Antholz!!! Antholz weekend came through once again delivering spectacular views, an amazing crowd, and a weekend of fun racing. Almost every interview we had over the summer we asked athletes and coaches for their favorite locations and nearly every one of them mentioned Antholz. It’s easy to see why!
After several weekends of sloppy and wet conditions the week in Antholz started with a beautiful snowfall…and the Norwegians getting stuck in the snow. We were treated to pictures of everybody training in the snow early in the week. Over the weekend as the racing started the sun came out and it was absolutely gorgeous. The fans responded with an absolutely tremendous showing, packing the stadium and showering the athletes with cheers all week long. With that in mind lets dive in and check out the bests of the week!
Best Men’s Athlete of the Week: JT Bø/Martin Ponsiluoma – Of course Johannes Thingnes Bø is the real answer. Once again he won both the Sprint and the Pursuit and they weren’t particularly close. He won the Sprint by 31 seconds and the Pursuit by 40 seconds. In the relay he took a 10 second lead and gave Christiansen a 30 second lead while going head to head with a very on Emilien Jacquelin. It was another spectacular weekend from a man who is having lots of them. In fact he’s been so spectacular we’re going to devote a column to him before the World Championships start.
Why not Lægreid over Ponsiluoma you might ask? They both had a 2nd and a 3rd? Well the truth is we’re also going to give Lægreid his own column before Worlds too. And we haven’t written at all about Ponsiluoma this season so it’s his time!
So far this season it has been a solid if not spectacular year from Ponsiluoma. He’s been doing his normal thing. Martin Ponsiluoma is 27 so he’s just on the early days of the peak of his career. Over the last five seasons we’ve really seen him come a long way. When he was first making his way the World Cup he has made dramatic progress as a skier, becoming one of the fastest men in biathlon. The shooting though has been…mediocre at best. Think of him like Elvira except not as fast and a worse shooter and older. So exactly like Elvira except nowhere close.
That all sounds like a mixed bag. Overall he’s been as high as 10th in the overall 2 seasons ago. He’s had some pretty high moments with two wins and seven total podiums before this weekend. Believe it or not, he’s never had a weekend as good as this one. While he’s had the wins this is the first weekend he’s ever had two podiums in the same weekend. Antholz 2023 is going to be one to remember! It also comes during a time in which the Swedes have been really struggling.
In the Sprint race on Friday Ponsi was the 2nd fastest man on the snow and 2nd fastest overall on the day. Yes he was 41 seconds behind JT Bø but he was still the 2nd fastest man on the day! He matched Bø on the range with 1 miss prone and a clean standing shoot. The cool part is he beat Sturla Holm Lægreid, who is having a tremendous season, by 5.9 seconds for 2nd even though Lægreid was clean on the range.
How did he do it? Ponsi was ahead by 12.6 seconds on the course. He was also the fastest man in total range time including beating Lægreid by 9.2 seconds in shooting time. That was just enough to overcome his penalty loop and grab 2nd place in the Sprint!
Ponsiluoma followed that up in the Pursuit with a 3rd place finish. He went 18/20 while Lægreid went 20/20 so you can’t blame him for losing one place to a man who went perfect. However 90% shooting is a good day no matter who you are.
Ever since his win in the season opening Individual Ponsiluoma has had only five more top 10s in 13 races. These were his first top 10 finishes since the Spring in Annecy. Since then he hasn’t been higher than 20th. For periods this season Jesper Nelin has been the strongest man. No offense to Jesper Nelin but when you come into the season with Sebastian Samuelsson, who has Crystal Globe potential, and Martin Ponsiluoma, one of the fastest men not named JT Bø, that isn’t a great thing. However after two phenomenal performances he’s up to 5th in the Overall. If he holds that it is by far his best performance in a single season.
Best Women’s Athlete of the Week: Dorothea Wierer – Was Dorothea Wierer the best overall woman this weekend? Well no that was probably Elvira but we’re going to cheat and put her as the Best Young Woman this week. It gives us an opportunity to talk about probably my favorite moment of the weekend and maybe my favorite of the entire season.
