Pokljuka 2022 Week in Review Pt 1

Biathlon is back and so are we! The racing this weekend in Pokljuka provided us with a little bit of everything. We had dominance for both the men and the women. There were young athletes showing signs of their future potential. Some former champs showed us its far too early to count them out. And we saw a couple of recent champs show us they may be getting their form back. All in all if was a busy weekend so let’s dive in!

I think it is pretty clear who the best men and women of Pokljuks were. Sometimes I will pick somebody other than the obvious choice just for the sake of talking about somebody new and interesting. Not today. Today we stick with the men and women who dominated the racing each in their own individual ways.

Best Women’s Athlete: Elvira Oeberg – Coming into the season we all had a picture of what s dominant Elvira Oeberg could look like. Flying away from her competitors on the tracks and hitting enough of her shots that she could let that overwhelming ski power carry her to victories. Well here we sit heading into week 5 of the schedule and about halfway home. Instead, this weekend what we saw was a different Elvira who was in all likelihood actually more scary to her opponents.

The style of racing Elvira displayed in Pokljuka was more restrained. Less youthful exuberance chasing every lead and blasting away on every lap. She seems to understand that with her speed she can control any race she wants to. As long as she is good on the range nobody can build a lead too big that she can’t chase down (except Lampic if and when she learns to shoot consistently). If Elvira is perfect we’ll then everybody else is fighting for second including Julia Simon.

This isn’t to say she was slow this weekend. Far from it! In the Sprint she was still #2 in course time rank. She displayed a smart use of her speed though. In the Pursuit she was much more measured. She never let anybody get particularly close to her but she also didn’t over exert. This seemed to be strategic to improve her shooting. It worked out brilliantly as she was perfect on the weekend and came away with two solid victories winning the sprint by 7 and the Pursuit by 17. Has she had bigger wins? Absolutely. But this weekend she was in control showing a style of racing that could make bring her many many many wins in the next few years.

Best Men’s Athlete: Johannes Thingnes Boe – As has been the case many times in his career and especially this season, Johannes Thingnes Boe was simply unbeatable this weekend. It’s been said many times and in many ways but sometimes the simplest is still the best: JT Boe is really really fast! Here are just a few ways I found to look at it:

  • He was the fastest man on every lap for both races except the last lap of the pursuit when he was leading by 1:25 when he turned off the jets and cruised to the finish.
  • If you took the fastest non-JT Boe times for each lap and put them together to make one super racer he beat that super racer on the course by 12 seconds combined over both races. If you take out the last lap of the Pursuit where he clearly didn’t need to put in much effort he was faster on the skis by by 43.5. Quite the solid effort indeed!
  • One of my favorites was looking at actual pace per km in the Sprint. JT Boe set the pace at 2:16 per km. Sturla Holm Lagreid, currently 2nd in the overall by a ton, was 2:22 per km. Lest you think he was slow he was 3rd fastest on the day. That’s a difference of 6 seconds per km or 1 minute over the course of a Sprint race. Simon Eder, not known for his speed at this stage of his career was 2:28 per km. So the difference between JT Boe and Laegreid was equal to the difference from Laegreid to Eder. Wild.

Of course we know that wasn’t it for Boe as he also managed a 27/30 on the shooting range in both races. If you ski like that and shoot 90% then yeah you are going to absolutely dominate the races and that’s exactly what he did. We didn’t see top tier Boe the last two seasons but goodness gracious we are seeing it now!

Best Young Women’s Athlete: Amy Baserga/Sophie Chaveau/Lou Jeanmonnot – This weekend I couldn’t pick just one great young woman because so many had amazing races. To start with Amy Baserga was a highlight of a great weekend for the entire Switzerland team. She set a career best of 14 in the Sprint and then broke that with a 12th in the Pursuit. This is a couple of good weekends in a row for the 22 year old. Baserga has had three of her four best ski races over the last two weekends of racing peaking with two top 20 course times. In those races she has also shot no worse than 90%. This is definitely a flash of potential for her!

Sophie Chauveau and Lou Jeanmonnot showed the French fans that their performances in Annecy were no one time fluke. Chauveau finished 8th in the Sprint and 11th in the Pursuit. That Pursuit race included the fastest skiing on the day. Jeanmonnot went 10th and 13th. They are both young enough to be considered far from finished products. French fans have to be happy to be seeing the future looking so bright. Especially considering current yellow Jersey Julia Simon is just entering the prime of her career.

Best Young Men’s Athlete: Tommaso Giacomel – For the men there was one definitive stand out young competitor, Tommaso Giacomel. For those that have been paying attention he’s been showing us that this has been coming all season long. Every weekend he was showing little it’s of improvement and attaining some of the best finishes in his career. In the three week stretch to start the season buoyed by by far the best skiing of his life he already surpassed his career total in top 10’s and top 20’s.

This weekend he continued that trend with two more excellent finishes. First he tied his career best with 6th in the Sprint. Then he did it one better with a new career best of 5th in the Pursuit. Once again he was undeniably fast with course time ranks of 3rd and 5th in the Pursuit. He also shot 26/30 (86.7%) in the solo races which is the missing piece for him. If he figures that out the he is going to be mentioned here many more times the next few seasons!

