It’s time for one my favorite exercises of the first trimester…celebrating biathletes in the midst of breakthrough seasons! There is almost nothing in biathlon that I love more than watching athletes reach new levels of success. Sometimes it is finally reaching potential that was seen in Juniors/IBU Cup. Sometimes it is the result of putting in a really hard summer to push to a new level. And sometimes it is the culmination of work that has been years and years in the making. For us as fans, each of these is so much fun to see!
I had meant to write an article before before the season started of my candidates for breakthrough biathletes of the year. I ran out of time but for posterity I wanted to make sure that I had those listed here for anybody to see. I got some right. I missed on some others.
– Niklas Hartweg
– FF Andersen
– Felix Leitner
– Alex Cisar
– David Zobel
– Anna Magnusson
– Ida Lien
– Samuela Comola
– Chloe Chevalier
– Suvi Minkinnen
As you already noted just from a quick review of that list there were some hits and some misses. What is amazing though is that there are a huge number of athletes who are having career best seasons right now. Some amazing improvements have been made. Now part of this is that we had so many retirements last season. Some of it is that there are no Russian and Belarussian athletes competing. You take away all of those athletes and you’ll see people rise up the rankings for no other reason. I tried to correct for that. Even still we’re seeing a very large number of athletes having great starts to the year!
Before we get started the most important thing I want to point out is that there are different levels of breakthroughs. Sometimes it is an athlete who shoots up to the top. Sometimes it’s an athlete who goes from middle of the pack to borderline contention. Or maybe it’s an athlete who just starts scoring points for the first time on a regular basis. These are all breakthroughs worthy of being celebrated. I will mention a handful here that I’ve really enjoyed watching. If there is anybody that you want to shout out please comment below or send me a note on Twitter/Instagram!
Career Best Seasons To Date: These athletes are having true breakthrough seasons. The have shown consistent improvement the entire season long.
Julia Simon (France)
|Career Best Rank||8|
|Total Career Races||113|
|Key Stat||Prone Shooting Percent: 98.5%|
Julia Simon is one of the the stories of the early season. She has been known as fast shooter with a gritty style. When she shoots well she has always been able to go toe to toe with the best of the world and win. The problem has been that she couldn’t shoot cleanly for any sort of prolonged period of time. Prior to this season her best shooting percentage for an entire year has been 81.5% last year. During the last 2/3 of last season though you could see things coming together. All of a sudden she wasn’t having as many of the really bad days, and she was having more really good days. What was a poor shooting fast skier became a fast skier who was actually an average to above average shooter.
This season that has completely changed. She’s not an average shooter. She’s not even an above average shooter. She is shooting 90.8% and is ranked #8 overall in shooting. She had a greatly celebrated start to the year in prone shooting with her first prone misses coming in the last races in Annecy. Even still she is shooting 98.5% prone. Yes this is just 130 shots overall this season but that’s by far the best shooting of her career. This isn’t just another step forward from last year, this is a giant leap from last year.
Now can she keep this up? That is the question. I have argued that she can keep up very good shooting. I’m not sure she’s yet an 90+% shooter for a full season, but honestly if she were to end the season at like 87-88% I wouldn’t be surprised. That’s exactly what she did for the 2nd half of last year. From Annecy-le Grand Bornand 2021 through the end of this most recent weekend she is shooting 86.1! She’s already in the #1 position. Even a regression to her new mean of 86.1% would be enough to compete for the overall Globe this year.
Ingrid Landmark Tandrevold (Norway)
|Career Best Rank||7|
|Total Career Races||125|
|Key Stat||Shooting Rank: 40|
Okay, this makes it seems like we are off to a weird start. Tandrevold’s best career overall finish is 7th and she’s 5th. How on Earth is that a breakthrough? Well this is a breakthrough of a completely different type. With the absence (not retirements!) of Tiril Eckhoff and Marte Olsbu Roeiseland, Ingrid Landmark Tandrevold was thrust into the role of the leading lady for the Norwegian women this season after a few years. It wasn’t just that the team leaders suddenly weren’t there, these were the two most recent Overall Crystal Globe leaders. This left a gaping hole at the top of the Norwegian rosters and a massive increase in pressure riding on Tandrevold’s shoulders. Not just that though but Tandrevold has seemingly plateaued the last few seasons, unable to break through a ceiling in the lower half of the top 10. (That’s an excellent ceiling to have by the way…).
