It was a HUGE weekend in Nove Mesto. The crowds were absolutely bananas. And the action and news from this weekend started our torrid sprint towards the end of the season. Crystal Globes are being decided every weekend from here on out. And it’s the last chances for glory! A couple of athletes on our list made good on our hopes and dreams this week!
Best Women’s Performance: Marte Oslbu Røiseland
She’s back baby! In her words this has been the most difficult season of her career. During the off season she battled with the decision about coming back for another year. When she did commit to coming back for another year she struggled to get back into form. She has several times discussed the difficulties in getting her “body to respond.” It was just a struggle to get going.
She returned to the World Cup at the start of the 2nd trimester in Pokljuka but wasn’t quite all the way back. After a 16th in the Sprint in Pokljuka she looked better and better every week. It seemed like her season peaked in Oberhof with two relay Golds and a Bronze in the Mass Start. She was visibly tearful after the Mass Start and admitted to Norwegian press afterward that she was aware that race might have been her last in the World Championships. At the time it seemed like that might have been the peak of the season, the whole reason to come back, getting those medals.
Then this weekend happened. Yes there is there is the giant caveat that Elvira Öberg was sick during Worlds and looks like a completely different human being. Yes, Julia Simon had COVID after Worlds and is still working back. But Marte Olsbu Røiseland went back-to-back in the Sprint and Pursuit for 2 wins in Nové Mêsto.
The Sprint race was classic Marte Røiseland the Sprint she was one of just 12 women to go clean while only 2 other main competitors went clean. She was 3rd fastest on the course. Classic Røiseland. We’ll discuss the Pursuit in depth later but she was able to double up going 19/20 but she needed every bit of that 20.5 second lead she started with.
Right now with two weekends remaining, and who knows what will happen with COVID, she is currently 15th in the overall rankings. She has two wins which puts her behind just Simon (4), Herrmann-Wick (3), and the Öberg sisters (3). Pretty amazing considering she’s only competed in seven of the 16 race that have counted towards the overall. Check out these numbers:
|Current Rank||Total Points||Total Races||Points per Race|
|Marte Olsbu Røiseland||15||368||7||52.57|
Yep, Marte Olsbu Røiseland is fully back!
Best Men’s Performance: Johannes Thingnes Bø + Tarjei Bø
Without a doubt Johannes Thingnes Bø was once again the Men’s athlete of the week. He has been every week except for Annecy. So we’re just going to mention that once again he was unbelievable. He was a perfect 10/10. He started in bib 2 (so he was first on the course after about 1/2 lap) and the race was basically over after he went clean prone. At that point he had to have 3 misses standing and he wasn’t about to do that. He started the Pursuit with a 30 second lead. He went 19/20. No chance on Earth couldn’t anybody catch him. On the last lap he was faster than exactly 6 guys and still won the race by 34 seconds.
This weekend was hugely important for JT Bø’s greatest of all time argument. He and Tarjei Bø are both COVID positive. They are feeling well but won’t race until the Oestersund Mass Start at earliest meaning only 4 races left for him this season. Also this is assuming no long term COVID effects. Right now he has:
- 16 wins on the season including the World Championships. That ties his 2018-2019 season as the most in a single season by any biathlete ever
- He has a current streak of 8 straight World Cup victories. This ties the all time record. I don’t know officially how it will be recorded if he wins his first race back, but in my personal recording if races again this season and wins his first race back that would be the record.
- He has 19 straight podium finishes which is the longest streak in biathlon history. The only time he didn’t finish on the podium this season was the very first race of the season. That 12th place will be an answer to a trivia question some day.
- Nearly secured the Overall Crystal Globe. Only Laegreid can technically win the Globe. Laegreid would need JT Bø to score 0 more points. Then Laegreid would need to race all 5 remaining races and average just over 80 points per race. Since Laegreid just tested negative from COVID on March 6th I don’t think that is going to happen.
Tarjei Bø meanwhile is having just his normal really solid season. Nové Mêsto was by far his best weekend of the year finishing 2nd in each race. However, without his pesky little brother he would have cruised to wins. Tarjei Bø finished 45 seconds ahead of Christiansen in the Sprint and he finished 37 seconds ahead of Ponsiluoma in the Pursuit. Those are margins that we are used to seeing JT Bø have over the field. Seeing Tarjei Bø do it was quite impressive!
