Week 2 of IBU World Cup Biathlon is in the books! While the sprint races started off looking a little warm and snow a little crusty the weekend brought snow and really dynamic racing. As I have said on many platforms by this point I didn’t watch the weekend races live. Instead I watched on replay on the old iPad while sitting next to an enormous fire with a beautiful Christmas tree up. Honestly with the racing in Austria and that environment for me personally it just felt like December. Now let me grab another cup of hot coco and lets jump into a review of the week!
Women’s Athlete of the Week: Julia Simon – This season in the women’s overall race we had expectations of one of a few things. 1) That Elvira Öberg might dominate. 2) If not then one of the recent Norwegian champs would rise again to claim the crown. Well the Norwegians aren’t here and Elvira hasn’t yet shown her peak form. In the meantime Julia Simon has risen to the top of the world currently claiming the yellow jersey. And if she continues to race like she did this weekend it might not be just a one weekend ordeal.
She started out the week well under the radar in the Sprint. Hermann-Wick won the race and Lampič won the headlines. Julia Simon just cruised in to a third place finish without a wildly flashy race. She was 9/10 which is solid shooting (more on this later), and had the 9th best course time which is good but not near where she has shown she can be. Of course if you look at her time back it looks preposterous. She was 50 seconds back from Lampič. We’ll just have to get used to those sorts of insane deficits and readjust. She was 24 seconds back of Elvira which isn’t outrageous. She was just under 8 seconds back of Davidova (which goes to show how great Davidova skied). Last year Simon finished 15th overall in skiing so a very solid all around day in the Sprint
Of course the Pursuit was even better. She started out 24 seconds back of Herrmann-Wick. She was perfect 10/10 in the prone shooting. This allowed her to take advantage of Herrmann-Wick’s miss on the second shooting and leap up to first alongside Davidova. While Simon was joined briefly by Linn Persson for lap 4, she had a perfect 5/5 shooting with the race on the line. That last shooting was in 20.8 seconds, the 2nd fastest of anybody for any shooting on the day. By the end of the race she was able to cruise to a well deserved victory and solidify her hold on the Yellow Jersey.
However neither of those were, I believe, her best performance of the weekend. The French women pulled off an upset and defeated the Swedish women in the relay. (The Swedes are so deep and talented that every time they don’t win will be an upset!). The relay was tight the entire way and came down to Julia Simon and Elvira Öberg standing on the range for the last shooting. It was a winner take all matchup. Simon knew that even if they both shot clean that Elvira would have the advantage on the skis so she had to shoot clean AND fast. She went 5/5 in just 18.2 seconds. It was unbelievable. On the podcast I described it as an ultimate alpha move. Just an incredible moment. I love Simon’s fearlessness in those moments. Let’s hope it keeps rolling.
Men’s Athlete of the Week: JT Bø – If he keeps this up and I’m just going to start selecting other people to talk about to make it more fun for you and me. For now though let’s celebrate another amazing week by JT Bø. I joked on the podcast that his only challenge at the moment is that he seems to win by increasing margins. This week he won the Sprint by 43 seconds and the Pursuit by 47 seconds. When he handed off the relay to Christiansen he had taken a nonexistent lead and turned it into a 1:06 lead.
JT Bø is as fast or faster than ever. This coming off of two seasons where it appeared that the field was gaining on him from a speed perspective. In the Sprint he was faster than Jacquelin and Dale by 29.2 seconds. There were 12 guys in the next 30 seconds. In the Pursuit he was only the fastest time by .5 seconds. That’s actually still remarkable because he didn’t really race the last lap. He lost 34 seconds to Samuelsson on that lap. He had just amassed such an enormous lead he could relax. And yet he still had the fastest course time on the day.
Add to that he went 38/40 on the range this weekend and JT Bø was the really unchallenged king of Norway. A remarkable performance. It maybe didn’t lead thrilling television or the best competitions but sometimes when one of the all time greats wants to flex his muscles and show us how great he is we just need to acknowledge it and appreciate what we are seeing. This is one of those times.
Women’s Young Athlete of the Week: Elvira Öberg – Let’s be honest, this season is not starting off the way Elvira Öberg wanted it to. With the steady improvements Elvira had made the last two seasons and her tendency to start each season off strong, there was a sense that with Eckhoff and Roeiseland out that she could grab ahold of this season early and not let go. Well that hasn’t happened yet. She’s in 6th place overall and 90 points back of Yellow Jersey Julia Simon. So what’s going on? And why does she still get the best young athlete of the week then?