Needless to say this season Tandrevold came into the year with a massive amount riding on her shoulders. She missed the Norwegian trials before the season due to illness casting doubt on her ability to lead the team and match the hopes and expectations of the Norwegian fans. If you’re a Norwegian fan then worry no more! Tandrevold has more than risen to the occasion. She is currently in 5th overall less than 50 points back of 2nd.
Looking at her statistics she is back to the best ski form of her career. She has by far the best shooting of her career. She is shooting 90% overall a whopping 3% better than her best career shooting season to date (last year). She’s going that while shooting nearly 2 seconds faster per trip to the range on average. That’s incredible shooting improvement. And on a completely subjective level she is confidently going head to head with the top women of biathlon without fear. Maybe she’s not coming away with the wins yet, but she’s doing everything we could have dreamed of for her. So no maybe this isn’t a huge breakthrough in the overall but its a breakthrough in terms of rising to meet sky high expectations.
Fabien Claude (France)
|Career Best Rank||26|
|Total Career Races||102|
|Key Stat||Shooting Percentage: 86.9%|
The first of two Claude’s on this list (spoiler alert!) Fabien Claude has taken a fairly dramatic step up this season. Personally I find the leap from the 15-25 range up to the top 10 the most difficult to make. An athlete has to go from being occasionally competitive and consistently solid to being in the top 10 basically every race. At that point you really need to be performing at the very upper echelons of the sport. It usually requires finding either all world speed, becoming an absolute sharp shooter, or more usually a combination of both.
Over the last few seasons as Fabien Claude has solidified himself in the top 20 for three straight years, he has also shown consistently good talent on the skis. Not coincidentally he’s been top 20 in ski speed each of the last three seasons as well. However his shooting has held him back. Prior to this year his best career shooting percentage has been 80% on the number. This season through eight races he is shooting 86.9%! What an incredible improvement! That includes a prone shooting percentage of 92.3% Last year that would be 7th best prone shooting amongst full time World Cup racers. Add on to that, Claude has taken his already very good skiing and is currently ranked 6th overall this season in ski speed and you can see how Claude has made his breakthrough. He already has 5 top 10’s which matches the most he’s ever had in a season. It seems like only a matter of time before a few podiums and top 5’s show up.
Linn Persson (Sweden)
|Career Best Rank||14|
|Total Career Races||132|
|Key Stat||Shooting Time Rank: 17|
Over the past three seasons Linn Persson has started to show us flashes of the top potential that she has. Last season she proved that she could compete with the best as she earned nine top 10s, by far the most of her career. This included four top 5’s also the most of her career. Amongst those top 5’s were two fourth place finishes in the last two Mass Starts of the season, notably beating out Elvira Oeberg down the stretch in Oslo. She also had a 5th place in the Pursuit at the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympic Games showing she can do it on the biggest stage. This season she’s raised her game even further.
As the 2022-2023 season started the Swedish team was expected to be led by Elvira and Hanna Oeberg. While Elvira Oeberg has been consistently very good, currently ranked 2nd overall, it has actually been Linn Persson filling in the 2nd role on the team. She’s done it without making significant improvements in her speed which is about where it has been the last few years. Her shooting accuracy as well is more a return to form than a breakthrough of sorts. However she has done all of this while cutting an amazing 3 seconds off of her average shooting time. To be able to return to shooting very well, currently at 90% (also the best of her career!) and to be doing it that much faster is an incredible sign of confidence.
Linn Persson already has 5 top 10’s and 2 top 5’s which were both podium finishes. This is already more podiums than she’s ever had in a season and she’s well on her way to breaking her career best for top 5s and top 10s. At this point there is no reason to believe she won’t be able to keep this performance up. She can absolutely compete for a top 5 overall finish. This is really fun to see!
Anna Magnusson (Sweden)
|Career Best Rank||33|
|Total Career Races||99|
|Key Stat||Top 10’s: 3|
Before the season Anna Magnusson was on my list of potential breakthrough candidates so I feel like I should give myself a little pat on the back for at least getting one right. To be honest I came down between Linn Persson and Anna Magnusson and I was concerned that Persson might have capped out a little bit whereas Magnusson had more room for improvement. If you looked back to her IBU Cup statistics she was consistently top 10-20 in course time ranks and was shooting nearly 90% with even prone/standing splits. This was well above where she had thus far performed on the World Cup so it felt like if she just showed on the World Cup what she had on the IBU Cup there would be naturally improvements.
