It’s not long to go until the World Championship in Kontiolahti, Finland. The fifth of March will see the first event take place which is the Mixed Relay and continue for two weeks until the last race on the fifteenth. It has been 16 years since Kontiolahti last held the World Championships which was watched by over 40 million people on TV. They are very excited to be hosting the event and have made a lot of improvements to the facilities since the last time.
The stadium is located 15km North of Joensuu which is in Eastern Finland in the North Karelia region. It has played host to many top class events both in biathlon and cross country skiing. To update the facility they had a budget of 3.7 million euros to spend over a period from 2011 to 2014 to be ready in time for the World Championships. In that time they have implemented a new lighting system in order for TV to broadcast in the evening and they have extended both the Main Building and Media Centre.
Kontiolahti is probably most famous for its track. It is a one of the toughest that the biathletes race on all year and the painful part comes when you reach the now infamous Kontiolahti wall. The steep hill comes cruelly near the end of each circuit just before you get to the finish line. Some athletes love it like Johannes Boe who won all three races there last season and Darya Domracheva who won her first World Cup race there and also 2 Junior WC gold medals. Others find it really hard to pace themselves over the course to leave them enough energy at the end to get up the hill. The shooting range also comes at the highest point on the course and so can be affected a lot by the wind. You can be sure that this World Championships is going to be a tough one!
The Finnish team have some chances of getting some medals at their home Championships. Kaisa Makarainen will be a big favourite to take a medal if not multiple medals. It’s her home track and she won all three races there last season on the World Cup. They also have Mari Laukkanen who came an impressive third in the Sprint behind Makarainen in Kontiolahti and will also benefit from home advantage. There are also opportunities in the Relays but it will probably require mistakes from other nations to let the Finns have a chance of a medal. With the home tracks and home crowd though anything can happen.
Back in 1999 when Kontiolahti last held the World Championships the German team dominated proceeding and won 6 golds including two for Sven Fischer. For the women the Ukraine’s Olena Zubrilova won 3 golds. In the Men’s Mass Start a certain Ole Einar Bjoerndalen won bronze and I bet he didn’t think he would be back 16 years later with a chance of winning yet another medal to add to his enormous tally.
I am really looking forward to the Championships. It will be interesting to see who can handle the pressure and if any of the home heroes can step up and deliver medals for the home crowd. Hopefully it won’t be as cold as the last time either when temperatures ranged from -29 to -37 degrees Celsius! After Oslo everyone will be heading out to Finland to start their preparations. It’s time to start the Countdown to Kontiolahti!
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