Breakthrough Women of 2022-2023

One of my favorite parts of a biathlon season is watching the improvements that occur. Of course there is the fun in watching the races and seeing who wins and who loses. There is also something really exciting about an athlete reaching their potential or finding a level that you didn’t know was even possible. So this pieces is dedicated to those athletes who achieved that this season!

Breakthroughs come in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes a breakthrough is an athlete rising from being very good to a great of the sport. Sometimes it is an athlete coming up from occasional top 10 to consistent top 10 contender. And sometimes you have the athletes who come out of the great middle of the pack to make a name for themselves as a top 25 biathlete. This year we were so lucky that we actually saw a little of all of this!

Before we start a few notes:

  • We’re trying to focus primarily on young athletes here usually 25 or younger. Not that older athletes aren’t eligible to “breakthrough.” It’s just usually that by the time they are further into their careers it’s more incremental improvement rather than breakthrough.
  • I have a separate piece on Rookies coming up later so many of them are not listed here. We are defining rookies as having raced at least 1/3 of a World Cup season prior to the current season.
  • There are some subtle differences between breakthrough and just improvement. I can’t put it into words though. Basically you know if when you see it. Think about it this way: Amy Baserga had a nice improvement, *spoiler alert* Polona Klemencic had a breakthrough.

Julia Simon

Overall Rank1
Career Best Rank8
Total Career Races129
Key StatisticShooting Percentage: 88.3%

Okay right off the top we are breaking our own rules. Julia Simon certainly isn’t 25 or younger. But if you think who “broke through” this season you have to think Julia Simon. She absolutely typifies one of our classic breakthrough types which is going from being very good to being one of the greats of the sport. Simon has always right around the top 10, occasional wins, and about 3-5 podiums per year. The question about her though was always that she was too inconsistent. Her peak was as good as anybody, but she just had way too many low points and couldn’t string it together.

We did a whole piece about Simon’s ascendency this season and her ability to become a consistent force this season. That’s obviously a much longer piece and we look at how she figured it out on the range. This was by FAR her best season of shooting. She ways also never “bad.” In fact if you look at her performance from this season it looks a lot like Marte Røiseland from last year. Marte Røiseland was a bit better of a shooter last year and that led to a few more wins, but the similarities are startling at least for me.

Long story short, Julia Simon broke through from being around the edge of the top 10 to being one of the best. She’s got a Crystal Globe and for the next several years when we discuss who is contending for the Overall Title she’ll always be on the short list of contenders. That’s a jump.

Lou Jeanmonnot

Overall Rank11
Career Best Rank72
Total Career Races32
Key StatisticSkiing Performance: -2.8% vs. Average

Lou Jeanmonnot could be considered a rookie or not depending on how you personally define it. She did compete in the entire final trimester of the 2020-2021 season. That’s personally my cut off for “rookie” season. Regardless of whether you consider her a rookie or not, she certainly made a big time splash this season.

When looking at what in particular Jeanmonnot did to finish just outside the Top 10 it’s actually a little bit of everything. I picked out her skiing because it was the most stark improvement that she made. But really she had a great all around season.

Two seasons ago when she last raced with any regularity on the World Cup she ended her racing 2.1% slower than the average biathlete. This year at the end of the season she was 2.8% FASTER than the average biathlete. That’s just a HUGE improvement. Another way to look at it…of biathletes that completed at least 1 trimester of racing this season Jeanmonnot finished as the 19th best skier. (By the way she was the 6th best French woman on the skis which is wild!). After her trimester in the 2020-2021 season she was 77th in skiing. That’s a big time jump.

Just to quickly look at her shooting, she is really good. Unlike her compatriot Julia Simon this hasn’t been a recent revelation either. Her shooting over the last 3 seasons has been over 90% whether on the IBU Cup or the World Cup. Long story short, Lou Jeanmonnot is really good and getting better. She’s going to be a threat for the next several year

Hanna Kebinger

Overall Rank25
Career Best RankN/A
Total Career Races14
Key StatisticTop 20 Finish Percentage: 91.7%

Hanna Kebinger was 100% a rookie this season. She had 2 starts on the World Cup before Antholz. She was called up to the World Cup team as the German women were in a bit of flux. They had cycled through a couple of other women to start the season and after a weekend on the IBU Cup where she finished 2nd, 1st, and 2nd (her first weekend of the season by the way!) she got the call up.

Kebinger showed up at Antholz and looked like a World Cup regular from the first race. For her key statistic I chose top 20 percentage. She ended up racing 12 times on the World Cup and finished in the top 20 11 times. That’s just a good metric to use to put into context how immediately good she was. There was no adjustment time as she came in and got a top 10 in her very first weekend. She actually had a top 10 almost every week that she competed in, peaking with 4th place in the Mass Start to end the season in Oslo.