Thank you Anna Magnusson for proving me right! She has seen improvements literally across the board. She has risen up to a career best ski rank of 28th which is about what you would expect her potential to be should she just reach her IBU Cup levels without further improvement. Meanwhile her overall shooting percentage is up to 88.5%. Meanwhile she improved her shooting times to a very good 27.9 seconds per average shooting. That was improved from an average around 31 seconds on both World Cup and IBU Cup previously. The result has been 3 top 10s which is as many as she had in her career total before this season. This of course included the first win of her career!
So do we think she can keep this up…or even improve? I actually think she can do better. On the IBU Cup her standing/prone shooting was evenly split. Right now her prone shooting is 95.4% and standing shooting at 81.5% which is actually a dip from last year. So you might even expect her to have a better 2023 if she can get that standing shooting up higher. She hasn’t yet shown that on the World Cup but let’s be hopeful! The alternative is her prone shooting comes down and her performances suffer but let’s not speak that into existence.
Niklas Hartweg (Switzerland)
|Career Best Rank||74|
|Total Career Races||25|
|Key Stat||Shooting Rank: 3|
At this point I think it goes without saying that Niklas Hartweg has been one of the most popular athletes of the young season. Last week when I asked on Twitter for names of athletes having breakthrough seasons Hartweg was easily one of the most commonly listed names. And for good reason! He came into the season relatively unknown. He had ranked 1st on the Juniors level in 2019-2020. Since then he had one season with 0 points and last year was 74th on the IBU Cup, not exactly lighting the world on fire. However he appeared to have plenty of room to grow coming no where close to his shooting accuracy from the Juniors and well behind his expected ski potential.
This season he seems to have found it! When I predicted big things from him before the season what I was thinking about a future in which he shot extremely accurately and skied well enough to be competitive. This is exactly what we are seeing from him right now. He’s raised his shooting percentage from 80.6% last season to 92.2% this season. His ski rank is up from 88th last year to 24th this season. That’s a combination for solid racing. Here he sits in 13th place with a 2nd and a 5th and no finish worse than 21st. He’s done this without racing the Pursuit or the Mass Start in Annecy even though he did qualify. A top 10 finish isn’t out of the question!
Jesper Nelin (Sweden)
|Career Best Rank||27|
|Total Career Races||120|
|Key Stat||Shooting Percentage 86.9%|
Coming into the season the prevailing sentiment was that the Swedish men had two strong leaders with Sebbe Samuelsson and Martin Ponsiluoma and then a bit of a drop. With Ponsiluoma leading the way in 6th and Sameulsson in 9th, Jesper Nelin as risen up to 14th right now to make it more of a three man team. This would certainly be categorized as unexpected. The 30 year old Swede’s previous best overall finish was 27th in 2020-2021 a year in which he was solid but not spectacular with no top 10s but five top 20s and almost every race in the top 40. This year he’s already had two top 5s (matching his previous career total), and five top 20s. You could argue this is already a career year for Nelin.
Nelin is doing this with great performances all around. Career best skiing certainly helps. But it is the shooting that is making the biggest impact. Prior to this year he never had a single season with shooting better than 80%. Here he is with shooting almost 87%. His shooting ranking is 32nd, which is by far his career best by about 60 places. If he ends up having just average racing the rest of the way it’s going to be a career year for Nelin. Great to see from somebody a little deeper in his career!
Tommaso Giacomel (Italy)
|Career Best Rank||36|
|Total Career Races||41|
|Key Stat||Average Finish: 23rd|
This is already Tommaso Giacomel’s fourth season on the World Cup so sometimes it is hard for me to remember that he’s still only 22 years old. Whenever he comes to mind I think he should be at least 25 or 26 by now. He came in as part of Italy’s very young generation that is starting to realize its potential this season. After having a big breakthrough last year, rising from 73rd in 2020-2021 to 36th last year. This year has been another big jump. I honestly struggled with “is this a breakthrough or just another appropriate step.” It’s vague subjective blurry line. Like FF Andersen for example I would say is just another step towards a good career but I wouldn’t call it a breakthrough though. I wouldn’t argue with you either way though.
