All posts by biathlon23

Going for Gold!Part 2

women olympics

The heat is on, the time is right,
It’s time for you for you to play your game,
’cause, people are coming, everyone’s trying,
trying to be the best that they can,
when they’re going for going for gold!

The heat is definitely on! With only 3 days until the women’s opening race on Sunday in Sochi there is just time for a final preview of the female biathletes. They kick off just like the men with the Sprint event followed by the Pursuit, the 15km Individual, the Mass Start, the Mixed Relay and finally the Women’s Relay on the 21st of February.

This is probably one of the most open Olympic Games for a while on the women’s side.There are some favourites of course but no one athlete has really dominated the World Cup so far like Tora Berger did last season. Of course Tora is still one of the favourites to win gold but her problems in the standing shoot have left the door open for the other biathletes. Particularly impressive so far this season is Gabriela Soukalova. She has won 3 races and is the leader of the overall World Cup. Her wins in the Individual races mean she is likely to medal in that event in Sochi but she could be on the podium in more than one race.

The run of races after Christmas showed that Darya Domracheva is also back on top form after a quiet start to the season. Germany(Oberhof and Ruhpolding) in particular was a strong period for her and she has a great chance of winning a few medals in Sochi. Kaisa Makarainen had exactly the same run of form as Domracheva and could also feature on the podium. Her skiing is excellent but her shooting might mean that she can’t quite reach the top step.

These four will be contending for medals in all the races but they are not the only ones. Selina Gasparin has come into her own this season and with 2 Sprint victories she can’t be discounted to do the same in the Olympic Sprint.The Semerenko twins are always there either on or around the podium. Valj seems in better form than Vita but the Olympics could change that. Olga Zaitseva will be under extreme pressure to deliver in her home Olympics and her form has been patchy up to now and so it will be difficult for her in Sochi. I think she will be able to rise to the occasion and handle the pressure with her vast experience. Another veteran in with a shout is Andrea Henkel. She thrives in the big competitions and I wouldn’t be surprised if she follows up her silver in last years World Championships with another medal in Sochi.

On the other hand there is a lot of good young talent emerging this year. Germany have a strong young team and it’s possible that Laura Dalmeier could spring a shock and take a medal(she also shares her name with the stadium – a good omen?).Anais Bescond is coming off the back of a first win in Antholz and will be full of confidence. Tiril Eckhoff is currently having the best season of her life and she too could challenge at the sharp end. My only concern for these girls is lack of experience in the really important competitions and the huge pressure they will need to cope with.

There is also Veronika Vitkova, Marie-Laure Brunet, Synoevve Solemdal, Anastasiya Kuzmina and Olena Pidhrushna who have the capabilites of winning medals. The women’s side is really tough to call at this Olympics. The relay is exactly the same. Russia, Norway, Ukraine and Germany are the ones most likely to be fighting for the top three spots but any penalty loops could destroy their chances and leave the door open for teams like France, Belarus and also Canada if they can better their amazing performance in Annecy.

In the mixed relay the same teams will be involved at the front. I would also throw in The Czech Republic, who won the only mixed relay of this season in Ostersund, and Italy to pick up any places lost by any bad performances from the top teams. All in all the women’s races are going to be very exciting and pretty unpredictable. It would nice to see some of the Russians on the podium in their home Games but whoever takes the medals will do so in one of the most difficult and competitive years and so will fully deserve their victories when they are going for gold!

Good luck ladies! Especially those lucky enough to wear bib 23!!!

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Going for Gold!

,men olympics

The heat is on, the time is right,
It’s time for you for you to play your game,
’cause, people are coming, everyone’s trying,
trying to be the best that they can,
when they’re going for going for gold!

I know what you are thinking – what an amazing poem about the Olympics! You would be right it’s just that I didn’t write it, I stole it from popular 90’s British game show “Going for Gold”! Either way it’s still works when talking about the Olympic Games which begin on Friday with the Opening Ceremony. We are getting very close to the end of the “Road to Sochi” and all the hard training and preparation is almost finished. It’s down to pure competition athlete vs. athlete to see who is the strongest both mentally and physically.

