn’t look like Eckhoff or Roeiseland from the last two seasons but she’s competing. While not nearly as fast as those two, don’t let anybody fool you, Tandrevold is a good skier ranking top 15 each of the last four years. Right now she is sitting at 8th overall, a very good sign. An even better sign is her 92% shooting after week 1. Her prior career best is 87%. Can you win the overall crystal globe shooting 92% and with the 8th best overall skiing? That’s basically what Marte Roeiseland did last year so the answer would be an absolute yes.
You also can’t rule out the following:
– Dorothea Wierer: I tend to think she is a little bit too much past her peak to be able to do it for a full season.
– Marketa Davidova: Hasn’t yet shown the ability to string together high level performances. Her summer was terrific. And her stats so far are very encouraging with 9th best ski time and 90% overall shooting. However she needs to put it together for a couple of consecutive weeks for me to believe.
– Vanessa Voigt: She absolutely has make up of a future star. That future may even come this season as the year progresses. I don’t know that she will be consistent enough to pile up enough points though. Her shooting is literally as good as anybody. And she has top 15 ski potential. Sometimes it seems like she doesn’t trust herself enough on the skis and holds back. Having said that she finished 4th, 11th, and 8th this weekend so perhaps I’m a bit too harsh.
– Could you make an outside case for Denise Herrman-Wick or Linn Persson? Sure but I’m not there yet. Its not impossible though!
That’s a huge list! Yeah, this is going to be fun.
3) North Americans Show Well – I asked RJ a question on the Kontiolahti Podcast this week to see if he thought the North Americans were poised to have their best overall season in years. Of course it was an overreaction question designed to spark a conversation but I thought his answer was really good. He said basically no, this season itself won’t be the greatest, but it looks like the North Americans are starting to build towards something really special maybe in time for 2026.
Let’s start with Canada. And with Team Canada what else can you say about Emma “Thunder Lunds” Lunde except “Wow!” That was a hell of a performance this weekend. You really just need to know that she set a personal best with 4th in the Sprint race, and followed that up with a 5th in Pursuit that ALSO would have been her career best. Heck, she finished 20th in the Individual race which was a solid race by itself. We know that Emma Lunder is a really really fast shooter. Last season she averaged 26 seconds per shooting and so far this season she hasn’t dipped much at all averaging 27.1 seconds per shooting. Of course when you shoot that fast if you shoot well you’re going to have a chance.
Where Lunder impressed me was her skiing. In the Pursuit she had the 19th best course time which is the 2nd best of her career. You don’t need to look at the numbers though, just watch the race. Every single lap she was going head to head with women who are usually far faster than her. Lunder showed incredible grit and tenacity and didn’t lose any time on the course until the last lap. This was a Grade A weekend.
Also don’t sleep on Adam Runnals’ performance. He finished 19th in the Sprint which was by far his best performance. As with Lunder, fast sharp shooting was key. He was 9/10 and averaged less than 24 seconds per shooting! He was 30th on the course which was easily his best ever performance. It is just one weekend but Adam Runnals showing signs of a very very solid season coming.
We can’t ignore Team USA either! While the finishes weren’t as high and flashy as Emma Lunder, there were more of them. For the women Deedra Irwin scored a 25th in the Individual. In the Sprint she and Joanne Reid went 36th and 31st respectively. And don’t lose track of Chloe Levins qualifying for the Pursuit in just her 4th career race. For the American men, Sean Doherty had a very solid weekend finishing 20th in the Sprint and 24th in Pursuit. Jake Brown didn’t have a great Sprint but 20th in Pursuit. In isolated Pursuit time Jake Brown had the 13th best time!
Okay that’s a lot but bear with me…because there is more! Pascale Paradis, while on the IBU Cup, actually had the most exciting weekend to me. If you aren’t familiar with her yet, you will be because I’m going to be talking A LOT about her. This weekend Paradis competed in her first 4 IBU Cup races and went 16, 24, 18, and 26. She averaged 85% shooting which is solid if not spectacular. Her ski ranks were 26, 24, 30, and 35.