For me what made the difference is that week in and week out Tommaso Giacomel is featuring in the races in a way he certainly wasn’t last year. The breakthrough is that it isn’t a surprise for me to see him running in the top 20 whereas last year it was very exciting. As we entre the break Giacomel already has two top 10s (more than his entire career), and four top 20’s (twice as many as his career to date). It’s a level of competitive consistency he’s never been able to have until now. His average finish has improved from 40th to 23rd. He’s gotten himself into the mix.
He’s made improvements to skiing moving up from 48th overall last year to 14th. His shooting speed is one of the fastest on the World Cup. His shooting percentage is up from the mid 70s to almost 80% this year. He’s never been a good shooter at any level so this is already the best shooting of his career, but if he can find even better shooting he might be able to push for a top 10-15 in the next few seasons.
Florent Claude (Belgium)
|Career Best Rank||32|
|Total Career Races||103|
|Key Stat||Shooting Rank: 1st|
I already gave this one away earlier but we certainly can’t ignore the eldest Claude biathlon brother! Florent Claude is 31 years old and racing for a nontraditional country (although having a heck of good season right now…more to come!) so you really don’t expect to see a career best year this late coming. However, it is hard to argue that this isn’t a breakthrough year. You want to argue going from 32 to 19 isn’t a breakthrough fine, but its certainly by far a career best year. And he’s made significant improvements!
First of all he’s skiing faster than he ever has in his life, and he’s shooting faster than ever. It’s actually pretty interesting his skiing has slowly but surely improved almost every year for the last decade. This year was a big jump. Similar story with shooting time where he got his shooting time back down to 31 seconds, the best it has been since it was near 30 seconds in the 2017-2018 season.
This is all ignoring the big story though. Through eight races Florent Claude is the best male shooter on the World Cup. Fine he’s tied with Sturla Holm Laegreid but they are tied together at the top. Claude has always been a solid shooter but this is absolutely the shooting season of his career so far. The coolest thing about it is he’s shooting 92.3% both prone and standing. Always nice to make it even like that. Who knows what happens the rest of the way but it’s awesome to see the Claude family having such a great season.
Sebastian Stalder (Switzerland)
|Career Best Rank||40|
|Total Career Races||31|
|Key Stat||Skiing Rank: 42|
A second Swiss man on the list! It’s really been a solid year all around from the Swiss seeing breakthroughs on the men’s side to go along with the Gasparin sisters having somewhat surprising surges this year and some early good signs from the young Swiss women as well!
For Sebastian Stalder he’s really only had two seasons on the World Cup so this doesn’t sound as impressive, but in Annecy he had three of his top 6 best career finishes going 20, 14, and 8th in the three races of the weekend. Put that together with three other top 25’s and that’s a pretty good start to the year. I added him to my breakthrough list when I saw this though: prior to this season he had just seven top 30’s in 23 career races. This year he has six. Like I said at the top, he isn’t a breakthrough to the top type athlete, but he’s broken through a barrier from middle back or the pack with occasional top 25’s to an athlete who has more consistent top 25’s. That’s great!
Just briefly I mentioned his ski rank as his most important stat. He’s never shown tremendous speed at any level. His best ranking as a Junior was around 20th. Other than that this will likely be the highest ski ranking he’s had on any level. To me at least that takes his potential ceiling to a new level. He’s always been a decent shooter usually in the mid to low 80s. If he can consistently be a top 40, maybe top 30 skier that would be a level I didn’t see coming. Oh yeah, and he’s shooting 91.5% overall this year. That’s pretty good too!
Tuomas Harjula (Finland)
|Career Best Rank||62|
|Total Career Races||35|
|Key Stat||Skiing Rank: 38|
To say Tuomas Harjula was off the radar at the start of the year is an understatement. In my previews I did my best to cover everybody that I thought might figure or be worth watching for every major nation. Here’s what I wrote for Tuomas Harjula “_____.” Yep, nothing. I will admit that I was trying to save time and when exactly 1 point on any level last season I wasn’t exactly enthused. His highest year end finish on any level to this season has been 62nd on the World Cup in 2020-2021 and a 62nd on the Juniors level in 2017-2018. Which makes his current ranking of 28th incredible.