While the 1st trimester was far from his normal level, Tarjei clearly is showing no signs of slowing down. He was the 2nd fastest man in the Sprint race behind only his brother. His course time in the Pursuit wasn’t as good but it didn’t matter at all. Add that to a 29/30 shooting in both races and what can anybody else do?
After the 1st trimester we discussed the possibility that Tarjei Bø was in the final season or two of his career. At the time it didn’t seem crazy because his best finish of the first weekends was 6th in the Annecy Mass Start and he had only 2 top 10’s. Since the start of 2023 though he has 5 podiums and has only been outside the top 10 twice.
Believe it or not, after that slow start, and at age 33, he’s having one of the better seasons of his career:
- He currently sits 4th in the Overall Rankings which is right where we expect him. His rankings since 2017-2018: 7, 6, 4, 4, 6, (currently 4th).
- Currently has 5 podiums this season. That is the 4th most of his career behind 2011-2012 (12 podiums and Overall Globe Winner), 2020-2021 (8), 2021-2022 (6).
- He has 7 top 5’s. If you remove his best season (2011-2012 where he had 20) and his worst season (2016-2017 with 0) his average top 5’s per season is 6.4.
So here Tarjei Bø sits, 33 years old, 4th in the World, and having yet another solid season. It has to be a frustration and an inspiration to all of the young Norwegian men behind him.
Best Young Women’s Performance: Amy Baserga
Just realizing that this column today has a bit of a Norwegian and Swiss feeling to it. It was not intentional! Amy Baserga really did have a solid weekend. Sure Lou Jeanmonnot had a better weekend but we’ve talked about her plenty this season!
Baserga meanwhile we haven’t talked about much at all. She’s in her 2nd full season on the World Cup and has really started to put together some strong performances. This season she has 4 top 20’s including a 19th place in the Sprint this weekend. She’s also teamed up with Niklas Hartweg to form a really strong Single Mixed Relay team that has two World Cup podiums and a European Championships Silver Medal!
Baserga has made significant improvements across the board this season rising from 71st in the overall rankings last season to 31st as of today. Her skiing has risen considerably with her average course time rank going from 58th to 39th. Her total shooting percentage is up from 85.7% to a phenomenal 90% with improvements in both standing and prone shooting. And her shooting time is down from 31.2 seconds to 27.1. She’s just 22 years old and we can hope that skiing form will continue to improve. As a Junior she was consistently top 5-10 skiing so this is not a crazy thing to hope for. Baserga has a real shot at becoming a top 15 overall biathlete!
This weekend was just another solid weekend in an overall solid season. 19th place in the Sprint as noted above and 29th in the Pursuit. He course time rank of 14th in the Sprint was the fastest and best of her career! The only thing that let her down was her shooting which has been tremendous all season. She had her two worst shooting performances of the year, both times hitting just 80% of the targets. If she can get back to her season average for the next two weekends, and that ski form stays high, Baserga could be setting a new career best in Sweden and/or Norway!
Best Young Men’s Performance: Niklas Hartweg
Be honest, was Niklas Hartweg on your list for Blue Jersey winner before the season? I mean I was optimistic about him. I wrote in the preseason that basically if he could find some speed to go with his consistently good shooting, he had the profile of somebody like Simon Eder. However, I never expected what we are seeing this year.
Before this year he had 19 career World Cup races and his best ever finish was 17th. That was also his only top 20. He did have some Juniors success with a Gold at Youth Worlds, several Junior Cup wins, and a handful of top 10’s at Junior Worlds. This season on the World Cup he has six top 10’s and only two finishes outside the top 20 in 17 races.
He added another top 10 this weekend in Nové Mêsto with a 10th place in the Sprint. He seems to be wearing down just a touch as the season goes on. The ski ranks are slipping a bit and his course time rank of 32nd in the Sprint was his 3rd lowest of the season. To be fair he was starting late in the race and the course wasn’t firming up quite as much as the Swiss likely expected it too. The temperature was warm around 8 degrees C. They started Hartweg and Stalder in the 2nd half of the Sprint field likely expecting that as the sun went down it was freeze up a little bit. But you can still count on him going 10/10! He’s almost had a top 10 every weekend this season!
The Pursuit was a “relative” disappointment when he finished “only” 12th. With his shooting acumen you might have expected him to finish safely in the top 10, maybe in the top 5. But he had a rare “poor” shooting day hitting 17 of the 20 targets. He’s only shot 85% or lower in 4 of his 17 races this season. Interestingly his ski form rebounded a bit and he ranked 18th in course time for the race, back towards what we had come to see and know from him this year.