Best Women’s Race: Pursuit – It’s late and I am desperately trying to finish this before the racing starts in Ruhpolding. The Pursuit race to was really fun for two reasons. First it was to me the perfect showing of Elvira’s development. She started with just a 7 second lead and by the end of the first lap it was basically the same. I assumed before the race that either she would blast away and stretch the lead or let Simon back right away and take away the pressure of slim lead. Instead she just simply maintained her slim lead. She used exactly the right amount of energy. Every lap she did the exact same thing. She ended up 20/20 and won by 17 seconds over Wierer with Simon in 3rd.

Did she shoot 20/20 because she took it easier on the tracks. No of course not shooting is way complicated than that. However it is undeniable that not going all out can assist in keeping heart rates and breathing more steady and thus making shooting easier. If she had missed we might be having a different story. But she didn’t. Also if she had missed maybe we see her kick into 5th gear and she wins anyway? We’ll never know. What we do know is she employed a new strategy and it worked to perfection.

I also want to take a moment and note the race that Tandrevold ran. She started out with the 9th bib +46 seconds back. She slowly worked her way up through the ranks and by the last shooting she was just 20 seconds back. She was actually a threat to Elvira had Elvira missed. It was really great to watch. There was an aura of confidence about her and she too had a strategy. Ultimately she missed twice on the last shooting. But she ran a great race and had she hit and gone 20/20 and ended up on the podium it would have been one of my favorite races of the year. The thing that stood out the most to me though was when she was making up a few extra seconds on lap 4 it didn’t surprise me at all and I took her to be a serious threat. That wasn’t the case a year ago. Tandrevold has grown up a lot this season.

I also want to note that Wierer ran a great race as well. She started out near the top and only moved up a place but she didn’t need to do anything fancy. She also did hurt herself and ended up with 2 podiums in 2 days. Don’t look now but she’s rounding into gear as we start looking towards Worlds.

Best Men’s Race: Pursuit – Truthfully neither of the mens races were particularly exciting. JT Boe eliminated all excitement by demolishing the field. This was just slightly more interesting to me than the Sprint mostly because of QFM. He was up to his old tricks climbing through the field where last year he won an overwhelming number of the Pursuit races. For the first time all year he looked like QFM again. Hopefully that carries through to the next few weeks and Oberhof!

Also we saw Tarjei Boe confirm his for by backing up his second in the Sprint with another podium. I was honestly worried we were seeing his career come to an end. And he still may retire at the end of this season who knows. At least though if that is the case he is going to go out swinging for some podiums!

Also want to highlight Johannes Kuehn for a shocking rise through the standings from 44 to 12. Fabien Claude as well who overcame 5 misses in the Sprint to finish 38th and went 18/20 with the 3rd best skiing to finish 13th in the Pursuit.

Mixed Relays: Just a few notes here

Congrats to the Swiss biathlon relays!! 3rd in Single Mixed with Baserga and Hartweg and one of my favorite reactions of the weekend. Then 4th in the Mixed with a perfect sprint by Lena Haeckel-Gross to clinch it!

Nice racing by Tandrevold and Christiansen to breeze through field to win the Single Mixed capped by this awesome Tandrevold reaction. That’s a superstrong duo right there.

I assume everybody has seen it by now but if you haven’t Belgium’sThierry Langer had a big crash with Belgium in 4th on leg 2. This was their first Mixed in I don’t know how long (ever?) and they were going beautifully until the crash after Florent Claude’s great opening. Then came Langer’s terrifying cleaning strategy which he thankfully abandoned for a spare rifle. After hemorrhaging time rookie Maya Cloete and steady hand Lotte Lie pulled Belgium into the top 10! Overall just 2 misses on the day for the entire team!

I don’t want to forget Poland finishing 8th. They ran two 20 year old guys who are juniors racing right now to go with Zuk and Jakiela who are also quite young. It was one of their best recent relays and shows a lot of good promise!

Lastly the French came in as the favorites and controlled the race. It was a solid race from top to bottom including Jeanmonnot having a really solid leg!

Yellow Jersey Update

Men: JT Boe leads Laegreid by over 100 and QFM, now 3rd is over 400 points behind. They better hope Boe forgets how to shoot or goes on a vacation.

Women: This womens race is going to be special. It’s already 1am EST and Ruhpolding races start in 7 hours so I won’t go long. Both Julia Simon and Elvira Oeberg are on their A games. If they keep it up this could come down to Oslo. There are still lots of women who could get into contention too! Like those pictured below…

Unfortunately due to timing there will not be a part 2 this week. Here is what I lined up to cover, some of which I may come back to:

  • Good weekend for the Swiss!
  • Keep an eye on Poland in the next few years. Coach Tolgersen has something going with the women right now.
  • The Norwegian men are insanely good. 5 in the top 7 and 6 in the top 10. Plus the top 4 IBU Cup men. Goodness gracious
  • Return of the Champs.: Dorothea Wierer, Tarjei Boe, Quinton Fillon Maillet, and Marte Olsbu Roeiseland. Each of these athletes in different ways showed they are going to be competitive in Oberhof

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