In order to make a leap like that you have to improve across the board which is what Harjul has done. The most amazing leap though has been in his skiing. Last year he ranked 152nd on the World Cup in overall skiing. This season he’s up to 114th. If you aren’t good at math, like me, that’s a 69 place improvement. He’s gone from being on average about 5% slower than the average biathlete to actually just a little bit faster. Shooting and shooting speed are mildly improved as well but nothing like that.
The results are hard to ignore. He’s had four of his best six finishes of his career including his first career top 10. He already has more top 20s, 30s and 40s this season than he previously had in his entire career in each of those categories. He didn’t just breakthrough a wall he smashed it down. He’s a little reminiscent of Tero Seppala from last year. If Seppala could get his act together it would be a really solid 1-2 for the Finns (and 3 if you add Hiidensalo!).
Polona Klemencic (Slovenia)
|Career Best Rank||84|
|Total Career Races||68|
|Key Stat||Total Points: 83|
In a year when so much attention is being paid to Slovenian biathlon, it’s actually not Lampic who I believe is having the most impressive season. Of course Lampic coming right in and being competitive is amazing. But that’s all on the back of her phenomenal cosmic ski speed which we knew she had the capability of doing (maybe not at this level but still!). On the other hand, did anybody believe they would be seeing the name Polona Klemencic this much this season?
Looking back to my read on her from before the season I certainly did not. Prior to this year we had 5 seasons of data on the 25 year old Slovenian leader. Through those 5 season there was not much sign of significant improvement pretty much anywhere. This season through eight races there are signs of improvement pretty much everywhere!
Klemencic is skiing on a completely different level than she has before. Has she been training with Lampic? She is 21st. Her best career prior to this was 82nd last year. Just look at those lines go up! Shes gone from being about 2% slower than average to 2% faster than the average biathlete. Her shooting is significantly improved as well. Klemencic’s shooting percentage is up from 75.6% last season, nearly the best of her career, to 83.6%. That bumps her from 136th to 53rd. We certainly can’t attribute that to Lampic…maybe her new coach Ricco Gross? I don’t know if this is going to continue but wow what an improvement. Whenever Lampic is ready to make the jump full time to the World Cup that’s a really solid 1-2 for Slovenia that I’m not sure they’ve ever had before. And when Lena Repinc is ready look out!
Showing Promise: I don’t know that I would say any of these athletes are having “breakthroughs.” Some are in their first full seasons on the World Cup and having really good and maybe even surprising performances. Others are young talents that we hoped would come along and are proving to us they are capable of reaching out hopes for them by taking another solid step this year. Others are just taking a nice step forward and giving us hope for the future. Regardless I wanted to note them here.
Filip Fjeld Andersen (Norway) – I think a lot of people might argue with me on this one and that’s fair, but this article is almost entirely subjective with some minor stats to prove my point. I don’t have FF Andersen as a breakthrough because in my mind the breakthrough was really trimester 3 of last season. He’s continued on almost the exact same performance levels from the last three weekends of last year almost without any change at all. That’s awesome! I’m super pumped to see it because it means that the 23 year old is going to potentially be a fixture in the top 10 for years to come. (Of course that is unless he has 3 races outside the top 15 and Norway will immediately replace him with a newer and faster model. The depth they have in the lower ranks is insane!). On the other hand if you check out RealBiathlon’s piece on www.realbiathlon.com you’ll see that statistically FF Andersen is in fact one of the most improved this season. So what do I know? I’ll just tell you this, using the eye test alone, this looks less like a breakthrough and more like a guy who is continuing the breakthrough he made last year.
Sophie Chauveau (France) – What an incredible weekend she had in Annecy-le Grand Bornand right? It felt a bit like a fairytale during the Sprint, racing on home snow in front of family and friends. She leaves the range and her standing shooting with a chance to win. She ended up 4th but still got carried off on the shoulders of her teammates. The best part of the story is it didn’t end there with two more top 10’s to finish the weekend! Chauveau has just seven World Cup level races, all of this this season. She’s gotten better as the year goes on definitely peaking in Annecy. That may be her season peak. However she’s shown reason for optimism going forward. She’s 23 years old and is already showing top 10 level ski speed even before getting back to French snow. That’s been her hallmark her whole career so seeing her carry it forward to the biggest stage is great. More importantly she’s shooting better than she ever has before. Julia Simon currently leads the World Cup, but Sophie Chauveau may be a future contender.