Hartweg was saving best for last though! On Sunday he paired with Amy Baserga to capture 2nd in the Single Mixed Relay! This duo previously won 3rd in the Single Mixed in Pokljuka and 2nd at the European Championships. With 10 misses between them it wasn’t a perfect performance. Hartweg closed exceptionally strong though needing just 1 extra round on his last two shootings combined. He took over in a group of 5 nations that was at the time battling for 3rd but not far off the podium. With that great shooting and a little bit of help from some of the leaders, namely Sweden, Hartweg closed the gap then pulled away after the last shooting.
Best Women’s Race: Pursuit
This was absolutely one of my favorite races of the year. From the minute the Sprint race finished up there was a sense that the Pursuit could be good. Marte Oslbu Røiseland, the reigning Overall Crystal Globe champ had found her place again on the top of the podium. But behind her was a whole party of top notch women who would be chasing her down to try to win the Pursuit. Just behind Røiseland were in order: Tandrevold, Chevalier-Bouchet, Wierer, Voigt, Herrmann-Wick, Hauser, Vittozzi, Simon, and Haecki-Gross. All were within 45 seconds to start. That’s basically a who’s who of the women of biathlon right now. The only names missing were the Swedes!
The race did not disappoint. Right from the start everybody seemed intent to keep it close. By the time the leaders arrived for the 3rd shooting it was a packed race. Chevalier-Bouchet, Roseiseland, Tandrevold, Wierer, Vittozzi, Kebinger, and Simon all entered the range within 10 seconds of each other. Those are some HUGE names and 10 seconds is basically nothing. At 20 seconds back there was a group of 3 with Voigt, Davidova, and Herrmann-Wick so still right in the race.
As usual the 3rd shooting and the 4th lap sliced a few contenders such as Wierer out of contention. But still as we came to the last shooting of the race it was still incredibly tight with Røiseland, Tandrevold, and Chevalier-Bouchet all together. Julia Simon, skiing the entire lap by herself, was still just 10 seconds behind. Hanna Kebinger was 16 seconds back and still in the mix for a podium. Lisa Vittozzi and Vanessa Voigt remained right on the edges of contention about 32-39 seconds back.
Røiseland, Tandrevold all shot clean, and most impressively they all shot fast! 21.4 seconds for Røiseland and 25.4 seconds for Tandrevold and Chevalier-Bouchet. It was such tremendous clutch shooting for the win. They all left the range together in a 3 woman sprint for the podium. Chevalier-Bouchet was the first to fall off, just as she was in the last lap of the Mass Start at Worlds. For a minute in the middle of the last lap Tandrevold looked to be the strongest. But in the end Marte Olsbu Røiseland pulled away in the final meters for the win.
In biathlon there are so many ways to have a fun and exciting race. But it’s hard to beat a tight Pursuit or Mass Start with the major players all being the best of best. It’s even better when they perform at their highest level. Watching Røiseland, Tandrevold, and Chevalier-Bouchet all go clean and fast in that last shooting was thrilling. Hopefully we get some more racing like this in Oestersund and Oslo!
Best Men’s Race: Single Mixed Relay
Okay so this wasn’t a men’s race. But the men’s races really weren’t all that exciting this weekend. But how about a celebration of the Single Mixed Relay, a race which many, including me, are sometimes critical of.
The critiques are easy to understand. It’s a weird race with short laps, a tiny penalty loop, that rewards explosive athletes who are able to shoot fast (and clean). It’s weird, chaotic, sometimes hard to follow, and in some ways looks absolutely nothing like the biathlon that we see in every other race during the biathlon season. From a fan’s perspective it is undeniably fun. Sometimes it is hard to understand why points are at stake or World Championship medals. If you ever need an argument for why the Single Mixed Relay should be included though, it was this race in Nové Mêsto.
This race was exactly like that. Absolutely wild. Ups and downs throughout the race. But at the end of the day the podium included Norway (not a surprise), Switzerland (almost becoming expected), and Latvia (a complete and happy surprise!). There were also crazy happenings like Simon Eder taking a penalty loop to miss the podium. Romania finishing 10th for only their 3rd top 10 in the last decade including 8th in the Men’s relay at the World Championships in Oberhof. Canada in the mix for a podium until Emma Lunder’s tragic final shooting leading to this touching embrace with Christian Gow. And Jesper Nelin’s 2 penalty loops at the last shooting taking Sweden from 2nd to off the podium. Once again, another bananas Single Mixed Relay!