Nové Mêsto Week in Review Pt 2

Super Sprints: Just a few very quick things that were rattling around my head after the racing in Nove Mesto this season:

1.Return of COVID – Well we made it until week March before COVID really began to impact the season but it is back. Sure, we’ve had several athletes get sick throughout the season before not, most notably Elvia Oeberg actually being sick twice. But we’ve also seen Hanna Oeberg and Sebastian Samuelsson sick during the holiday break. Lotte Lie, Baiba Bendika and Ukaleq Slettemark (who missed her first Pursuit race) all got sick at the same time. And that’s just to name a few.

It seems like that with the World Championships in our rear view mirror that there was a little relaxation on the health and safety standards. You can particularly see this with the Norwegian team who must have had one heck of a party after Worlds. From that team alone: JT Boe, Tarjei Boe, Sturla Holm Laegreid, Lotte Lie, Ragnhild Femsteinevik all have tested positive in the last week or so. Seems likely there will be more. We had our first “socially distanced” celebration when Roeiseland and Christiansen won the Single Mixed Relay and there was no post-race hug.

It’s not just the Norwegians though. We learned that Julia Simon had COVID between Oberhof and Nove Mesto. Quinton Fillon Maillet tested positive after the Sprint race. And just this morning Sebastian Samuelsson was sick as well.

It’s been so widespread that even Emilien Jacquelin was joking about coming back to compete!

Just speculating out loud here but I wonder if this isn’t going to become something of a pattern. Athletes doing their absolute best to stay healthy until the championships (WCH or OLY) are past and then letting their hair down. It feels like once the championships medals are handed out then it’s time to party and mix and mingle with family and friends again. I can’t blame then whatsoever. It is an unbelievable grind, especially from New Year’s through the championships.

No matter the reason, COVID is impacting the World Cup season as it comes to a close. We obviously hope for good health for everybody. Not just for the short term, but hopefully no long effects like with Tiril Eckhoff! In the meantime there is a wide open pathway to some great finishes and career bests. First ever podium for Giacomel? A win for Hartweg? A guy can dream right!?

2. Under the Radar Career Best Seasons – At this point we all pretty much recognize the athletes having the big breakthrough seasons. Nobody is surprised to hear that it’s a career year from Julia Simon, Niklas Hartweg, Tommaso Giacomel, or Lou Jeanmonnot. You also probably wouldn’t be surprised to hear me say that it’s been a career year from some of the “lesser known” athletes like Polona Klemencic or Suvi Minkinnen. However, would you believe that this is Martin Ponsiuloma’s best season of his career? Well you might. But this is just a quick check in on some athletes you might not have totally realized are having awesome seasons!

Tarjei Boe – We already covered this one briefly in part 1. 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.

Martin Ponsiluoma – This one took me a little bit by surprise. But it makes sense. He’s been slowly but surely getting better each of the last few seasons. Usually when I think about male Swedish biathletes I go straight to Samuelsson. Besides the World Championships Ponsiluoma has absolutely been the best Swede this year. And he’s turning in the best season of his career.

  • Currently in 5th in the Overall Rankings. These are his rankings the last 4 years, his only full seasons on the World Cup: 38, 33, 10, and 22.
  • With two weeks left in the season he has 1 win and 5 podiums. Before this season he had 1 win and 6 podiums total in his career.
  • His 6 top 5’s match his last two seasons combined.
  • Ponsiluoma scored two World Championship medals this year with a silver in the Mass Start and bronze in the Men’s Relay.

Fabien Claude – Coming into the season the hopes for the French team were incredibly high. Quinton Fillon Maillet coming off an Overall Crystal Globe and Emilien Jacquelin having almost as much talent as anybody in biathlon. Hard to believe that the man we are celebrating is Fabien Claude. But for the most part, he’s been the most worthy of celebration this season.

  • After two more top 5’s in Nove Mesto he’s up to #10 in the Overall Rankings. With so many men missing with COVID and other factors he has a chance to get some more high finishes. He could solidify his first career top 10 in the Overall. The last three years have been the best of his career finishing 19th, 14th, and 14th.
  • His 10 top 10’s are double the previous most in a season in his career.
  • He has 4 of his 10 career top 5’s this season alone.
  • He has 3 career podiums and 0 this season. To solidify this as the best of his career a podium or two in Oestersund or Oslo would go a long way.

Jesper Nelin – Driven mostly by a 10% increase in total shooting percentage Nelin is having the best season of his career at age 30.

  • 3 top 10’s this season and only 2 in his career before this year
  • 10 top 5’s this year when the most he had in a previous season was 5
  • Currently ranked 16th in the Overall Rankings. Previous career best was 27th.

Anais Chelalier-Bouchet – This one surprised me. I think over the last couple of years I’ve become accustomed to gropuing Chevalier-Bouchet along with Julia Simon and Justine Braisaz-Bouchet as athletes who had the potential to win races or find podiums but struggled with consistency , especially shooting. ACB is right in line with her recent career best seasons. However, it feels to me like she’s having a down year because Julia Simon found that shooting consitsency and jumped up to the top of the rankings. While she’s likely not going to match her career best Overall Ranking of 5th, set last season, she still has a chance to match or beat her career bests.