Sophia Schneider (Germany) – Sophia Schneider came into the season on an absolute heater. In Kontiolahti she just showed up and got 11th in the Individual and 8th in the Sprint. Prior to that she had just four career World Cup races with no finish higher than 52. Since Kontiolahti she hasn’t been quite as good. Importantly though she hasn’t been bad either. In fact she’s been remarkably consistent and solid. Here are her last six finishes: 23, 23, 24, 28, 24, and 28th. That is almost impossible to be in the same 5 spots every single race is wild. And now she’s ranked 19th overall in her first full season on the World Cup. She’s 25 so she’s definitely not super young anymore but she’s also definitely not at her peak. She’s consistently skiing in the top 25 and she’s shooting better than ever. This might be a mirage but hopefully its a sign of things to come!
Anna Weidel (Germany) – A second straight German woman, Anna Weidel barely qualifies for this level. At 26 I feel like its hard to say she is “young and showing promise.” On the other hand she only has 34 career races so she’s definitely still growing. This year she has a new career high of 5th place in the Kontiolahti Sprint. You want to know something weird about Weidel? Six of her top seven best finishes are in the first week of the season. The one outlier was in the 2nd week of the season. Weird right? So, is this just that she had an exceptionally good first weekend buoying her position or is she really playing well? Her skiing has made an incredible leap up so hopefully that is something she’s able to carry forward. She was so fast that Baiba Bendika couldn’t even tell who it was! (Okay I’ve gotten as much mileage out of that one as I can now). Let’s just see how she does the rest of the way.
David Zobel (Germany) – David Zobel came into the season with three straight top 10’s. It was an incredible start to the year. It came on the heels of him having two 11th place finishes and an 8th to close the year in Oslo last year. It seemed like he was set to be off to the races! Since then he has just one top 20 finish. Looking at his stats his skiing and shooting speed are basically flat. Shooting is up a little bit. I still am high on his future. Fingers crossed!
Tomas Mikyska (Czech Republic) – Just 23 years old Mikyska is off to a very good start. He’s been in seven races this year and he has all top 40s except for one. He’s shooting a remarkable 90% right now which is well over his best career shooting on the IBU Cup or the Juniors level. The Czech men are having a bit of a solid year and Mikyska’s emergence is definitely a part of that.
Samuela Comola (Italy) – While Samuela Comola she isn’t going to show up on anybody’s list of the greatest biathletes this season, she’s quietly showing improvement that has to make Italian fans very excited. She’s been overshadowed by Vittozzi resurgence and Passler’s splashy entry to the World Cup, but Comola is laying the foundation for a solid career. She only has two seasons on the World Cup, but she has four of her top five finishes of her career in the first three weekends of this year. In seven races she has four top 30s and her first career top 20. She’s shown moderate improvement across the board: skiing up from 73 to 65, her shooting percentage is up from 82.9% to 90% and her shooting time is improved from 34 seconds to 31.4. At 24 she isn’t a finished product but I have to say I’m pretty excited about her future. Maybe not a breakthrough season like I hoped for but certainly getting better and better.
Rebecca Passler (Italy) – Team Italy has had a lot to celebrate so far this season. Lisa Vittozzi looks like a contender again, Wierer is still fiesty, Samuela Comola took a solid step forward, and Rebecca Passler has made a flashy entrance onto the World Cup. Sliding into what has been Frederica Sanfilippo’s role the last few seasons and she’s immediately performing better. Sanfilippo’s best end of year ranking was 30th. Right now Passler is 38. Obviously a lot of season to go but that’s a solid start! She’s just 21 but showing off ski speed that is okay for that age, and shooting 85%. She also in relays at least is showing a little fearlessness. She’s young and I’m enjoying it at least. Lots of room to grow but this is a great starting point.
Adam Runnals (Canada) – Quick who is the #1 ranked Canadian man right now? Believe it or not it is Adam Runnals. It’s only by 4 places and relies mostly on points from a single race but there he is! He’s certainly not a finished product but there are pieces there to be a solid biathlete.