As regular readers of my blog may have noticed I end all my articles by wishing that those I have written about win some colour of medal in Sochi. Unfortunately that is not possible as there are only 12 individual medals on offer and another 9 for the relays. So here I want to take a closer look at the favourites for gold and also some outside chances who may surprise us come crunch time. (These are merely my views and have no basis in statistical fact or indeed any expert knowledge of any kind and should under no circumstances be used to bet on the races!!!)

This article will deal with the men’s prospects and the women will be in Part 2. I don’t think I am going out on a limb by saying that Norway have the best chance of winning the men’s relay. They have the strength in depth just now that no other country has and all of the relay team are capable of winning a gold medal in the individual events and you can’t say that about any of the other countries. Only some bad shooting can stop them winning. There are others who will run them close of course. France has a decent squad and with Martin Fourcade on the last leg anything is possible. Russia also have a good team but the pressure of a home Olympics will be hard to deal with. The Germans are returning to form and will be in with a shout for a medal.Others with a shot at the podium include Austria, Sweden,Slovenia and maybe Canada too.

Moving on to the individual events which are the Sprint,Pursuit,Mass Start and Individual. These are much harder to predict but again there are the favourites which have to be Martin Fourcade and Emil Hegle Svendsen. They shared most of the medals in last season’s World Championships and barring any major disasters will probably do so again. However it won’t be easy with a resurgent Ole Einar Bjoerndalen desperate to get more medals in his final Olympics and Tarjei Boe looking to add to his relay gold from Vancouver the competition is strong.

Others in contention for medals are of course the Russian team and I think Anton Shipulin is probably their best shot at getting them. He can perform under pressure and the pressure will be immense in Sochi. Simon Schempp is going into Sochi in great form after 2 wins in Antholz and could be a contender especially in the Sprint.If Jakov Fak has recovered fully from his illness he is also a candidate for a medal as he usually turns up on the big occasions. Please don’t be foolish enough to write off the young guys because of their age. Johannes Boe, Simon Desthieux and Alexander Loginov could all get on the podium too.

There is a good chance that the Sprint and Pursuit medals will go to the same people but the Individual is the best chance to spring a surprise. Guys to watch out for here are the likes of Dominik Landertinger, Michal Slesingr, Tim Burke,Fredrik Lindstrom,Lukas Hofer and the rest of the Russian team. Andrejs Rastorgujevs has been having a great season has the possibility of winning a medal to add to his recent European Championship gold in the Individual.

Even though I would like all these guys to do well what I really want is for whoever is wearing bib 23 to get gold! It has been great just supporting the man in 23 this year!Whatever happens I know that whoever wins will definitely deserve it and I want to wish all of them good luck! The Olympics only comes round every 4 years so make the most of it and remember to be the best that you can when you are going for,GOING FOR GOLD!

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Doping is for dopes!

doping

Isn’t it funny how the word “dope” has two meanings that go together really well. One meaning is a drug and the other is an idiot. They complement each other perfectly in the case of sport. You have to be pretty stupid to take performance enhancing drugs and think you can get away with it these days.

Unfortunately it occurs in biathlon but it doesn’t seem to be as big a problem as it has been in sports like cycling and athletics. The recent discovery of 3 positive tests before the Olympics has again brought the issue of doping into sharp focus. It isn’t the first time biathletes have been caught doping and I am sorry to say it won’t be the last. However I believe it is grossly unfair to name the accused before their B samples have been tested and especially when no official statements have been released naming them.Even though names have been released on the internet and one athlete has confirmed it they are innocent until proven guilty by the IBU Anti-Doping Panel. I firmly believe that the vast majority of the biathletes are clean but when you hear about these cases it always makes you wonder a little bit.