  • With 5 races left she has 4 podium finishes including both races in Nove Mesto. Her career best is 5 podiums in a season. Each of the last two seasons she has had 4. A definite chance to match or have a career best here.
  • Going into Oestersund she has 5 top 5’s. Her career best is 8 which is likely out of reach. She may not get her career best but 6 or 7 is a definite possibility.
  • Right now she has 7 top 10’s. Her career best is 12 which likely won’t happen. However, 10 or 11 which would match the 2nd most in her career is a definite possibility.

Marketa Davidova – Starting around the time of the Beijing Winter Olympics there was considerable discussion about whether or not Marketa Davidova would continue in biathlon or return to school. Thankfully, for biathlon fans everywhere but maybe not unicorns, she decided to continue her athletic career. So far so good! While wins have eluded her (so far) it has otherwise turned out to be an excellent season.

  • Her current Overall Ranking (8th) would be the highest of her career. Over the last 4 seasons she has made incremental progress from 14th, to 11th, to 10th last year, and right now appears to be headed for her highest finish ever.
  • Her 5 top 5 finishes are already the most she’s had in a single season.
  • This is only the third season she has had with multiple podium finishes.
  • Last step is a win…maybe the Individual in Oestersund?

3. Get Tandrevold a Win! – Can we pretty please get Ingrid Landmark Tandrevold a win? This is getting very distressing. In her career she has 10 2nd place finishes with just one win. This season alone she has 5 2nd place finishes. 5! That’s outrageous. It feels like Sturla Holm Laegreid’s season except that Laegreid has a win in Annecy to comfort himself with.

Some of these she was so close to wins too! In her vlog entry about the Worlds Mass Start she said that she felt like she had the power to beat Hanna Oeberg for gold, but it was just so difficult to get around Simon due to the narrow course (and Simon blocking well) that she ran out of ground to do it. This past weekend in Nove Mesto it really looked like she was going to be able to pull away from Roeiseland for the Pursuit win, but just didn’t have it in the end.

That one win was already 2 years ago in the Oestersund Mass Start. Sometimes it feels like just earlier this season and sometimes it feels like forever ago. Hopefully she can break this string of 2nd’s and get to the top of the podium and soon! I can’t tell you how much I want this for her!

Flower Ceremony: Celebrating some career bests, seasons bests, or just really good performances…

Endre Stroemsheim: 4th place in the Sprint. He joins the team as a replacement at Worlds when FF Andersen came down with COVID in Obertilliach. At Worlds he performed well enough to justify keeping the spot and FF Andersen continued to struggle in his recovery from COVID. As a result Stroemsheim comes to Nove Mesto and immediately gets a 4th place finish. He was part of a 4 man Norwegian sweep in the Sprint race. With most of his team out with COVID there are opportunities for even better finishes now!

Hanna Kebinger: 7th place in the Pursuit Race. Kebinger’s story is similar to Stroemsheim’s. She joined the team in Antholz as the German women have rotated through a number of women trying to find a consistent team. However, Kebinger appears to be one ready to stick on the team for quite awhile. She keeps performing just a little better every week. 10th in the Pursuit in Antholz, 8th in the Pursuit at Worlds in Oberhof, and now 7th in the Pursuit this weekend in Nove Mesto. Only a few more places left to improve!

Florent Claude: 10th place in the Pursuit Race. We already spoke at some length about Fabien Claude, but Florent Claude also had a good weekend, part of a great season he’s having. His 10th place in the Pursuit was just the 3rd of his career. He’s had 8 top 20’s this season. Before this season he had 9 top 20’s in his entire career. As a 31 year old this is a pretty remarkable leap in performance!

David Komatz: 11th place in the Sprint Race. David Komatz has found some of the best form of his career the last few weeks. In Oberhof he set a new career best of 12th in the Sprint. Now just two weeks later its a new career best of 11th in the Sprint. If he can hold this form there are some major opportunities for his first career top 10 in the next couple of weeks!

Polona Klemencic: 17th place in the Sprint. 25 year old Slovenian Polona Klemencic has been one of the revelations of the season. Not one that anybody other than Slovenian fans would have known before the year she’s had 5 top 20’s this season and has become a name that nearly all serious biathlon fans know well. While her season peaked with her 8th place in the Oberhof Sprint, she showed that she’s still on good form with another 17th place finish in Nove Mesto. Before this season 17th would have blown her previously career best of 29th place away. This season it is tied for her 2nd best finish and one of 8 top 25 finishes.

Rebecca Passler: 18th place in the Pursuit. The young Italian women continue to show that they aren’t going anywhere. Every weekend one of Hanna Auchentaller, Samuela Comola, or Rebecca Passler has a new high finish. This weekend it was Passler’s turn as she finished 18th. This was good for the 2nd best finish of her season and career.

Rene Zahnka: 19th in the Sprint. Team Estonia has had a number of good finishes this season. It was time for Rene Zahkna to add his name to the list. He notched the 2nd best finish of his career in the Sprint race. His career best is 17th from a Sprint two seasons ago. Maybe he can break that in Oslo?

Eric Perrot: 21st in the Sprint and 22nd in the Pursuit. Perrot’s career best is 8th place. This season though he has two 21st place finishes, a 22nd, and a 25th. He’s building a solid base of a career here. It really feels like another high finish is about to happen though.

Otto Invenius: 23rd place in the Sprint Race. 22 year old Otto Invenius has been pegged as the next big male hope for Finnish biathlon. He struggled early this year after having injuries plague his summer and fall training program. Finally though it looks like he’s hitting his stride. In Nove Mesto rather than Junior Worlds he made the most of it setting a new career best of 23rd. I’m excited to see what he does next!

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