Let’s start with the positives: She’s actually not racing poorly. Her speed is still very good. remove Lampič from the picture and she’s faster than everybody else by a decent margin. The results are improving as well. After going 9th and 12th in the first two races she rebounded with a 3rd place in the Pursuit in Kontiolahti. That 3rd place was a very good performance. This week she followed up with two 4th place finishes (which is the answer to the second question…by far the best of the u25 women).
What’s holding her back? It’s twofold. Her shooting actually isn’t bad. She’s shooting 85% exactly which is just 0.26% lower than last season. Her first two races she shot 24/30 (80%). Since then she is shooting 44/50 (88%). Preseason I would have said anything over 87% is her win zone for the crystal globe. She’s getting there now. So far she’s shooting a touch better in Pursuits than the Sprints which is likely meaningless at this point. Really her problem is just that so many other women are racing so well. My honest thought is if she keeps going what she has since the Kontiolahti Pursuit the wins are going to come, maybe as soon as this weekend.
Men’s Young Athlete of the Week: Sturla Holm Lægreid – The poor man is having a great season and being absolutely overshadowed by JT Bø. In five races this year he’s never finished worse than 6th. That includes two more podium finishes this weekend. In the overall standings he’s the only man within 100 points of JT Bø. That’s a really good start to the season!
So far he’s been skiing at a very high level. His course time ranks are 3, 3, 6, 5, and 11. That 11th almost isn’t fair because he slowed down A LOT in the last lap. He was 47 seconds back of JT Bø and had a 26 second lead on Emilien Jacquelin so not exactly a competitive position. If he had needed to, that would have easily been another top 6 course time rank. He also hasn’t shown below 90% in a single race yet this season.
How do you do well at biathlon? You ski well and you shoot well. Well that’s exactly what Lægreid is doing. He’s just not being noticed because JT Bø is casting an enormous shadow right now. It’s a long season though and if JT Bø has any slip ups on the range Lægreid could steal a couple of wins. With the more dynamic scoring system he could be right back in this race in no time at all.
Women’s Race of the Week: Sprint – Was the Sprint really the most exciting race? Or was it just the most memorable? Probably the latter. I actually would argue that both the Pursuit and the Women’s Relay were much better pure biathlon races than the Sprint. However years from now when we think back on this weekend (if we do) we’ll remember the Sprint. Why? One reason: Anamarija Lampič.
Lampič made her World Cup debut in the Sprint after one whole weekend on the IBU Cup. And what a debut it was. Lampič looked like she was a different breed or athlete. On the podcast I said it was like somebody put an alien on the course. Maybe that wasn’t quite right. But it was definitely like she was racing with a different set of rules. It was wild.
Lampič comes out flying. By the 1.1km mark she is 8 seconds faster than Eder and 9 seconds up on Hanna Öberg. Less than a kilometer later she’s pushed that to 13 seconds on Eder and 15 seconds on Hanna Öberg. She gets to the range 16 seconds faster than Elvira Öberg who was by that point the second fastest. To this point we were all thrilled by the speed but everybody watching expected her to be fast. We also all expected the range to be an adventure.
Except it wasn’t. She went 5/5 prone and off on the course. I have to admit (and I can’t believe I was the only one) I was stunned. I never expected to see her shoot clean. I thought the shooting would take a long time to get straight. Now suddenly I had to face the possibility that Lampič might compete for a win on his very first race. How was this possible?
We all know what happened next. She had a blazing second lap and got to the range the second time with a 23 second lead over 2nd place Marketa Davidova. And then of course Lampič had three misses. Her standing shooting left a bit to be desired. She was a little shaky both literally and figuratively. This of course torpedoed her chance at winning. She ended up 5th which is still crazy. It’s crazy that she was 5th in her first race. It’s crazy that she was 5th with 3 misses. Everything about it is insane. She ends up 27 seconds faster than Elvira Öberg and 42 seconds faster than Davidova.
And that’s why people will remember this race. Not because Denise Herrmann-Wick continued what has a been a great calendar year 2022, gaining her 3rd win of the year and 10th overall. Not a terrific podium that also included Davidova and Julia Simon. For better or for worse this race all about Lampič.
Men’s Race of the week: Relay – The relay race wins this award by default. It was the only race with any drama at all…and there wasn’t very much drama. The first two legs of the race were fairly fun. The Italians led by young men Didier Bionaz and Tommaso Giacommel were going head to head with the big teams like Norway, Sweden, France, and Germany. Even Switzerland was hanging with them for a bit.