In my season preview I actually questioned whether she had enough to break into the World Cup this season. Well she answered that emphatically. In just 4 weekends of racing (plus Worlds but they didn’t count for points) she scored enough to finish 25th overall. With an average finishing place of 13.4 that would actually put her in the top 10 if she had competed a full season. Hopefully this was just the tip of the iceberg!

Suvi Minkkinen

Overall Rank27
Career Best Rank43
Total Career Races88
Key StatisticTop 30’s: 15 of 23 races

I debated a little bit about whether or not Suvi Minkkinen actually counted as a “breakthrough” or just a nice improvement. Ultimately I decided to give it to her. Her breakthrough wasn’t a huge leap in ski talent, although she was faster. And it wasn’t that she was amazingly more accurate, it’s hard to improve much when you’re already in the 90’s. For Minkkinen it was about just being more consistent and she was certainly that.

Prior to this season she had a total of 65 races. In those 65 races she had 11 total top 30’s. This season in 23 races she had 15 top 30’s. A top 30 isn’t the most impressive stat, but it means that you’re consistently getting in the points, qualifying for Pursuits, and even a few Mass Starts. It’s a leap in that you’re now in the new category from middle of the pack to being good enough to be a recognized name and that’s what Minkkinen is now.

She had the peak of her season with her 8th place in the Individual at Worlds. She just missed another top 10 in the Mass Start in Oslo finishing 11th. In total she had 7 or her 9 best finishes of her career this season. It might have been on the borderline but it was definitely a breakthrough of sorts for Minkkinen. Goal for next season is just a little more speed to go from top 30s to top 20’s. She had just 6 this season. Let’s go for double digits next year!

Polona Klemencic

Overall Rank28
Career Best Rank84
Total Career Races79
Key StatisticSki Rank: 22

If Suvi Minkkinen was on the borderline of the breakthrough category, Polona Klemencic was not. She is the shining definition of breakthrough in every sense of the word. Before this season I don’t think many people outside of Slovenian biathlon fans knew very much about Klemencic. In her previous four seasons on the World Cup she was never much of a factor with just five total top 40’s. Her best finish of any sort before this season was a 7th at the Junior Worlds in Pokljuka in 2018. Other than that she had 1 IBU Cup top 20 and a handful of IBU and Juniors top 30’s.

Klemencic was well off the radar already but she was even more obscured by teammate Anamarija Lampic coming over from cross country skiing to biathlon at the start of the season. All of the focus on the Slovenian team was on her. Well we all missed who was about to be the star of the show.

Polona Klemencic came into the season and proved right away that she was something new this year. In the very first race in Kontiolahti she got her very first World Cup top 20 with a 19th. She followed that up with a 21st in the Sprint to prove that she’s for real. By the end of the year she went from 0 career top 20’s to 8. She scored her first two top 10’s including a career best 8th in the World Championship Sprint. In total she had the 12 best finishes of her career this season.

If you’re going to have a season where you have the 12 best finishes of your career you didn’t just improve in one area, you improved all over. However, the ski speed is wild to look at. She went from ranking 72 in skiing to 22. That’s a massive leap. Last season she was about 1.4% slower than the average biathlete and this season 2.5% faster! Huge gains! Was this due to training with Lampic for a season? Who knows. But regardless it completely unlocked her potential.

Now to get the shooting improved. Slovenia hired Rico Gross to coach up Lampic. We are already seeing a little bit of improved as she went from a total shooting percentage of 75.6% to 81.7%. Let’s keep moving that up!

Samuela Comola

Overall Rank37
Career Best Rank87
Total Career Races35
Key StatisticAverage Finishing Place: 32.4

Samuela Comola represents, along with Rebecca Passler and Hanna Auchentaller, a very deep up and coming wave of Italian women who are arriving just in time for the 2026 Winter Olympics in Milan. If they improve on the same timeline that Comola is showing I think the Italian fans will all be very happy.

Comola’s biggest improvements this season were…everywhere. There wasn’t one particular area in which she really made a massive leap. It was just that she was better across the board.

  • Skiing rank went from 65th overall to 38th
  • Shooting percentages up from 88.6% prone, 77.1% standing, and 82.9% overall to 95.6%(!!) prone, 82.5% standing, and 89.1% overall. Good for 14th best overall and best on the entire Italian team
  • Shooting times improved from an average of 34 seconds per shoot to 31 seconds.
  • Average finishing place improved from 52.9 to 32.4

Again it’s not that she made one major improvement, it was across the board improvements that led to this. She peak of her season was finishing 4th in the Individual at the World Championships. In the end her teammate Lisa Vittozzi just snuck by her for the Bronze medal but it was our first peak at how good peak Samuela Comola really can be. Really though Comola just raised her whole level.