It does surprise me that biathletes who cheat think it will do them any good. I mean it might make you stronger, faster and give you more stamina but if you can’t shoot all the ski speed in the world won’t help you. Drugs are never going to turn you into the best athlete ever. They may benefit you in small increments but if you are considering taking them you probably aren’t good enough to be at the top anyway. At best you could qualify for the World Cup races or your national team or maybe push youself up 10-20 places from where you are. If however it does take you to the top you will be under intense scrutiny from WADA (The World Anti-Doping Agency) as they always test the winners, for example Emil Hegle Svendsen revealed that he has been tested 7 times in 2 weeks,and you are highly likely to get found out. Then your career is over and you will always be under suspicion if you return from a ban. All the hard work you have put in (because the drugs alone don’t make you win) will be a waste of time.

However playing devil’s advocate you can see why people can be tempted into it. For example if you have worked really hard and can only attain a certain level drug free the desperation to improve and do well can be all consuming. Athletes are a breed apart and basically give their whole lives up to their sport. Not succeeding can be crushing and if you are not mentally able to handle that the temptation is there to cheat. If like now the Olympics are coming up it makes people more obsessed with qualifying for them. Recent high profile examples in other sports prove that even people you might not expect can be so desperate that they will do anything to win. There is no excuse however and I think the majority of biathletes give their everything and if it’s not good enough they just accept it and do the very best they can cleanly.

It is a pity that sport is blighted by the curse of doping but as long as chemicals exist that can enhance your performance there will be those who give into weakness and take them. All we can do is continue to test and expose those who do so and educate and encourage all athletes not to do it. The risks athletes take in general can cause a lot of harm to their bodies. Elite athletes are damaging themselves by pushing their bodies to the limit on a daily basis and so adding to that by doping is very dangerous. Your sports career is very short in relation to your entire life and so taking health risks can ruin the rest of it. By their very nature these drugs are illegal and so you don’t know what the long term affects are because they are not rigorously tested like medicines.

It is always sad when a sport is damaged by athletes who dope and it generally reflects badly on the reputation of the sport and it’s athletes. However you must remember that it is a small minority who dope and generally they get caught if not straight away then in the fullness of time they will be discovered. WADA seems to be doing a good job keeping on top of the biathletes with rigourous testing and by catching those who do take drugs. Just remember anything you win or gain by cheating is not real and certainly undeserved. However tempting success maybe be in the end you will suffer the most because doping is for dopes!

For more info on WADA see their website:
http://www.wada-ama.org/‎
For updates on the doping scandal check the IBU website:
http://www.biathlonworld.com

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Is it a bird?Is it a plane?No,it’s Michal Šlesingr!!!

slesingr

If you look up an see something hurtling towards you out of the sky it’s probably this guy!Full time adrenaline junkie,skydiver,and biathlete Michal Šlesingr is one of the Czech Republic’s best known winter sports stars. Born on the 3rd of February 1983 in Ústí nad Orlicí he started training in biathlon at the age of ten. He graduated in 2004 by which time he had already won medals at Junior World and European level.

He has taken part in the World Cup since 2002/03 where he finished 78th overall in his first season and his highest overall position came in the 2010/11 season where he finished 9th. His only World Cup victory came in 2007 in Holmenkollen in the Mass Start and is one of eight podium finishes in his career so far. He enjoyed a successful World Championships in Antholz, Italy in 2007 winning a silver medal in the 10 km Sprint and bronze medal in the 20 km Individual. He didn’t have the best individual performances at his home World Championships in Nove Mesto. The mixed relay team won bronze but unfortunately he wasn’t in it.

This season has been disrupted by illness for Michal. He got the flu and then a bacterial infection which meant he only just came back to the World Cup in Oberhof.It was a great return though as he took 12th place in the Sprint, 5th in the Pursuit and 19th in the Mass Start. Some training in Pokljuka and Obertilliach probably helped with the first 2 results and lack of competition would account for the third. Coming back to race 3 hard races in 3 days is not easy for anyone let alone someone who is just back from illness.

