Category Archives: Opinion

The Road to PyeongChang? Seriously?

Apparently there is something going on next year in February and March. Not sure what it is but maybe it’s one of those new reality TV shows about survival. People keep talking about the road to PyeongChang. I don’t know about you but the only road I know that goes to PyeongChang runs through North Korea so maybe I am right!

Of course not! It’s the Winter Olympics and Paralympics! If nuclear war hasn’t broken out by then the eyes of the biathlon world will turn to South Korea. There are other ‘so-called’ sports taking place too but none of interest to us! 😉

PyeongChang is a county in the Gwangwon province of South Korea. It is located in the Taebaek mountain region and is around 180km east of the capital Seoul. Happy 700 PyeongChang is the slogan of the area. The average height of the region is 700 metres above sea level and apparently this is the optimal elevation to live at. Expect lots of elderly spectators at the biathlon then.

The biathlon races will take place at the Alpensia Biathlon Centre which will also be used for sports such as cross country skiing, ski jumping and Nordic combined. Or as I call them biathlon’s annoying little cousins! 😉

The arena has 4500 seats and room for 3000 people to stand giving an official capacity of 7500. The altitude difference for the tracks is from 749 to 796 metres. They weren’t joking about the height of the area!

There will be 11 biathlon events taking place. On the 10th of February is the Women’s Sprint followed by the Men’s Sprint on the 11th. Both Pursuit races take place on the 12th. The 14th and 15th are for the Women’s and Men’s Individuals respectively. The Mass Starts are on the 17th and 18th. The Relays are all at the end of the programme with the Mixed Relay on the 20th, the Women’s Relay on the 22nd and excitingly the Men’s Relay on the 23rd!!! An auspicious day indeed! 😉

The races will all be held in the evening local time which means if you are watching in Europe they will be on mid-morning or early afternoon when everyone is at work. If you are watching in North America they will be on very early morning when you are asleep! Great news!

Defending their title (because let’s face it no one remembers who won in Sochi!) will be Anastasiya Kuzmina and Ole Einar Bjoerndalen in the Sprints, Darya Domracheva and Martin Fourcade in the Pursuits and the Individuals and Domracheva and Emil Hegle Svendsen in the Mass Starts. Hoping to hang on to the Relay titles will be Norway in the Mixed Relay, Ukraine in the Women’s Relay and Russia in the Men’s Relay.

It should be a great Olympic Games and it will be followed in March from the 9th to the 18th by the Paralympics. There will be 18 biathlon events over 3 categories. Men and women compete in the visually impaired races, the standing races or the sitting races depending on their impairment.

They will race over 3 distances which are the short, middle and lndividual. The short distance is 6km for the women and 7.5 for the men. The middle distance is 10km or 12.5km and the Indvidual is 12.5km or 15km.

The champions from Sochi in the short distance for the women were Russia’a Mikhalina Lysova (VI), Alena Kaufman (standing) and Germany’s Andrea Eskau (sitting). For the men it was the Ukraine’s Vitaliy Lukyanenko (VI),Russia’s Vladislav Lekomtsev (standing) and Russia’s Roman Petushkov (sitting).

The middle distance gold medals were won by Lysova and Kaufman and Germany’s Anja Wicker in the sitting race. The men’s were won by Lukayenko, Russia’s Azat Karachurin and Petushkov. The Individual titles went to Russia’s Iuliia Budaleeva, Ukraine’s Oleksandra Kononova and Russia’s Svetlana Konovalova. Winning for the men were Russia’s Nikolai Polukhin, Ukraine’s Gyrgorii Vovchynskyi and Petushkov completeing his clean sweep in the sitting races.

At the time of writing it is unknown whether the Russian team will be allowed to compete in PyeongChang as they are currently banned after the McLaren Report findings. The decision will be made in September by the International Paralympic Committee and will be an important one as you can see where a lot of the medals tend to go!

There are less than six months to go before the Games get underway. The biathletes are already quite far along the road to PyeongChang. However I would recommend booking a flight. Seriously!!! 😉

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SUPER SPRINT!

Disclaimer: It’s possible that none of the following information is correct!