After the second exchange though JT Bø was on the course for Norway, and JT Bø doesn’t like drama. He took Norway from a virtual tie to a 1:06 lead on his leg. It was such a massive lead that even Christiansen taking a penalty loop on the last shooting couldn’t make it competitive. After the race he even said that the lead was too big and he had too much time and no pressure. I sort of believe him actually. In every big time, high pressure shooting for Norway’s relay team over the last year he’s come up clutch. He thrives on the moment. Now there was no pressure and he relaxed too much. Not enough focus.
The rest of the relay was a nice battle for the podium with Sweden scoring a solid 2nd place finish and Germany salvaging an otherwise unspectacular weekend with a 3rd place. France came in 4th after an uninspiring last leg by Quinton Fillon Maillet. More on that tomorrow. I also want to get Finland some praise for just having a solid race and getting 5th. It wasn’t a tremendous race but they just kept plugging away and ended up with a solid finish.
Overall Crystal Globe Race Update:
Through two weeks we’ve now had three different women in the yellow jersey. Julia Simon looks determined to stay in it as long as possible. She grabbed the jersey with a very good performance in the Sprint, finishing third. Then she solidified her hold, punctuating the weekend with a win in the Pursuit. Now she gets to go home to France for a weekend in Annecy le Grand Bornand wearing leading the pack!
However, Simon’s lead is far from secure. Even with the dynamic scoring system and the higher points for wins the women’s field remains tightly bunched. Right now there are seven women, including Simon, within 100 points of the lead and 11 women within 160 points. At this early stage of the game I don’t think you can rule out any of them. Part of that is because none of the women have showed a dominance like JT Bø has for the men. There remains an argument that a path remains for each of these women to compete for the overall.
If you were to ask me to rank the 11 in terms of potential to win the overall I would probably go in this order. I actually wasn’t planning on doing this so the order below is just pure gut instinct.
1) Elvira Öberg– Still the most talent and we’ve seen it from her for an entire season already. A couple of wins and she might be right back at the top
2) Julia Simon – She looks really solid. More on her and her shooting tomorrow
3) Ingrid Landmark Tandrevold – I’ve always liked her. I love watching her this season. Also so do the rest of the women too. I love this photo of Simon and Davidova checking on her.
4) Hanna Öberg – Like Elvira but obviously not as good. We have more time seeing Hanna at a high level.
5) Marketa Davidova – Overall very solid performances this season so far.
6) Denise Herrmann-Wick – She’s been top 5 in the 2022 calendar year if not top 3
7) Lisa Hauser – Already has one win this year. Should get better over the next month
8) Vanessa Voigt – Peaked later last year and is racing better this year than last. Could have a higher longer peak this year.
9) Lisa Vittozzi – Was last weekend a beautiful mirage or was this weekend a hiccup? We’ll know soon.
10) Linn Persson – I don’t want to take anything away from Persson at all. She’s a lot of fun to watch. The last two years she’s better than I ever thought she could be I think she can be even better. A solid top 7-10 overall. I just don’t know if she’s #1 overall
11) Doro Wierer – Classic formerly great athlete on the backside of the career. Any single race she can be as good as she ever was. Probably just can’t that up though.
Two weeks in and it feels like we should retire this segment! JT Bø has four wins in five races this season. There are 21 total races so we are roughly 25% of the way through the season and he already has a 64 point lead on Lægreid in 2nd. He’s 136 points up on Jacquelin in 3rd. That’s a very large lead at this stage of the game.
The crazy thing to consider is that the only reason the race is that “close” is because Lægreid and Jacquelin are consistently getting 2nd and 3rd place points to stay in contact. After them: Sebbe Samuelsson is 190 points back, Ponsi 195 back, and Hartweg 200 points back. Rees and QFM are 218 and 219 points back.
I think we’re still waiting to see what a full season of this new scoring system looks like but these gaps are really starting to open up. At this point I would say unless Bø is injured (God please I hope not) or takes a weekend off, the true list of contenders ends at QFM. Rees and Hartweg probably shouldn’t be counted but I since I don’t want to count out Quinton Fillon Maillet I’ll keep them in the mix as well. 200 points sounds like a ton but it’s just four races of QFM winning with JT Bø worse than 5th. Not impossible at all as we saw last season. Doesn’t look likely now but it’s a long year. On the other hand I just don’t know how Christiansen for example would make up you make up 260 or so points.
Okay that will do it for now. Part 2 tomorrow!