So why am I so excited about what look like good but not amazing racing? Because she is 20 years old. North Americans just don’t have young talents like this. I might go so far as to say that she is better at a younger age and with less experience than any recent North American biathlete I remember. She has a chance to be really really good. I cannot wait to see the rest of this season!
4) Team Germany – I loved what I saw this weekend from Team Germany. Again, on the podcast, I asked RJ if they had the best combined men’s and women’s team. Definitely an over reaction but their performances this weekend deserved it. They had multiple athletes in the top 10 in every race but the Women’s Pursuit. The Germans had two podiums, six top 5’s, and 12 top 10s. They also scored 2nd in both relay races and looked solid in doing so.
Before the season my biggest concern with Germans, particularly the men, was that there were lots of really good athletes, but a lack of top level athletes. You saw that again this weekend with Germans regularly putting 4-5 in the top 20 but struggling to break the top 5 except for Rees. For the women it looked like only Vanessa Voigt, Denise Herrman-Wick and maybe Franziska Preuss could compete for a win. So the most optimistic thing I saw was that there were young athletes that showed potential to win races. Vanessa Voigt, David Zobel, and Sophia Schneider all looked like they will be able to compete for wins over the next several years. And Voigt will be able to compete for overall crystal globes.
On the IBU Cup level young German women like Selina Grotian and Janina Hettich-Walz flashed their potential as well. Grotian is one of the most anticipated young athletes regardless of country and she got her first IBU Cup win in just her 4th ever race. Hettich-Walz at age 26 has been around for a few more years but last weekend she finished no worse than 10th including a win and second place finish. While I agree with RJ completely that the Germans aren’t the best overall team, especially because the men. Very good weekend for Germany!
5) Diversity – I mentioned this when discussing the Men’s Relay race but this weekend we saw a wide variety of nations represented on top 10-20 boards. Every weekend it seemed like there was a nontraditional country popping up. If you want to see me happy find me after a race like the Men’s Relay. Below is a brief listing of nontraditional nations that were represented this weekend. For the purposes of this list I’m giving credit to nations like Switzerland for podium finishes but not top 10s because podiums have been quite hard to come by. It’s completely subjective but its my list so deal with it!
2) Switzerland: Niklas Hartweg – Men’s Individual
4) Canada: Emma Lunder – Women’s Sprint
5) Canada: Emma Lunder – Women’s Pursuit
8) Lithuania: Vytautus Strolia – Men’s Individual
8) Slovakia: Paulina Fialkova-Batovska – Women’s Individual
10) Belgium: Lotte Lie – Women’s Individual
11) Lithunia: Vytautus Strolia – Men’s Pursuit
14) Belgium: Florent Claude – Men’s Pursuit
19) Slovenia: Polona Klemencic – Women’s Individual
19) Canada: Adam Runnals – Men’s Sprint
20) USA: Sean Doherty – Men’s Pursuit
22) Bulgaria: Vladimir Iliev – Men’s Individual
Career Bests (or close!) – We saw a large number of personal bests this week. This is just a quick and completely not comprehensive list! Some of these we’ve mentioned before so we’ll be brief.
Niklas Hartweg – Finished 2nd in the Individual (and 16th in the Pursuit!). Prior best was 17th.
David Zobel – Last year in Oslo David Zobel flashed his potential and gave everybody a reason to be excited for this year. He looked like a guy who could compete for a top 10 overall place which is something German biathlon desperately desires especially with the recent string of high profile retirements. Well Zobel picked up right where he left off! Right off the bat he grabbed 3rd place in the Individual and backed that up with a 9th and an 8th. Prior to this year his career best was 8th. Yeah I would say this was a really good open to the year.
His skiing appears to have made a solid leap. Last year he was primarily in the 20s-30s in terms of course time ranks. This weekend he was in the teens. It also helps when you hit 47 of 50 shots. This was a really really good weekend. No he probably won’t shoot like that but the ski times were very encouraging that he could compete for top 10s all season long.