First, a quick look back of Doro’s season. Ever since she won the back to back Overall Crystal Globes Wierer has been really good, but not great. The last two seasons you can really see her entire season planned with a mid/late season peak in mind. Both years she starts out a little slow in the first trimester prompting questions about if she’s finally over the hill, or if she’s taking biathlon as seriously as she could be. Then at the start of the 2nd trimester she flashes her potential. By Ruhpolding she’s showing podium form. And then a win in Antholz and suddenly Doro looks like Doro again. Don’t believe me? Seriously go check it out. Last season was more dramatic than this season but very similar
This weekend, just like Antholz 2022, she got her first win of the season. This season unlike last season, there was a lot more emotion involved in the race. After the racing ended in Ruhpolding Wierer’s good friend Federica Sanfilippo decided to quit biathlon and focus only on FIS cross country skiing. Sanfilippo was left off the relay in Ruhpolding and more importantly left off the roster for Antholz, a race in Italy, in front of home fans. Instead the spot went to Hanna Auchentaller. This is not Auchentaller’s fault and I am going to continue to be a huge fan of hers. But it sounds like this was the last in a long string of insults Sanfilippo endured and she decided that sadly enough was enough.
Wierer visibly looked off during the relay and again during the Mass Start in Ruhpolding. Before we knew anything RJ and I even wondered if something was wrong on our Sunday night Ruhpolding podcast. Doro posted a really heartfelt message on Instagram and you could feel the hurt and the love coming through. It had to be a really tough week.
Wierer pulled off the perfect story. In the very first race after Sanfilippo’s switch, Wierer, on home snow, went out and pulled off the win. I have respected Doro throughout her career but I would never say that I’ve been a huge Doro fan. (Not that I dislike her! I don’t at all! She’s awesome!) On Thursday while watching the race I was cheering for her like crazy.
It was a classic Dorothea Wierer race. Of course the backbone of it was that she went 10/10. However on top of that she was pretty quick shooting, 51 seconds overall, 4th best range time, and the 11th best course time. It was just good enough to get it done and it took just a little bit of help too. Chloe Chevalier had the race of her life and just ran out of steam at the end. Chevalier was 10/10 shooting and was actually ahead by 3 seconds with 1km to go but couldn’t quite close it. Meanwhile, Elvira Öberg also went 10/10 but while recovering from illness she just didn’t have the strength to pull off the win in a Sprint against a healthy Wierer. Yes, you read that correctly, Wierer was faster than Elvira when both were 10/10. That probably won’t happen again!
The Pursuit quite nearly was another great day. Halfway through the race she was alone in the lead. Going into the last shooting she was together with Marte Olsbu Roeiseland and Denise Herrmann-Wick. In the end she had two misses in the last shoot and once out of the podium contention clearly did go all out on the last lap. Still the form was there. In the relay race she was solid and had Italy in 2nd place at the end of her 2nd leg.
After the Sprint race Wierer was clearly happy and emotional. It was a perfect race for her at the perfect time. Maybe this was the peak of the season. Maybe she doesn’t have enough win and maybe she comes away from Worlds without any new medals. Even if that’s the case she still had an amazing day and one of the moments of the entire season.
Young Old Man of the Week: Simon Eder – I had to switch it up. Today instead of the Best Young Man of the Week we’re doing the Best Old Man of the week and there is only one choice: Simon Eder. This week Simon Eder had two top 10 finishes. The man turns 40 next month and he had two top 10 finishes against the best biathletes in the world. I was writing the last few weeks how Fak and Eder were coming. Last week Fak with a podium and this week Eder two top 10’s I’m so excited!
The weekend started for Eder with shocking 8th place finish in the Sprint. Yes, I know I had been saying that Eder’s form was improving but I certainly didn’t expect him to get his first top 10 of the season in a Sprint race! Incidentally his last top 10 in a Sprint race? It was in Antholz 2019.
Thinking of how Eder would finish top 10 in a Sprint what would you say? You would say he shot perfect and shot fast and skied just fast enough. And you would be right! In the Antholz Sprint Eder was 10/10 with a total shooting tie 44.9 seconds. That shooting time was the 2nd fastest of the day just 0.2 seconds back of Adam Runnalls (who finished in 13th!). The course time was a good enough 27th. What does that add up to? 8th place
Now if you would have said Eder got a top 10 in a Pursuit I would have absolutely believed it! I would have thought he started in the 10-15 range, shot fast and clean, and moved past just enough guys to sneak into the top 10. Well in Antholz he already started in the top 10! Unfortunately tragedy struck on the 2nd prone shooting…his record of 114 prone hits ended. That was it though, 19/20 on the day. He skied fast enough and held on to 9th. Two top 10’s in a weekend for the first time since 2021 Pokljuka World Championships.
