Picture the scene dear reader. You have just come out of the final standing shoot in first place. As you leave the stadium you can still hear the shots of your competitors and the roar of the crowd. All that stands between you and victory is one final lap of the track. Out on course you can hear the swish of your rivals skis a little way back. Up ahead there it is. The Wall. The Kontiolahti Wall. One more time up there in the lead and you are back into the stadium and on to the finish line where you will be crowned World Champion.
In reality it’s not as tough as it seems. You have climbed worse in training but at the minute it resembles the 700 feet ice wall from Game of Thrones! Your legs are burning and your lungs are gasping for air. Just one more big push that’s all it will take to claim victory. The only comfort you can take is that you know everyone else is facing the same hill. You are in a world of pain but suddenly it breaks, you’re at the top, you’ve done it, you’re there and into the stadium to take the applause of the crowd. You are a World Champion!
Compelling stuff there eh! Well that’s exactly what’s going to happen to a few lucky biathletes who will go through that soon in the World Championships in Kontiolahti, Finland starting on the 3rd of March. Yes it’s time for the preview! Eight new individual champions will be crowned here and 3 teams will come out on top in the Relays, but who will they be?
If we look at the women first there are obviously two favourites, Darya Domracheva and Kaisa Makarainen. Both have enjoyed periods of good form and also bad so far this season but if they are in good shape and shoot well there are few others who can beat them. However if they are off form there are plenty of ladies waiting in the wings to take the medals. Veronika Vitkova is having her best ever season and she has to be one of the favourites to make the podium. Valj Semerenko has been incredibly consistent and if anyone slips up on the range she will be there to capitalise. Tiril Eckhoff is also capable of medalling like she did in Sochi and you can not rule out Gabriela Soukalova even though she is not on top form. Elsewhere the young Germans have had an excellent season and the likes of Preuss and Dahlmeier could do well. The Italians also have the possibility of success with Wierer and Oberhofer enjoying their best ever form. You can never rule out the Russians either so keep an eye out for Glazyrina and Podchufarova. Mari Laukkanen is a potential medal winner too as she tends to perform well in at home in Kontiolahti.
As for the men well we have the usual favourite Martin Fourcade and it’s up to everyone else to beat him. However there are plenty of candidates to do just that. His eternal nemesis of course is Emil Hegle Svendsen who will be looking to win more medals in a sprint finish 1 centimetre victory like he usually does! His teammate Johannes Thingnes Boe will be a big favourite to win medals here too. Kontiolahti is one of his favourite tracks and he won all three races here on the World Cup last season. On this season’s form Anton Shipulin has to be in contention for medals as does Simon Schempp. Then there are the experienced campaigners like Ole Einar Bjoerndalen and Simon Eder who can never be ruled out. Other possibles include Dominik Landertinger, Jakon Fak and Ondrej Moravec who are all capable of winning races. It would also be nice to get a few surprises on the podium so lets hope some of the youngsters can get in the mix to like Quentin Fillon Maillet and Benedikt Doll.
The relays are always hard to predict. In the women’s the red hot favourites have to be the Czech Republic but they will face stiff competition from Belarus, Germany, Norway and Italy. For the men Russia are probably the form team but you can never write off Norway. France and Germany will be going for victory too and the Czech Republic also have a chance. In the Mixed Relay the same teams will be fighting it out for gold. There have only been 2 Mixed Relays all season in Oestersund and Nove Mesto. The first was won by France followed by Norway and Germany and in Nove Mesto Norway won in front of The Czech Republic and the Ukraine. It really is anyone’s race and there are many possible winners.
Whoever wins the medals it should be an exciting two weeks in Finland and I just hope we get some close racing and everyone has fun! One thing is for sure there will be some new names to add to the “Wall” of Champions!
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