Roman Rees – Yet another German man! (Remember how I said this was a good weekend for the Germans?). Well Rees didn’t quite set a career best, he only matched it when he finished 3rd in the Sprint. However he had clearly the best overall weekend of his career, pairing that 3rd place finish along with a 4th in the Individual and 5th in the Pursuit. After this weekend Rees has 7 career top 5’s and 3 of them occurred in Kontiolahti. He ends the weekend in 3rd overall in the rankings!
Can he keep that up? Eh probably not. He had top 10 skiing which was the best of his career. That might be sustainable. However shooting the lights out 47 of 50 like David Zobel is probably not going to continue. However can he compete for a top 10 overall placement like Zobel? Sure why not!
Emma Lunder – Finished 4th in the Sprint and 5th in the Pursuit. Prior best was 6th.
Carolina Colombo – She’s 26 years old and nobody mentions her as a hot young name. Yet there she was with a very solid weekend ending with a career best 6th place finish in the Pursuit. Her best prior finish was 15th in a Sprint three years ago. Before that though she had two 24th place finishes. Those don’t sound amazing but those were tied as her 6th best finishes of her career before her 6th place. Her skiing was phenomenal, with course time ranks of 13th, 14th, and 12th. Those are all three the best of her career. It very well could be the start of a breakthrough season.
Sophia Schneider – Only 4 prior career races but she 8th in the Sprint, 11th in the Individual, and 23rd in the Pursuit. Prior best was 52nd. Schneider is fascinating because she is showing ski speed that she’s never shown at any prior level of racing. She had a two top 10 course ranks this weekend and has only ever had one on the IBU Cup level. This wasn’t just a really lucky shooting weekend. She shot 90% for those two very high finishes which is good but not like she went 100%.
Anna Weidel – Anna Weidel score her first ever top 5 with a 5th place finish in the Sprint. Her prior best was 9th in the Individual race from Ostersund last season. Her course time ranks of 28th and 34th in the Sprint and Pursuit were the 2nd and 3rd best of her career.
Lotte Lie – I am never going to hide the fact that I’m a Lotte Lie fan. I love watching biathletes from under represented nations have success and I have loved watching her progress the last few years. With her 10th place finish in the Individual Lotte Lie not only set a career high but she also set a best finish ever for a Belgian woman. By now we know how Lotte Lie succeeds. She is the best shooter on the World Cup and if she can match that with good skiing she will perform. I’m hopeful this is the start of a terrific season!
Olli Hiidensalo – Olli is 31 years old, he has 113 career World Cup level races. You might expect that we’ve seen the best we’re going to see from him but you would be wrong! In the Individual Hiidensalo performed extremely well for the Finnish fans placing 11th to tie his career high.
Justus Strelow – Strelow only had a handful of career races prior to this season, but in Kontiolahti he had a 13th, and two 17th place finishes. The 13th tied for the best of his career and 17th were the 3rd and 4th best finishes. Lets see how he is able to continue through the year but right now looks like yet another of a solid but not spectacular Germans.
Suvi Minkinnen – Preseason Suvi Minkinnen was one of my choices for a breakthrough season. Last year she made a significant improvement in her shooting. She was skiing very slowly which indicates a pretty obvious way to improve. Well right off the bat we see a new personal best! Minkinnen placed 15th in the Pursuit this weekend beating out her prior best of 19th. Not surprisingly she had the best skiing of her career! I’m cautiously optimistic that this is going to work out.
Polona Klemencic – The current Slovenian leader quietly had a very solid weekend. Her 19th place in the Individual and 21st in the Sprint solidly beat out her previous best of 29th from the Individual at the Beijing Winter Olympics. Honestly the Slovenians are looking like they may be building a solid team. Klemencic had by far her best skiing of her career while shooting no better than any prior point in her career. Very encouraging and it may set Klemencic up for a career year.