We all know Simon Eder will be remembered by anybody who watched him. Not many athletes not only continue to race into their late 30’s/early 40’s but to continue to be competitive is amazing. This weekend, by earning two more top 10’s Simon Eder earned his 100th top 10 of his career. Yes you read that right 100. Only 15 men in biathlon history of 100 top 10’s in their careers. Congratulations Simon Eder!
Best Young Women’s Athlete of the Week: Elvira Öberg – Arguably Elvira Öberg had the best weekend of any woman. Unfortunately Dorothea Wierer needed to be highlighted. Fortunately Elvira Öberg still qualifies for the young athlete!
To start with we didn’t even know if Elvira’s weekend was going to happen. She got sick while in Ruhpolding and it wasn’t a sure thing she was going to start the Sprint race until the morning of the Sprint race. She was still feeling pretty sick until the day before the race! And of course if she misses the Sprint that’s it for her for the weekend except for the relay.
At the start of the Sprint race my first thought was, “Yeah, Elvira definitely looks like she isn’t feeling well.” She looked like she was skiing in slow motion compared to her usual tempo. In the first lap he ranked 27th in course time. She went ahead and shot 5/5 though and suddenly was in the race. Lap two she picked it up with the 11th ranked course time and then once again goes 5/5. I will be honest I didn’t see it coming. She had the 6th ranked course time on lap three. She ended up with a remarkable podium. Maybe the most surprising podium she has had (for me anyway). Elvira Öberg was the slowest woman in the top three (which is crazy to say). This was actually the lowest course time rank she had in a podium finish. 10/10 shooting does wonders for you!
In the Pursuit race she looked much more like “normal” Elvira Öberg. 6th overall course time and she shot 18/20. She was in the race the entire time and ends up just 17 seconds back of Denise Herrmann-Wick. This looked more like the Elvira Öberg we have come to know and love. Clearly she was getting healthier but not all the way back to peak form.
At the end of the day Elvira had a fairly surprising weekend going 3rd and 3rd, cutting the overall lead nearly in half. My expectations for her this weekend were low as we didn’t even know that she was going to race until the day of! You have to be excited for her going in to Worlds.
Best Men’s Race: Relay – I’m going to keep this brief. There was no real tension at any point in the Sprint or the Pursuit. JT Bø dominated both races. He built a 31 second advantage for the Sprint. He took that and pushed it to 40 seconds in a Pursuit that was never really in doubt. JT Bø had nearly a 1:00 lead for almost the entire race!
If you’re looking for the rest of the podium we already discussed Ponsiluoma’s great weekend. Lægreid continued his stellar season as well with two more podiums. But there was also very little interest in there as well.
However…in the relay! To briefly recap Lægreid did not look amazing once again in the lead role. He did this last season as well. In fact he’s commented on having a mental block in the relays as well. He took his time a little bit more with the shooting and avoided the penalty loop in the Antholz relay. Unfortunately though he still passed off 12 seconds behind an absolutely rock star effort from Antonin Guigonnat and just behind Michal Krcmar. Not what you would want but it wasn’t terrible especially with the strength of the Norwegian team. No harm done.
In leg 2 Tarjei Bø vs. Fabien Claude went clearly for Tarjei Bø. Turned a 12 second deficit into a 10 second lead when he handed off to his brother. #1 course time for the loop and just 1 extra round on a prone shooting will get the job done. JT Bø did exactly what you would expect him to do, extended the lead. However here’s where it got interesting. He needed two extra shots. Meanwhile Emilien Jacquelin was absolutely on fire. Jacquelin lost minimal time on the course and shot fast and clean. If you’re a French fan this was exactly what you want to see from Jacquelin. He looked confident and was living up to his sky high talent. He limited the losses to just 20 seconds so going to the final leg Norway led France by 30 seconds exactly.
Leg 4 had all the potential in the world for fireworks. Vetle Sjaastad Christiansen vs. Quinton Fillon Maillet coming from behind. Last season QFM loved being the chase man. He won nearly every Pursuit race and seemed to take strength in chasing down the leader. It felt like there was a chance that he could do this. It was only 30 seconds! As it turns out though Christiansen was just too good. He had one miss in prone and standing and was able to put a couple of seconds on QFM on the course when it mattered. QFM needed to be perfect and he hasn’t been close to perfect this season. Norway takes the win and France with a second place finish.