As a baby Michal was described as “a little hyperactive”. A huge understatement if ever there was one! He has continued this hyperactivity into adulthood and includes among his many passions skydiving, scuba diving, climbing, white water kayaking and base jumping. Some quiet little sports there to fill in the time when he isn’t doing biathlon or looking after his daughter! In fact I think biathlon may be a bit tame and boring for Mr.Šlesingr.

What he needs to do is start a bit of extreme biathlon! Skydive out of a plane, land on the top of a ski slope, ski down to a river, kayak down over the rapids, get out at the biathlon track,hit the targets and head for the finish line!!! That would liven up his weekend a bit! Actually biathlonworld tv missed a trick not using him as a stuntman in their “Bond adventure”. Remember that scene from “The Spy Who Loved Me” when Bond skies of the cliff and parachutes down. See the clip here : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gvv2lv2s_gM
Michal could have done that easily! He might have used a Czech flag though!

So after his biathlon career he has plenty of things to keep him busy but we are a long way from that I hope. With another Olympics coming up Michal will be hoping the Czech team can reproduce their form from Nove Mesto and hopefully he will be able to beat his best Olympic performance of 16th in the Mass Start in Vancouver and 6th and 7th place in the relays. Having missed the start of the season he may be fresher than the others and has a good shot at an individual medal in one of the events at least. I really hope he can do it but he always has his adrenaline fuelled sports to keep him busy. So next time you see something in the sky and it’s not a bird or a plane,it’s probably Michal Šlesingr!!!

You can like Michal’s Facebook page or get more info on him from his website in Czech and English:

http://www.slesingr.com

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Antholtz: Ital never be forgotten!

antholz

Wow what a World Cup round we had in Antholz-Anterselva! Round six on the tour did not disappoint and we saw 3 new winners and a host of other biathletes recording their best ever results. Not a bad time to do it seeing as the Olympics are coming up and some places in the teams are still up for grabs.

This round started with the Women’s Sprint event which was won by Anais Bescond of France. Her first ever win on the World Cup came in front of Andrea Henkel and Darya Domracheva. It was a great boost for French women’s biathlon especially with the injury to Dorin Habert and a loss of shooting form for Brunet. Fourth place was taken by a fantastic Susan Dunklee who recorded her best finish ever too and was really close to getting on the podium herself.

The pressure of such good results and leading the Pursuit was too much for Bescond and Dunklee as they didn’t continue their form in the Pursuit race. Instead it was the cool head and experience of Andrea Henkel who got the win. It was her 22nd win on the World Cup her first one coming in 1998. What an amazing biathlete she is!Second place went to another biathlete getting a career best result Nadezhda Skardino of Belarus who performed really well and beat Tora Berger into third position. Tora produced a storming last lap to overtake her own teammate Tiril Echhoff who also put in a great performance moving from 14th to 4th but couldn’t match Berger’s skiing on the final leg.

Other movers in the Pursuit race were Germany’s Laura Dahlmeier who started bib 21 and finished 7th, China’s Chaoquig Song who stared 30th and made up 20 places with some immaculate shooting to finish 10th.Poland’s Weronika Nowakowska also did well finishing 15th from a starting bib of 36. The women’s races overall where great to watch in Antholz and have definitely wet the appetite for Sochi as anyone could win there!

The men’s races were no less exciting! In the Sprint Simon Schempp and Lukas Hofer shared the win after some initial confusion with the timing. A first win for both of them but sweeter for Hofer as it was his home race. They beat Arnd Peiffer into third and it’s great to see him back on the podium after a tough season last year. Bjorn Ferry returned to the Top 10 finishing in 6th and Krasimir Anev also got back in there with a season’s best result to take 7th and followed up with 5th in the Pursuit. Canada’s Brendan Green produced an amazing result to finish 8th his best ever finish in the World Cup.

