Targeting success! Season Preview: Women

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Calm yourselves people! I know the season starts on Sunday but there is still time for a little preview of the women’s competition. These kinds of seasons only come around every four years so there is a lot to get excited about and there will be a lot of focus on the Olympic Games in February. However there is still the small matter of the World Cup Tour to get on with first.

This year we find ourselves kicking off in Oestersund again and unlike last year I am hoping it will throw up some unexpected results. Tora Berger won all 3 races and went on to dominate the entire season. Obviously she is again the favourite to do so and to win medals in Sochi. While I am a huge fan of Berger and her amazing achievements I would like to see the prizes shared around a bit!

So who can we expect to challenge her in her final season? Well last year’s runner up Darya Domracheva could certainly give her a run for her money. A little more consistency for Dasha would really give Tora something to worry about. Veteran Andrea Henkel showed that age is no barrier to success with a fantastic season last year and Zaitseva also has a wealth of experience and a home Olympics to motivate her.

Don’t forget the young guns who are hot on Berger’s heels. A great end of season from Soukalova made a lot of people sit up and take notice of her and of course Germany’s Miriam Gossner is still a contender despite her pre-season injury problems. If that isn’t enough consider the double pronged attack from the Semerenko twins,and not forgetting their Ukrainian colleague Pidhrushna. Then there is Kuzmina, Mäkäräinen, Dorin Habert and Teja Gregorin to throw into the mix. Not to mention the successors to the Norwegian throne Synnøve Solemdal and Ann Kristin Flatland.

There is a lot of talent in women’s biathlon at the moment. It’s going to be a great season to follow and somehow I don’t think Berger will have it all her own way this time around. The unpredictable nature of the sport due to the shooting element means that nobody quite knows what’s going to happen and this year has the potential to be one of the best yet. I suggest you sit back and enjoy the fireworks – 2013/14 is going to be cracker!

Good luck ladies!

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Targeting success! Season Preview: Men

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It’s that time of year again folks! After an eternity (well just summer and autumn really) biathlon is back! The season kicks off on Sunday in Oestersund with the mixed relay followed by the Individual,the Sprint and finally the Pursuit. So the boys will be back on track with all guns blazing-literally! It’s a big season for everyone with the Olympics starting in a mere 3 months so what can we expect form the men’s side this year?

Well as you might have guessed the big favourite has to be Martin Fourcade. Five Chrystal globes last season and a handful of medals from the World Championships makes him the guy they will all be gunning for. Unfortunately for the others like a French wine he seems to be getting better with age.

What about his main competition this season. Well the top two on his tail have to be the Russian ladies favourites from Norway Emil Hegle Svendsen and Tarjei Bø. These boys will be very hard to beat as illness hit seasons for both of them last year were still better than most others full seasons.

Beyond these three who else is left to challenge. There is a whole team from Russia who can do well but with their main aim the home Olympics in Sochi I can’t see them putting too much effort into winning a Chrystal Globe. Elsewhere we have the Germans. A poor season last year by their own high standards should see a highly motivated Peiffer, Birnbacher and co. launch a major attack on the podiums this year.

We should also see continually improving athletes like Jakov Fak and Dominik Landertinger being a challenge to Fourcade’s dominance and closer to home he will have to watch out for his French teammates and of course his own brother. Have I forgotten someone? Oh yes – young Ole Einar Bjørndalen! You can never count him out for a race win but a Globe will be much more difficult.

What I like best though about the opening round of the IBU World Cup is that no one really knows what shape they are going to be in at the start and it can throw up some unexpected results. Take the first Sprint podium last year which saw JP Le Guellec win his first race and Alexis Boeuf and Cristoph Sumann take second and third.

So who is going to win the prizes this time round? Well looking into my Chrystal Globe I can see victory for……now that would be telling!!! All I know for sure is that it’s going to be one hell a season with so many male biathletes at the top of their game and all competing for the few Olympic medals on offer. My advice – just sit back and enjoy the show and whoever wins the Globes and medals will thoroughly deserve them all!

Good luck guys!

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Hungary for biathlon!

hungaryfans

What’s the one thing I love more than biathlon? Biathlon fans of course! Finding people with the same kind of passion for a sport as you is great and if they come from all different countries and cultures so much the better. It has nothing to do with the fact that they are the same people who read my blog! Honestly!;-)

Hungary might not be the first country you would associate with biathlon but it is there that a group of guys got together via their shared love of biathlon and created (the imaginatively titled!) Biathlon Fans Hungary.

It was through the medium of the internet (useful thing that internet!) that 5 guys from all around Hungary met on forums and community pages to share their passion for biathlon in a country which is dominated by football, handball, water polo,volleyball and other non-winter sports. András, Ákos, Sanyi, Szilveszter and Dani had never even been to a race before when they first started communicating.