Farther back in the race Germany came in third. Germany has been consistently solid all season long getting on the podium in every race. A World Championship could be in their near future in Oberhof! I also wanted to say that Elia Zeni had an awesome final leg for Italy. Tommaso Giacomel brought Italy back to contention. Elia Zeni took over with Italy in 4th. It was his first weekend of competition and he kept Italy right there in the top 5!
Best Women’s Race: Pursuit – Had I not already mentioned the Sprint race this was going to be my race of the weekend. We did a long discussion of it at the top though so let’s touch on the Pursuit race won by Denise Herrmann-Wick. Dorothea Wierer came into the race with a lead having won the Sprint. For the first two laps she looked amazingly like classic Dorothea Wierer. She was clean and building a lead. Behind her though things were getting interesting.
In the first couple of legs of the race Hanna Öberg, Elvira Öberg, Chloe Chevalier, Marte Olsbu Roeiseland, and of course Denise Herrmann-Wick were coming together. I thought it was clear that Roeiseland and especially Herrmann-Wick were the strongest of this group. For long stretches Herrmann-Wick was doing almost all of the work to pull the group closer to Wierer. When Dorothea Wierer had a miss on the third shooting it opened the door and put her into a lead group with Roeiseland and Herrmann-Wick.
Briefly at this point I thought Roeiseland was about to put some fear into the field with a win heading into Worlds. It wasn’t to be though. At the last shooting Roeiseland had a miss and Wierer had two misses clearing the way for Herrmann-Wick to have a win. I mentioned previously that she had the strongest day of everybody. From start to finish she was pulling the chase pack forward and then ran away with the win with a clutch final shooting.
Elvira and Hanna Öberg had been lingering in the chase group nearly all day long. They took advantage of the misses to jump up and grab 3rd and 4th. They went 1-2 in course time on the last lap! (Year fair to say Elvira’s getting her legs back!). However, the 2nd place finish was a complete shocker. Lisa Vittozzi started the day 45 seconds back of Dorothea Wierer. At no point in the race was she really in the mix at all. As it turns out going 20/20 is amazing for your chances in a Pursuit! I also want to note that Lena Haecki-Gross came back from 24th to finish 9th. It was her first top 10 since the 2nd weekend of last season. Then Hanna Kebinger came in 10th for her first top 10 of her career! It was only her 4th total race of her World Cup career!
Crystal Globe Check In:
Women’s Overall Race: IT IS A RACE!!!! Elvira Öberg had an amazing weekend. If you had asked me last Wednesday I would have said the race is likely over. With Julia Simon looking so strong and Elvira Öberg sick it was easy to predict that Simon would extend the 141 point lead she started the weekend with. That’s why we run the races though!
Elvira Öberg had the aforementioned 3rd place finishes. Julia Simon though was almost shockingly off. She came into Antholz with only two finishes outside the top 5 the entire season. In the first four weekends of the 2nd trimester her finishes were 2nd, 3rd, 3rd, and 1st. Then in Antholz she finished 9th in the Sprint and 18th in the Pursuit. If I hadn’t known anything I would have thought Simon was the one who was sick!
If you do the math Elvira cut the lead from 141 to 76 as we finish trimester #2. You don’t have to be good at math to see that Elvira cut that lead almost in half. This race certainly isn’t over yet. We’ll see how both Elvira Öberg and Julia Simon come out of Oberhof. This is going to be a race for at least a few more weeks though!
Men’s Race: JT Bø has 11 wins in 14 races. No surprise that he’s got a massive amount of points and has the lead. The only reason he hasn’t locked it up already though is because Sturla Holm Lægreid has 11 podiums in 14 races. To be fair JT Bø is up by 219 points. That’s a pretty tough hill to climb but it’s technically not over yet.
Behind them though Vetle Sjaastad Christiansen is 332 points behind Lægreid. Yes you read that right. Lægreid is actually closer to JT Bø than Christiansen is to Lægreid. Christiansen is looking very solid so he’s likely going to complete the Norwegian top 3 sweep. Behind them though it’s a race between QFM, Ponsiluoma, Dale, Doll, Tarjei Bø, Roman Rees, and Jacquelin for the remaining top 5 positions.