In the Pursuit Schempp held his nerve and made it two wins out of two with an impressive display of physical, and particularly mental, toughness. Hofer was not able to match this and dropped down to 20th.Second place saw Jean-Guilliame Beatrix of France achieve his best result ever and he could have taken the win but for a missed target on the last shoot. Third went to Norways Henrik L’Abee-Lund who produced his best finish this season. I just hope it’s not too late for Olympic selection. Fourth place went to Ole Einar Bjoerndalen who made up 16 places from a start number of 20 in a terrific display.Other noteworthy performers were France’s Quentin Fillon Maillet who moved up from 32nd to 14th and Norway’s Martin Eng who started 53rd and finished 34th.

Unfortunately on Sunday the Women’s Relay was cancelled on the second shoot due to thick fog, that appeared as if from nowhere, with the Russian team in the lead. It’s a shame as there were still some decisions to be made and places to be won on the Olympic teams but the coaches will just have to decide based on previous races. It is the third cancelled race this year. The men were luckier and faced only a 30 minute delay before the start. France took the victory with a strong team and Sweden finished second improving from 4th last time out. Germany were third, a penalty loop from Andi Birnbacher of all people cost them any chance of victory. Canada finished a very impressive sixth rightly described as “frickin awesome” by JP Le Guellec! Belarus finished 7th from a ranking of 21st and had a great race too.

So that concludes all the World Cup rounds before the Olympics.The next races will be in Sochi! Antholz-Anterselva was again a fantastic round with great crowds and great tracks if not the great weather we usually expect there. This top venue provided some unforgettable moments for all the biathletes who achieved their career best finishes. For Simom Schempp, Anais Bescond and especially Lukas Hofer it means this season’s Antholz : Ital never be forgotten!!!

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Selina: On a “Swiss roll”!

selina

Switzerland’s Selina Gasparin has had the best season of her career so far. She has claimed the first ever victory for her country and followed it up with the second just for good measure.Both of these victories came in the Sprint event, the first historic win in Hochfilzen and hot on it’s heels the second win in Annecy just one week later.

Selina was born in Samedan, Switzerland on the third of April 1984. She is the eldest of the Gasparin sisters who all compete together in the relay team. She is also part of the Swiss Border Police. Coming from an alpine county she lists her hobbies as mountaineering and the slightly less dangerous knitting. Useful if you need a jumper to keep you warm on the mountain! She speaks 5 languages, German, English, Italian, Romansh as you would expect but also Norwegian! Now the last time I looked Norwegian isn’t an official language of Switzerland!

There is a very good reason for this however. Switzerland is much more famous for alpine skiing than other winter sports and so there coaching and facilities are not as developed as in countries. For this reason Selina decided to move to Norway where she immersed herself in the world of biathlon and cross country skiing. She then returned home with this knowledge to pass on to her fellow athletes. It was a great move for her but also a brave one as it’s not easy to leave your country and family to go to a foreign place and it shows what a strong character she has.

Prior to this season her best result was a fourth place in the Individual race in Oestersund in 2012. To make the jump onto the podium is not as easy as you might think and Selina has proved what a great biathlete she is by doing it. Especially considering the competition around in female biathlon with the likes of Berger, Domracheva,Soukalova and Makarainen and a host of others to compete with. By backing it up with another win straight away she proved it was no fluke. Where she might be disappointed is with her subsequent performances in the Pursuits. Unused to the pressure of being chased down in the lead was probably an explanation for this but she can only improve by using these experiences to learn and grow as a biathlete.

She has also helped the Women’s Relay team qualify to compete in Sochi which is a huge achievement both for Swiss biathlon and the Gasparin family. As it makes up 75% of the team Mr and Mrs. Gasparin must be so proud of Selina along with her sisters Aita and Elisa. Their chances of a medal in the games are slim with extremely strong competition at the front but you never know. A Top 6 finish I think would be like a medal for them(ok maybe not exactly like a medal but you know what I mean!!). Individually however Selina has a great chance of getting a medal especially in the Sprint event which seems to be her best. Being in great form going into the Olympics is always a good thing and she is certainly on a Swiss roll!