Joanna Jakiela (Poland) – Seemingly one of the most happy go lucky athletes on the World Cup Jakiela is having a nice little season in her first full time year on the top level of biathlon. Looking at her Juniors and IBU Cup performances you wouldn’t expect amazing things. She stated out the year with three top 35’s. She has decent ski potential and is shooting pretty well right now. I’m not saying she’s ever going to be a top contender on the World Cup but she could become an Alina Stremous type athlete.
Anna Gandler (Austria) – Gandler made her World Cup debut in Hochfilzen and has not disappointed yet. She has been top 30 ever since her first race including an 11th in the Annecy-le Grand Bornand Pursuit race. She’s shooting a little better on the World Cup than she ever has previously but I still don’t think its a fluke because she’s shown bursts of this before. She showed on the IBU Cup top level ski form so being top 25 on the skis is not crazy either. Just a really solid young biathlete. I am hopeful we’re seeing a lot of her the next 8-10 years or so.
Nadia Moser (Canada) – Two Canadians on this list! Moser isn’t going to make any headlines but she’s currently ranked 40th overall. Four of her five best career finishes including her first ever top 25. Interestingly enough her shooting percentage is down but her skiing is up significantly. Either way she’s getting the results and that counts!
Not Quite Breakthroughs but Good Seasons!
This group includes a mix of athletes. Some are having not exactly “breakthrough” seasons but maybe more return to form. Some are just having their best seasons in several years when maybe we thought it wouldn’t happen again. Others are just having modest improvements that aren’t exactly a major leap but should still be celebrated nonetheless.
Ragnhild Femsteinevik (Norway) – It might be possible that I’m the biggest Ragnhild Femsteinevik fan in the world outside of her family. If that’s okay then I’m fine with it. She seems to have just a really fun and ebullient personality and she makes biathlon a fun place! Who else is doing to wear a Santa had on their headband? Maybe we can get her a heart for Valentine’s day and a Shamrock for March? Regardless this isn’t exactly a breakthrough year because I think most of us would have expected her to be about here in the standings before the season. She’s taking advantage of her opportunity though as she’s had four of her top six races this year, three of which came in Annecy. There are some good Norwegians behind her though so hopefully she keeps racing well and gets to finish out the season on the World Cup!
Suvi Minkkinen (Finland) – Prior to this season Minkinnen has been a really good shooter who is just awfully slow on the skis. It was for that reason that I anticipated improvement from her. Looking back at her history she should be better on the skis. This season she is definitely getting a little faster. Her ski rank is up from 90th to 54th. She is still shooting amazing at 91.8%. I still retain my optimism for her!
Chloe Chevalier (France) – If you look at the overall rankings she is up from 22nd to 17th. That’s not a massive leap. Her average finish though is up from 28th to 21st, her shooting percentage is up 4%, and she is about .5% faster compared to the field on the course. It’s not a massive leap but she’s making improvements! The French women are looking solid!
Aita Gasparin & Elisa Gasparin (Switzerland) – I’ve documented this many times before but the Gasparin sisters are seemingly invigorated this season. Maybe their sister Selina, recently retired, is taking on a coaching role? I’m not sure what is going on but its been fun to watch. They are currently ranked 23rd and 24th overall. Aita’s best ever is 31st and Elisa best ever is 22nd so they are in range of best ever overall finishes right now. Both are well on their ways to most ever top 20’s in a season. Both are at or near their best ever skiing and shooting. Certainly this wasn’t anticipated but it is fun!
Olli Hiidensalo (Finland) – Do we want to call Hiidensalo a breakthrough? I have no idea. He’s 31, has 118 races, and is suddenly having his best season of his career. He’s having by far the best skiing of his career. He’s having clearly the best shooting accuracy of his career. And he’s also shooting faster than he ever has in his career. It’s remarkable. What is going on in Finland right now? I’m really happy to see this and I hope it continues!
3 thoughts on “Breakthrough Seasons”
Only just now discovered this site so my comment is a bit late. So for the Finnish team, new head coach Erik Kulstad, who previously was an assistant coach to Bjoerndalen in the chinese team. The athletes have only given good feedback of him so far into the season. Ofc former coaches work also counts, Jonne Kähkönen started it and Erik Kulstad is building on top of that. He’s done well with the team so far in one practice season, if he uses the whole 1+3 year contract, which I hope he does, we could see a much better Finnish team in the upcoming olympics.
Hey! I’m so sorry for replying so late. I’m so excited by what Kulstad has been able to do so far. 2026 could be special!