Rebecca Passler – Like Sophia Schneider she came into the season with very few WC races under her belt. However she absolutely blew her prior performances out of the water. Her previous best was 97th. This weekend she finished 17th in Sprint and 21st in Pursuit. Great weekend and lets hope she can keep it up!
Samuela Comola – We’ll finish up with another Italian, Samuela Comola. She was another one that I really liked coming into this season. She didn’t start off quite where I was hoping to see her but she did have a career best 20th place finish in the Pursuit. Her skiing didn’t quite improve as much as I had hoped but it was around where it was at the end of last season.
IBU Cup Week 1 Check In
This season I want to do some quick check ins on the IBU Cup this season. Nothing too deep but just a few athletes who performed well.
Marthe Krakstad Johansen – The 23 year old started out the season with two wins, an 6th and an 8th. We talked about the Norwegian women building a new generation of women to compete at the top. Well Johansen could be a part of that. She combines solid skiing with exceptional shooting. Think of her as a developing Marte Olsbu Roeiseland. The Norwegians came into the season with a set roster for the first two weekends. I would bet that we see her in Annecy though.
Janina Hettich-Walz – I already mentioned her when talking about the Germans but its worth mentioning again. She’s only 26 so she still has a future ahead of her. This weekend she went 2nd, 5th, 1st, and 10th. Yes it was the IBU Cup but that’s what you want to see out of somebody who is supposed to be competing on the World Cup. I don’t think the door is closed on a successful future for Janina Hettich-Walz on the World Cup level.
Norwegian men – The Norwegian men flexed their collective muscles this weekend in impressive fashion. They won every race including sweeping the top FOUR of the Pursuit. In 4 races this weekend there were a total of 40 top 10 slots. The Norwegian men took 17 of them. I mean this is getting a little out of hand. Pick a name: Uldal, Overby, Stromesheim, Aspenes, AF Andersen, Nevland they all had success this weekend.
Slovenian Women – Are we looking at the dawn of a new era in Slovenian biathlon? Its certainly possible. We already mentioned Polona Klemencic having a career best weekend. Well on the IBU Cup we saw the much hyped debut of Anamarija Lampic. She had mixed success. The skiing was absolutely amazing and helped her overcome some mediocre shooting. She had 4 misses in the first Sprint and STILL had a 6th. She followed that with a 15th, 32nd, and 18th. She had 22 misses in those 4 races which is obviously not good. But the potential is there!
Then you had Lena Repinc who finished 4th, 11th, and 21st. She’s just 19 years old this season so this is a very bright start on the IBU Cup for Repinc. The skiing is there with top 20 course ranks every race. She’s very young so if she continues to develop there and she straightens out the shooting a touch she could be really really good.
Austrian Successes – Team Austria quietly had a very good opening weekend on the IBU Cup. Kristina Oberthaler, Tamara Steiner, Anna Gandler all had top 10’s for the women. 21 year old Anna Gandler got better every race finishing 12th, 10th, 7th, and 5th. The ski ranks were by far the best of her career. None of those women are “old” but Gandler at just 21, and showing that speed, has me very excited for the rest of the season. I will be honest I’ve been high on Gandler’s potential all summer so maybe I’m jumping the gun but seriously gives me hope for Austria’s future.
Not to be left out, the men had some decent racing as well. Lucas Pitzer and Dominic Unterweger had top 10’s, peaking with Pitzer’s 5th place. Pitzer also had a 12th for good measure. Those two are still in their early 20’s. Pitzer especially has chance to keep improving.
Arttu Heikenen: One of my favorites discoveries from my preseason previews project Arttu Heikenen appears to be the real deal. Just 18 years old he had only two prior IBU Cup races. This weekend he went 9th, 16th, 6th, and 15th. If he keeps racing like that he’s going to be on the World Cup at a very young age. Definitely a bright hope for the Finnish fans. If he and Otto Invenius can come along sooner rather than later, combining that with Tero Seppala could be fun.