That was all about to change however when the intrepid Dani decided to go to his first race in Nove Mesto to watch a World Cup event. Inspired by their friend, András, Sanyi and Szilveszter went to the World Championships in Ruhpolding to watch their favourite, Magdalena Neuner, at least once before she retired. That was when they decided as a group that they should go to last season’s World Championships in Nove Mesto and what a time they had!

Not content with just watching the events by day they also had a plan for how to fill their evenings as well! Already an international fan club after David and Antoine joined from France they made even more friends by organising parties and inviting many people from the stadium to join them which eventually included some of the biathletes! They now have an official t-shirt and also their own blog which I highly recommend and they are the first official IBU registered fan club from Hungary. So bereft of biathlon this summer they organised a tour and visited amongst other places Obertilliach,Ramsau and Pokljuka to meet and interview some biathletes during their summer training. That’s dedication for you!

What makes these guys special is that they support everyone in biathlon. I imagine like any fan they have their favourites but it doesn’t stop them encouraging and shouting for all the biathletes. Like me they take an interest in everyone who takes part from Fourcade and Berger at the top to less well known biathletes from non traditional winter sports countries as you can see from their great interviews on their blog. I don’t know what their plans are for this season but if you see a bunch of friendly faces in red t-shirts making a lot of noise at any of the World Cup rounds this season be sure and say hello. I am sure they would love to meet anyone who is as Hungary for biathlon as they are!

Well done guys! Keep up the amazing support and those great interviews!

Read the blog: http://biathlonfanshungary.blogspot.co.uk/
And join their Facebook page!

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Gwizdon:In Pole position.

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Winner of the Sprint race in Sochi last season Magdalena Gwizdoń laid down a marker for the upcoming Winter Olympic Games. She followed that up with a 5th place in the Individual the same weekend. She obviously liked the track and was good form around the time the Games will take place next year.

Magdalena Gwizdoń was born in Cieszyn, Poland on the 4th of August 1979. She has already represented her country in two Olympic Games with her best result coming in 2006 when she finished 7th in the relay. Last year was probably her best season in biathlon since 2006/7. During that season she appeared 3 times on the podium winning her first World Cup race, the Sprint event, in Oestersund and performed admirably in her debut Olympics.

Last season she achieved four Top 6 finishes including those great results in Sochi and meant that she finished 15th in the Total Score just one place behind her compatriot Krystyna Palka. She finished just outside the Top Ten in 11th place in the Sprint standing which judging by past results is her best event. A 12th place finish in the Individual,16th in the Pursuit and 21st in the Mass Start standing helped Poland to a 7th place finish in the Nation’s Cup.

As a member of the Polish military she was also eligible to take part in the CISM World Winter Games in Annecy at the end of the World Cup season. The Polish ladies sprint team finished 5th with Magdalena finishing 25th individually. Overall the Polish women’s team performed very well last season winning 2 medals at the World Championships in Nove Mesto. Unfortunately Magdalena didn’t win one but her vast experience is bound to have played a part in helping Palka and Monika Hojnisz in their success.

At the age of 34 Gwizdon is coming towards the end of her career. Like many of the other women competitors in biathlon she seems to have saved her best form for last. It was over 6 years between her 2 World Cup victories and she is producing some of the best performances of her career now. Hopefully she will continue this form into the new season and I would love her to see her in Pole position to get a medal in Sochi as just reward for all her hard work and dedication over her long career.

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Golden ANEV-ersary?

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Krasimir Anev is a Bulgarian biathlete who was born in Samokov on the 16th of June 1987. He is probably better known for his performances at the European Championships than on the World Cup tour but that is starting to change. He has won 5 European medals to date including at last season’s event in his home country in Bansko. He took the bronze medal in the Individual event to cap off a fine 2012/13 season.

It began way back in Oestersund where he achieved his best result on the World Cup by finishing 8th in the Individual. This seems to be his best event as it has also provided him with 2 other European medals, a silver and bronze, and saw him round off the season with a 13th place finish in Sochi. Other impressive results for Anev include an 11th place finish in the Sprint in the World Championships in Nove Mesto and a further two 19th position finishes in Pursuit events in Nove Mesto again and also in Oslo.

This led to an overall finish of 38th on the Total Score for the season and 10th place in the Individual standings. He helped Bulgaria to 14th place in the Nations Cup just behind the likes of Switzerland, Slovakia and Slovenia.

Bulgaria boasts some excellent biathlon facilities. Belmeken is a great training centre, there is also Borovets and of course there is Bansko where the European Championships were held and is a regular stop on the IBU Cup. It has produced some very good biathletes like Ekaterina Davofska who won an Olympic gold medal in Nagano in 1998 and is now the President of the Bulgarian Biathlon Federation, and also Irina Nikulchina who won bronze in 2002 in Salt Lake City.