Well, well, well the IBU have decided to surprise us once again by trialling a new competition. Over the last few years we have been getting used to the Single Mixed Relay and now we have the Super Sprint!

“What is that?” I hear you cry! Well it is a Sprint that is Super. That explains that! It doesn’t of course but it not that easy to find any information about it. It just appeared as if by magic on the new race calendar for 2017/18. If you look up the dates for the IBU Cup you will find on the 13th of March in Khanty-Mansisyk ‘Super Sprint Men’ and ‘Super Sprint Women’ scheduled for that day.

In true detective style (that’s in the style of a true detective rather than the style of the detectives from the TV Show of the same name) I have done some undercover work and here’s what I found out.

The Super Sprint comes in two parts. The first is like the regular sprint race with a few changes and instead of using it as a qualification for the Pursuit it will be qualification for a Mass Start.

So the first part will be like a time trial with 15 seconds between each biathlete instead of the 30 in the normal sprint. There will still be three skiing legs with both a prone and standing shoot. However the ski distance will be shortened to between 800-1200 metres for each leg.

The biathlete will have 3 extra rounds, like in the relays, to hit the 5 targets. If they fail to hit all 5 targets with all their bullets they will be out of the race.

Those left will be ranked, I presume according to their speed in finishing the sprint, and will go on to contest the Mass Start. The Mass Start will be like the regular Mass Start with 5 ski legs and 4 shoots but will also be over a shorter distance. The only difference is if you don’t clear all the targets with all your bullets, again including spares, you are out of the race. Although if everyone misses I don’t know what happens! Probably just chaos! 😉

Hopefully this new format will allow some different biathletes to qualify for a Mass Start race. Normally it is just the Top 25 in the Total Score and 5 others who have performed the best at each World or IBU Cup round who qualify for it. This means that there are many biathletes who have never raced a Mass Start.

If they can do well in the Sprint qualifying they can get a chance. Since you are out of the race if you don’t hit all the targets it will also be a good thing for the better shooters among the biathletes. There won’t be an opportunity to ski yourself out of trouble. The usual suspects will probably still be on the podium but if others get a chance to show what they can do it would be a good thing.

I believe they do already have this type of race at the Blink Festival and I think in Puttlingen and the Race of Champions but they are just exhibition events rather than official IBU races.

It is not yet clear how many biathletes will qualify for the Mass Start but I think it will be the normal 30. There are many questions still to be answered on the exact details of the race but I am sure they will be cleared up nearer the time.

The question I would like to ask is why are they doing it at all? Does biathlon need another type of race? Can they fit them all into the schedule?

Currently on the World Cup we have around 3 or 4 Individual races and 2 Single Mixed Relays. The schedule is dominated by the Sprint races and Pursuits. Will they reduce the number of Pursuits to accommodate the Super Sprints? Or will they replace the Mass Starts with these new two part races?

Who knows! It’s just a trial for now. However biathlon does need to move with the times and it is a growing sport. People like the action packed races more and so maybe the time trials will be less and less frequent in the future.

There is a lot of competition from other winter sports for audiences. Cross country has brought in the Sprint races and they are very popular(even I like them!). Alpine now has the parallel slalom that can take place in the city. Biathlon has to keep evolving and try to win over new fans so this new concept is worth a try.

It will be interesting to watch and see what happens.

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Season 2016/17 Preview: Women

ot16gs

It’s almost time! Just a few days until the start of the brand new biathlon season and it’s time for the women’s preview!
Unlike the predictable Men’s World Cup the Women’s World Cup is really exciting! It’s very hard to choose a winner this season and it should be a great one to watch.

Last season saw Gabriela Soukalova win her first ever Overall Title but I’m sorry to say there is no chance of Soukalova winning this season. Why not? Only because she has changed her name to Koukalova!!! She has every chance of winning again but it will be far from easy.

This season they are lining up to win the big Crystal Globe. With Darya Domracheva missing the start of the season after giving birth to her first child in October the race for the title will be between five or six biathletes.

As defending champion Koukalova will be the favourite this season. However it is often said that retaining a title is more difficult than winning the first one. She will have a lot more expectation on her shoulders this time and that means added pressure. Her committments outside of training may also play a factor if she hasn’t had enough time to prepare properly for the races.

Challenging Gabi will be of course Kaisa Makarainen who happily decided to continue her biathlon career. She is the most experienced of all the contenders and has won the overall title twice before. However she was the favourite last season and she didn’t deliver struggling with her shooting. She is still the fastest skier though and that will give her a big chance.

After the experience of Kaisa we have the youth of Laura Dahlmeier. She had a great season last year on the World Cup and at the World Championships. She is a fantastic shot and copes well under pressure. The biggest barrier to Laura however is her health. She usually misses one or two World Cup rounds through illness and you can’t give away that many points if you want to win the overall.

Marie Dorin Habert was amazing last season and pushed Gabi all the way coming second in the Total Score just 46 points behind. If she repeats her success then she possibly has the best chance of winning the overall title. If she can add a little more consistency she could make it a double World Title for France alongside Fourcade.

Trying to stop all of these ladies will be Dorothea Wierer. She won the small Crystal Globe for the Individual last season and was third overall on the World Cup. She was however over 100 points behind the winner. This means she needs to improve her points scoring over the whole season. Even if she doesn’t win the races she has to finish ahead of her main rivals as often as possible. The Mass Start was probably her weakest event last season but if she can improve her head to head racing she will have an opportunity to take the title.

There are others who we expect to do well like Tiril Eckhoff. She didn’t have a great World Cup last time and finished 11th overall. She will need to work on her shooting to move forward as we know she is a great skier. Franziska Hildebrand will be hoping to better her 5th place in the Overall and if she has a similar season this year she just might do it.

Further down the field Susan Dunklee will be hoping to win her first World Cup race after coming second in Presque Isle last time. Rosanna Crawford will be doing her best to get that elusive first podium finish to improve her personal best of 4th.

Looking to see a big improvement in results will be the Russian women’s team who had a hard time last season. Teja Gregorin and Valj Semerenko will also be hoping for better results this season.

Keep an eye out for the youngsters doing well this season. Galina Vishnevskaya, Lucie Charvatova, Julia Schwaiger, Paulina Fialkova, Ingrid Tandrevold and Lisa Vittozzi will all be out to impress.

There are a lot of others biathletes who will want to have a good season like Karin Oberhofer, Julia Dzhyma, Krystyna Guzik, Olena Pidhrushna, Veronika Vitkova, Anais Bescond and Franziska Preuss and others who will be missing like Weronika Nowakowska and Vita Semerenko but it should be a really exciting season for the women and I can’t wait for it to start!

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Season 2016/17 Preview: Men

Oestersund, Pokljuka, Nove Mesto, Oberhof, Ruhpolding, Antholz, PyeongChang, Tyumen and Olso! Are you ready? It’s almost time for the new biathlon season to begin! That means it must be time for a season preview too so here it is!

Looking back over previous previews they all read more or less like this. Martin Fourcade is the red hot favourite. If he stays fit and healthy all season he will win the Overall Title for the 6th year in a row. Potential challengers are Johannes Thingnes Boe, Tarjei Boe, Emil Hegle Svendsen, Simon Schempp and Anton Shipulin. They are all capable of beating Fourcade in a single race but don’t seem to have the consistency over a whole season to win the big Crystal globe.

Preview finished!

Only joking! As the top places are nearly always the same for the men I decided that this year’s preview should move away from the elite and see what’s happening a little bit behind them. Who are the up and coming biathletes to look out for? Who could get their first win or first podium? Who should be doing better? That’s what I am going to look at before season 2016/17 gets under way.

It’s sometimes hard to believe but there are some well established biathletes who have yet to win a race on the World Cup. The most famous is probably Simon Fourcade. He has achieved many podium results but never higher than second. Surely this season he will get to the top step. Fellow Frenchman Quentin Fillon Maillet has also come within a toenail of winning but again second place is his best result. Germany’s Benedikt Doll will be hoping to grab his first win. Tim Burke is another who will want to come first instead of second place as will Sergey Semenov and Benjamin Weger.

Expect a strong season from the Austrian team. Simon Eder was 5th last season in the overall title and Dominik Landertinger was 9th. With Julian Eberhard getting his first win and Sven Grossegger achieving a personal best of 5th they will be a dangerous squad this year.

Hoping to get their first taste of the podium are Andrejs Rastorgujevs who has a few 4th positions to his name already. Klemen Bauer also has a personal best of fourth as does Simon Desthieux and Krasimir Anev.

Scoring points on a more consistent basis will be the goal for biathletes like Mario Dolder, Leif Nordgren, Macx Davies, Kalev Ermits and Martin Otcenas.

Make sure you look out for some of the younger biathletes this season who will be trying their best to impress their coaches and the fans. Watch out for Sean Doherty to continue his rise to the top. The likes of Rene Zahkna, Rok Trsan and Fabien Claude will be pushing hard to do well. Keep an eye out too for Sebastian Samuelsson who has been picked for the Swedish team to make his debut in Oestersund and Felix Leitner who will start his first World Cup race for Austria.

On the other hand it’s about time Freddie Lindstrom had a better season. We haven’t seen him on the podium since 2013. Lukas Hofer didn’t have a great season individually either and it would be good to see him back on form. Jakov Fak will be hoping to improve as will Ondrej Moravec.

There are many more biathletes to watch out for but too many to mention here. The Germans are always dangerous with Peiffer and Lesser showing some good form in patches last time.

Last but not least expect new dad Ole Einar Bjoerndalen to pop up with a few podium finishes and don’t be surprised if he adds more World Championships medals to his vast collection in Hochfilzen. That’s if he can cope with the sleepless nights of course!

Hopefully it will a great season with some more first time winners and some great races. The title race might not be close but we can look forward to some great battles in individual races. Bring it on boys!!!

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2021: The Controversial Championships!

tyumen

Just when you are getting ready for the new season with interviews and posts about biathlon –the sport and the sportspeople – BOOM! the IBU delegates vote Tyumen as host of the World Championships in 2021. So what you may ask. Well unless you have been living under a rock for the past few months Russia have got themselves into a little bit of trouble.

With the publication of the McLaren Report into state sponsored doping by the Russians at the Sochi Olympics you would think most sports federations would avoid them like the plague. Not so the IBU. We have a World Cup round there in March, The Youth/Junior World Championships 2017 in Ostrov and now the World Championships in Tyumen in 2021.

To be fair all of these events were organised before the McLaren Report was published except the awarding of the World Championships to Tyumen which was voted on this past weekend at the IBU Congress.

Many people including Erland Slokvik, President of Norwegian Biathlon, and Canadian coach Roddy Ward have been vocal in their amazement at this decision and it does seem a strange one. There are many questions that need answers. For example why was Tyumen allowed to continue as a candidate after the IOC actively discouraged Individual Sports Federations from holding future events in Russia and to look for alternative hosts. Well it’s because they gave the green light to any event in which the bidding process had already begun.

I don’t have so much of a problem with this as the bid from Tyumen was started a long time ago and I am sure a lot of people have put a lot of time and effort into it. However there were another two candidates who did the same. Pokljuka and Nove Mesto were also competing to host in 2021.

So why then did the delegates decide to choose a Russian host? A question I am not sure I can answer with any certainty but here are some of the reasons put forward so far. Out of a possible 49 votes Tyumen won 25 and it is speculated that they came from the smaller Asian nations and the old Eastern Block countries. It is suggested that these countries maybe aren’t as concerned about Russia’s issues as the Western countries are.

Russia is a huge biathlon nation. It’s no coincidence that the three languages of the IBU are English, Germany and Russian. The sport is incredibly well supported there and with such popularity of course comes money.

It doesn’t surprise me that many are angry at the Tyumen decision. It did surprise me however who was not. The biathletes! Their reactions range from silence to congratulations on the winning bid. It made me wonder why when many biathletes speak out against anti-doping they would show support for an event in a country whose anti-doping agency has been declared unfit for purpose. Tyumen hosts a very lucrative end of season “Race of Champions”…

Apart from all the World Championships controversy we are still waiting to hear if any action will be taken against Russia. The McLaren Report alleges that 10 samples from biathletes were tampered with in Sochi. One of the team, Alexander Loginov, is already serving a suspension for doping but as yet we have heard nothing about any other potential positive samples. The Russians had a team of 12 in Sochi.

Yesterday IBU President Anders Besseberg stated that Tyumen could possibly lose the World Championships if these retested samples come back positive. The IBU are not doing themselves any favours in it’s handling of both these situations. The IPC provides a good example and an interesting contrast.

All in all it’s an unsavoury mess and doesn’t reflect well on any of the parties involved. The fans don’t want to be talking and reading about this. They want to be getting excited for a new season and planning what World Cup round to go and thinking about who is going to do well. They do not want to watch their sport become mired in controversy. Yes the fans, remember us? It would be nice if someone would occasionally!

It’s hard to see any of this being resolved anytime soon and I imagine it won’t end satisfactorily for anyone. However I was thinking if I start doping now, in 5 years’ time I could maybe win a gold medal in Tyumen and not get got caught……just a thought!

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Meldonium Madness!

melodium

Just to be clear before you start reading the main article Biathlon23 writes clean! Unless WADA have added alcohol and chocolate to the banned list! 😉

Meldonium, not to be confused with a melodium which is a musical instrument, is the latest drug to be banned by WADA. The World Anti-Doping Agency decided to ban it in September 2015 and it was officially added to the list on the 1st of January 2016. After which date athletes from many sports tested positive for its use. Biathlon was affected significantly with 4 biathletes having positive tests for the drug.

What exactly is Meldonium and why was it only banned this year? The drug which is also known as mildronate is principally used to treat ischaemia. Ischaemia, for those of you who aren’t doctors, is a lack of blood flow to parts of the body including the heart. Therefore Meldonium is often taken to treat angina or heart failure. As we have seen with the most famous case involving Maria Sharapova people have been taking it for a long time, in her case over 10 years. WADA had been monitoring the drug for a year before taking the decision to ban it.

The drug itself was made in Latvia and is available across the Baltic counties and Russia. It was originally intended for animals! It is not approved for use in Europe or America. You may be surprised at the amount of athletes across so many sports who are able to compete at such a high level with angina and heart failure but it turns out that’s probably not what they are taking it for! The fact that it increases blood flow around the body means that if an athlete is taking it they can improve their exercise capacity. That means they can train more and recover quicker. A distinct advantage over other athletes.

The reason that WADA decided to look into the use of Meldonium was because they were finding it so frequently in athletes samples and so began to monitor it. In biathlon the first to be found with a positive sample was Artem Tyshchenko from the Ukraine. He was followed by fellow Ukrainian Olga Abramova, then Russia’s Eduard Laytpov and finally by Romania’s Eva Tofalvi.

You would imagine that is the end of the story. They got caught, they get banned and we move on. Not so in this case as we have had athletes claiming that they stopped taking the drug before the 1st of January therefore breaking no rules. It all comes down to how long the drug remains in your system after you have stopped taking it.

WADA have stated that “cases where the concentration is below 1 µg/ml and the test was taken before the 1st of March 2016 are compatible with an intake prior to January 2016.” This has led to the lifting of the provisional suspension of both Tyshchenko and Latypov as this applied to both of their positive tests. However they are still required to explain why the substance was found in their samples.

In general the IBU seem to be doing a decent job in testing and finding possible cheats. Other winter sports have hardly found any cases of Meldonium use. Cross-country, alpine, snowboarding and all the others haven’t found many, if any, positive cases of Meldonium use. This suggests that either these other winter sportspeople are clean or much more likely they just aren’t getting caught.

Unfortunately sport is always going to be plagued by cheats. As long as they are caught and punished that helps me to believe that the vast majority of biathletes compete clean. It is getting harder and harder for us poor spectators to trust sportspeople nowadays though. With more money and rewards everything becomes about winning so maybe they would do well to remember that sport is not only about success. It’s about fun, being healthly, self improvement, setting a good example for others, learning skills and did I mention fun! Not everyone can win, even cheats will lose to other cheats. So maybe just try and enjoy your sport because it’s really not worth risking your health and career taking some random drug that might help you win but probably won’t! Even if it does help you deep down you know your success is undeserved. So please stop the MADNESS – Meldonium or any other performance enhancing drug!!!

Biathlon23 would like to point out that although not currently on the WADA banned list, the use of a melodium is not recommended as a way to make you into a better biathlete! 😉

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Some Scheduling Suggestions!

schedule

Some of my readers and I have been wondering lately why biathlon has a World Championships every year? We have the Olympic Games every four years and in the three years between there is always a World Championships in biathlon. I had not really considered it much before last season but with the IBU deciding to have two races in North America followed by the World Championships in Norway it got me thinking.

As you will know some biathletes chose to skip one or both of the World Cups in Canmore and Presque Isle to concentrate on the chances of doing well in Oslo at the World Championships. This wasn’t very good for the hosts of these World Cups as you want as many of the best biathletes competing to give the sport more coverage and a boost in popularity in other countries. It also wasn’t good for the biathletes whose minds would no doubt wander to thoughts of gold medals elsewhere and worry that all the long haul travel might affect their preparations.

So what could be done to resolve this? Well just in case I am ever in charge of the IBU (it could happen!) I thought about what I would do. Firstly I would make the World Championships every 2 years. For example for the next cycle you would have the Olympics in 2018, the World Champs in 2019, a break in 2020, a World Champs in 2021 and then the Olympics again in 2022. Not only that I would also change the World Cup schedule itself – that’s right I would be a sweeping reformer!!

Currently we start the season in Oestersund then go to Hochfilzen and Pokljuka before Christmas. Recent years have seen a lack of snow at the start of the season so I would start in Russia. Either Tyumen or Khanty Mansiysk could host the opening round as they are more likely to have snow. It also gets the longest journey out of the way when the biathletes are freshest. The second round can go to Antholz and the third remain in Pokljuka.

After Christmas we normally go to Oberhof and then Ruhpolding followed by Antholz. Sorry Germans I know biathlon is massive there but it is growing in many other places now so you would get one World Cup rotated between Oberhof one year and Ruhpolding the next. Round 5 would go to Nove Mesto which has to become a permanent fixture on the World Cup due to its huge popularity and amazing World Cup from the season before last. Round 6 switches to Hochfilzen. All three countries border each other therefore minimising travel time and costs.

The final three rounds would be a tour of Scandinavia with Round 7 in Kontiolahti, round 8 in Oestersund and the final round in Oslo. Again all counties that border each other. I know what you are thinking. What about Canmore, Presque Isle, Annecy and the other countries that can host biathlon like Estonia, Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia and Poland to name a few? Fear not I have a cunning plan for that!

The year that there would be no World Championships in my schedule would be the year where we could boldly go where no biathlete has gone before, to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations! Oh no, wait a minute, that’s the opening to Star Trek but Captain Kirk had the right idea!

In a season without a World Championships we could probably squeeze in 3 more World Cup rounds. So you could potentially have 3 World Cups across Canada and America or even further afield in Asia possibly Korea, Japan and China. You could also mix and match the established World Cup rounds with others in for example Annecy, Otepaa, Cheile Gradistei, Bansko or Brezno-Orsblie.

You could point out that usually there are only 3 or 4 people who are capable of winning the Overall biathlon title so if there is no World Championships what incentive is there for the other biathletes. Well there is also the possibility in the free year of having a “Tour de Biathlon”-I came up with that name and idea myself, I have not copied it from anywhere!!! 😉

You could take three or four venues that are not too far apart and hold a series of races across them with a nice cash incentive for the winners of each event and the overall tour. You could even throw in some classic ski races like in olden times biathlon and also some pure shooting knockout competitions as well as team events. These are just suggestions there could be many ways of doing it.

So there you have it, an alternative biathlon season. Obviously there are probably many reasons of money, sponsorships deals and logistics that might not make such ideas feasible but as I still don’t work for the IBU (but it really could happen!) they are not my problem!! If anyone from the IBU is reading this you can copy it if you like although you will have to use the name “The Tour de Biathlon23!!”

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