Good luck Selina!

You can follow Selina on Facebook and Twitter and she has her own website:
http://www.selinagasparin.ch/

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There’s no Ru-hpolding back now!

biathlon-ruhpolding-wm

World Cup 5 is finished already! Where did the time go? We only have one more WC round before the Olympics start in February! Ruhpolding as usual did not disappoint. Huge crowds, decent conditions and some exceptional performances by the competitors saw to that! It started on Wednesday with the Women’s Relay followed by the Men on Thursday,then we had the Individuals and finally the Pursuits.

The Women’s Relay was great entertainment. It was won by a strong Russian Team, Germany took second and Norway third. The result tells you nothing about the race though. Franziska Preuss had a disaster in the first leg which ended with a penalty loop but her teammates Sachenbacher, Dahlmeier and Hildebrand were all amazing to pull Germany up to second. Tiril Eckhoff had a similar meltdown on the first leg and again her team of Flatland, Solemdal and Berger pulled off a brilliant third place. However you can’t beat a Russian team of Glazyrina, Zaitseva, Starykh and Vilukhina who are shooting so well by going on the penalty loop and they got a well deserved victory.

The same type of things actually happened in the Men’s Relay the next day. Johannes Boe has more than likely shot himself out of a starting place in the Olympic Relay team by missing 6 shots out of 8 in the first prone shoot and leaving his team with an impossible task. They did however finish a respectable 9th with Tarjei Boe, Christiansen and Svendsen having great races individually. The winners after five long years of waiting were the Austrian team of Sumann, Mesotitsch, Eder and Landertinger. A thrilling final lap saw Landi just pip Germany and Simon Schempp into second and Russia finished a solid third. Elsewhere Slovenia met their qualification for Sochi finishing 7th, Italy again did well in 6th and Sweden laid down their medal winning credentials finishing 4th with some great shooting performances.

Onto the Women’s Individual and Pursuit which were both won by the on form Gabriela Soukalova who must be a strong favourite for the Olympic titles. Second went to Darya Domracheva continuing her great form from Oberhof and Veronika Vitkova finished an impressive third. The stand out performances though came from Andorra’s Laure Soulie who took her best ever result of ninth, Germany’s Franziska Hildebrand in fourth her highest place finish and Japan’s Fuyuko Suzuki who claimed 13th also a career best. Second and third in the Pursuit went to Berger and Makarainen who are both getting better and better especially in terms of their skiing right in time to go to Sochi. Other impressive movers in the Pursuit were Preuss 16th to 4th,Eckhoff 25th to 7th,Brunet 21st to 10th and Bescond 29th to 11th!

Over on the Men’s side a certain Mr. Svendsen comfortably won both races before he goes home and continues his Olympic training. Shame he won’t be in Anholtz but Fourcade and Bjoerndalen will be there. Russian’s Volkov and Ustykov took second and third in the Individual and are making it hard from them not to be selected for Sochi. Jakov Fak returned to form after injury and illness finishing 4th and Simon Fourcade seems to be back on track finishing 7th. Tobias Arwidson achieved a career high 17th place and Johannes Boe bounced back from the relay by finishing 8th. In the Pursuit Fak took second and Garanichev not wanting to be overshadowed by his Russian teammates was third. Tarjei Boe did yet another amazing race taking 6th from a start bib of 37! Other big moves came from Eder 16th to 4th and Sumann 27th to 8th continuing their good form from the relay.

So after 2 fun weekends in Germany the World Cup circus heads to Anhotlz-Anterselva. It’s the last World Cup round before the Olympics and it’s where the final teams will be decided to get on the plane to Sochi. For many biathletes it’s their last chance to impress the selectors so there’s no Ru-pholding back now! Go for it everyone and good luck!

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