So what are Bulgaria’s expectations for Anev this year? He needs to push on from the success he has had in European Championships and be more consistent on the World Cup. A first podium in the World Cup is not out of the question for him especially in the Individual event. I imagine they will be hoping for another Olympic medal to add to the Bulgarian collection but it will be a very difficult task for Anev considering the competition. However if he continues to improve and gain experience you never know what he could produce in the Individual event in Sochi. It has been 16 years since Bulgaria won an Olympic Gold in the Individual so could 2014 be a golden ANEV-ersary? It would be nice, wouldn’t it?

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Soukalová: Sing when you’re winning!

soukalova

Singing sensation and biathlete, Gabriela Soukalová proved what a great competitor she is and the excellent progress she is making in her career by winning all 3 events on the final stop of the World Cup last season. Taking top spot in the Sprint, Pursuit and Mass Start in Khanty-Mansiysk really put Soukalová in the spotlight for next year’s World Cup and Olympic Games.

Her results earlier in the season were an indicator of what was to come. Three podiums in Pokljuka, a win in the Sprint, 2nd in the Pursuit and a 3rd in the Mass Start, mean that when she is on form there is no stopping her. It also means these must be her 3 favourite events!

Gabriela Soukalová was born on the 1st of November 1989 in Jablonec in the Czech Republic. She started to compete in biathlon in 2005. She topped of a great season last year by helping the home nation to a mixed relay bronze medal in Nove Mesto at the World Championships. Having recovered from illness last summer and again around Christmas it is not surprising that her best form came towards the end of the season.

She is becoming increasingly known for her singing as well as biathlon. She provided the soundtrack for biathlonworld TV’s ‘The Spy Who Loved Biathlon’ with her version of ‘For Your Eyes Only’. She has also sung at press conferences –‘summertime’ being one example from last year. She also performed at the Closing Ceremony in Nove Mesto with her version of No Doubt’s ‘Don’t Speak’. A video also exists of her wandering through a forest singing ‘Scarborough Fair’.

A beautiful girl with a beautiful voice but what can we expect of her on the World Cup this season and for the Sochi Games? If she can produce the same form she showed in Pokljuka and Khanty she is a serious contender for a medal in one or more of the individual events. As football fans often say ‘you only sing when you’re winning’ I get the feeling we will be hearing many more songs from Gabriela both next year and well into the future.

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Le Guellec: CAN he do it?

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I for one was quite surprised when Jean-Philippe Le Guellec won last season’s opening Sprint race in Oestersund. Not because of JP winning, because he has always had the potential to do it, but because he was the first Canadian man to stand on the podium let alone win a race at the World Cup.

Canada is well known for Winter Sports especially their impressive alpine skiing team so you would have thought they would have had a few more successes since Myriam Bedard won double Olympic gold in 1994. The truth is though that biathlon is a sport traditionally dominated by Europeans and in fact Canada only boasts one other athlete, Zina Kocher, who has reached the podium. Coincidentally she did this in Oestersund too finishing 3rd in the Individual in 2006.
However the North Americans are fighting back with Tim Burke’s silver medal in Nove Mesto and JP’s debut win. They are progressing slowly but surely and hopefully will challenge the traditional biathlon giants like Norway, Russia and Germany this season.

Le Guellec was born on the 31st of July 1985 in Kingston, Canada and grew up in Quebec making him fluent in English and French. He started doing biathlon at the age of 13 in the Canadian Royal Air Cadet Movement and after 2 years Daniel Lefebvre recruited him to race in the civilian program. He began competing in biathlon in 1999 and joined the national team in 2003. He enjoyed a successful junior career winning 3 medals at the Junior World Championships. He has competed in 2 Olympic Games and was obviously inspired by his home Games in Vancouver where he finished a creditable 6th in the Sprint, his highest finish in that event at the time.
He started to make his presence felt in the 2008/9 season where he finished in the Top 10 twice and finished a career high 32nd in the Total Score. Despite his first win last season he finished a slightly lower 35th overall. He did however finish in the Top 40 of every discipline last year and helped Canada to 16th spot in the Nation’s Cup.

So what about this season for JP? Well not resting on his laurels he has been training with a Swedish cross-country sprint specialist on his ski technique. This is in an effort to better his efficiency, power and fluidity on skis. In July he headed to Canmore to an annual test to see if all the new training has paid off. Without going into detail I am happy to report that both his skiing and shooting have shown a marked improvement. With a decent summer of training behind him JP looks like he will be heading into next season in good shape.

So can he be the first Canadian man to win a medal at the Sochi Olympics? Well he is a good outside bet for a podium in at least one of the events and he has had his best results so far in the Sprint. CAN he do it? Let’s hope so! It would be great for Canadian and North American biathlon if he could!

Have a look at JP’s website in English and French: http://www.jpleguellec.biz/en/home.php

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