For her to make this list again next season we’re going to need to see the real breakthrough in the skiing. Right now she is ranked alongside Emma Lunder and Amy Baserga. Very solid biathletes! To reach her peak though, the tantilizing top 10 level peak we saw in Oberhof, she needs to be up closer to around 20th which would put her on level with Lou Jeanmonnot, Lisa Hauser, and Hanna Kebinger. That’s the next frontier for Samuela Comola.

Nadia Moser

Overall Rank44
Career Best Rank84
Total Career Races46
Key StatisticTotal Solo Races Run: 13

Nadia Moser is making this list about a year later than she should have. In the early part of the 2021-2022 season Moser was off to the start of the best season of her career. Then in December she broke her ankle and missed not only the 2022 Winter Olympics but the entire remainder of the season.

Fortunately that was the only setback as Moser hit the ground running this year. She carried over her ski improvements she first displayed last season, and even was a little bit faster. Her shooting took a small step back but was still the best full season of her career. The 2021-2022 season for her was just three races so highly susceptible to small sample size errors. Comparing 22-23 to 20-21, her last full season, she was up by 7% prone and about 3% standing for a total improvement of nearly 5%.

In the end Moser displayed some of the best biathlon of her career. She had 8 of her best 9 finishes of her career including setting a new career best of 23rd in Hochfilzen. It wasn’t just that she started strong though as her 2nd best race of the year was Nove Mesto with other good finishes happening in Kontiolahti, Antholz, and Ostersund. It was and entire year of good. So what was the key? Not breaking her ankle and being able to race 13 races this season! Right now Emma Lunder and Nadia Moser make up a really solid 1-2 for the Canadian women. If Moser can continue that skiing improvement she could take the mantle from Lunder as the leader of the squad when Lunder is ready to retire (hopefully that is not soon though!)

Young Women Making Key Improvements:

Caroline Colombo

I went back and forth on what to do with Colombo for a very long time. If you just look at her overall ranking she leapt from a career best 56th in 2020-2021 to 20th this past season. However when you compare her actual performance there wasn’t a drastic difference at all:

  • Skiing did rise from 30th overall to 18th and improving from 1.6% faster than average to 2.8% faster than average
  • Shooting percentages were basically level from 85.6/80/82.8 to 79.4/80.6/80
  • Average shooting time was up from 29.7 seconds to 30.3 seconds so very little change
  • Average race finish was up from 33.8 to 24.5. That’s a very solid but not a huge improvement. Definitely reflects the improved skiing

This is not to take away from Colombo! She did some really awesome things this year including her first 3 top 10’s!Overall though I think the best thing that happened for Colombo’s overall ranking was just that she had the opportunity to race more consistently and pile up points. She is one of a HUGE number of very good French women. There is seriously going to be a major battle filling out the World Cup roster next season. I’m glad I don’t have to make that decision!

Amy Baserga

Anybody who has followed me for any length of time this season knows that the Swiss team had a special place in my heart. I was very happy to see 22 year old Amy Baserga continuing in her improvements. Every aspect of her performance got better:

  • Skiing up from 78th to 39th
  • Shooting slash line from 87.6/83.8/85.7 to 90.5/88.6/89.5. Nice upward trajectory there
  • Average shooting time improved from 31.2 to 26.9 seconds
  • Average finish up from 48.8 to 29.5

At the end of the season she finished in 35th overall having raced just 13 races complete with 5 top 20s. She’s well on her way and still quite young! Let’s see that ski performance continue to rise!

Tereza Vobornikova

Vobornikova didn’t make major strides this season but late in the season she did start to flash some of her very high potential. She was a chic pick to be a breakthrough athlete this season. While we saw her skiing improve her shooting actually slipped backwards just a touch. As a result the beginning of the season was a little rough. She had just two top 20’s before the World Championsips.

Once Worlds started though it was like a whole different season. She went 18th and 9th in the Sprint and Pursuit and qualified for her first Mass Start where she finished 18th again. Then she ended the year with a 6th in the Sprint in Oslo to really cap the year off.

The key for Vobornikova was that as the season went on she seemed to really find her legs. To start the year her course time ranks were well down in the 30’s, 40’s, 50’s or worse. By the last 4 weeks of racing she was consistently in the 20’s with minimal variance. The last 10 races saw her outside the top 30 in course time rank just three times when she was 34th and 38th x2.

For 2023-2024 lets see that late season consistency combine with shooting that reaches 87-88% overall. If she does that then we’re talking!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: