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?

jp

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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Vamos Victoria!

padial

Having visited the beautiful Andalusian city of Granada, Spain it’s not the kind of place you would imagine as the home of a biathlete. But that’s exactly what it is. Granada is the home to Spain’s first Olympic biathlete Victoria Padial Hernandez. The 25 year old has been cross country skiing from a young age and took up the sport of biathlon in 2007.

In her first 3 years of competing she managed to qualify for the IBU Cup, the World Cup and also the Vancouver Olympic Games. A pretty meteoric rise considering that she has done it all with only the assistance of her coach, family and sponsors without any funding or help from Spain’s funding bodies. A common occurrence in fact from athletes who are not from traditional winter sports countries.

Despite this she has put in some very good performances on the World Cup. Her best result came in Sochi where she finished 40th in the Individual event – a good sign for the forthcoming Olympics. She also finished 44th in the Oberhof Sprint and 45th in the same event at the World Championships in Nove Mesto. A 47th in Holmenkollen and 49th in Oberhof were her best results in the Pursuit.

This summer seems to have gone well for Victoria as she achieved an excellent bronze medal in the Summer World Championships held in Italy. She finished a creditable 8th in the Sprint and turned that into 3rd in the Pursuit. Hopefully these results will translate onto the snow and she will be able to break in to the Top 40 on a regular basis.

Victoria had a pretty consistent season last year finishing regularly from around 40th to 60th position. She needs to improve on her standing shoot but she has plenty of time to do this and the more experience she gains through the World Cup and Olympics the better she will get. Her summer experience should help her in this and maybe the fact that this is an Olympic year. Seasons that contain an Olympic Games can often throw up some unusual results as the top athletes can take their eye of the ball a little to concentrate on the Games. If Padial can take advantage of this and continue her great progression we may see her in the Top 30 and she can show the Spanish authorities what they are missing.

Vamos Victoria!

For more information about Victoria in English and Spanish check out her website:
http://victoriapadial.es/
She has a calendar out now!
She is also on Facebook and Twitter and also has her own channel on Youtube! Where she gets time to train for biathlon with all these social media committments I do not know!;-)

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Semerenko twins: Double trouble!

vita

Unsurprisingly born on the same day, the 18th of January 1986, Ukrainian twins Valentyna Oleksandrivna Semerenko and Viktoriya Oleksandrivna Semerenko have been on the World Cup for over 8 years. Better known as Valj and Vita the ladies from Sumy have confused many of us over the years. Sometimes they have different coloured hair but dressed in the Ukrainian biathlon suits and hats it’s hard to tell them apart.

However as results show they are not exactly the same in terms of biathlon. They have the same results in the relay competition (obviously!) where they compete together but what about their individual performances? Vita has three bronze medals in individual events to Valj’s one. She has also finished second on the podium three times whereas her sister has only managed third place as her best result. Having said that it was Valj who won an individual bronze in last year’s World Championships in Nove Mesto in the 15km.

valj

It must be a bit strange racing against your own twin. There are many examples of siblings who compete against each other in biathlon but twins have a different kind of bond. Normally you want to give all the support you can to your family members but then you have to turn around and hope that you beat them. That’s not so easy for a twin. They may have different personalities but I imagine physically they are very similar so out skiing each other could be a problem. Looking at the shooting results Vita seems to have the edge which may explain her slightly greater success. However I am sure they enjoy having each other around for support and training.

The Olympics are close to home for the girls and so I am sure they will enjoy great support there. There is no reason why they should not perform well in Sochi and come away with a few medals. The relay is probably their best shot at gold having finished second so many times but the Norwegian and Russian teams will be particularly difficult to beat. They are both capable of collecting some medals in the individual events too.

Of course what they should have done at the beginning of their career was not to tell anyone they were twins and one could do the Sprint event and next day the other could have done the Pursuit. Or they could have swapped over half way through the race when there are fewer cameras out on the forest tracks! Only I have such an unscrupulous mind however so the other biathletes will have to watch out for double trouble this season!

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Johannes: The next big Thing!

johannes bo

Things to knøw about Johannes Thingnes Bø :
He was born on the 16th of May 1993.
He was born in Styrn, Norway.
His big brother is Tarjei Bø.
He is the youngest Norwegian to appear in the National Team.
He is a three time Junior World Champion.
In 2 Junior World Championships he has won 5 gold and 2 silver medals.
He won a gold and silver medal in the World Junior Olympics.
He won the Super Sprint at this year’s Blink Festival.

Sø we have yet another young and very talented Norwegian breaking onto the World Cup. Where do they get them all? Well Johannes isn’t exactly an unknown quantity. He has been setting the biathlon world alight now for a good few years in the Junior ranks and last year saw his debut on the Senior tour. He competed in the final three events of the season in Holmenkollen, Sochi and Khanty-Mansiysk. Two 20th place finishes in the Sprint and Pursuit made for a very promising debut for the 20 year old.

He is a fast and accurate shooter and he is also a good skier which will be worrying to some of the senior members of the Norwegian Team. With the Olympics coming up there are probably 2 spots available on the relay team and Johannes has a good chance of getting one. If he can perform well on the World Cup he will give the Norwegian selectors a big headache for Sochi. If he can replicate what Tarjei did in his debut season it will be a great start to his Senior career.

Some might argue that Sochi may be a bit too soon for Johannes but if he is good enough then he is old enough. He managed to beat the likes of Svendsen, Fourcade and his brother in this year’s Blink Festival in the Super Sprint event. Obviously this takes places in the summer on roller-skis and isn’t a huge indicator of form for the season but it will definitely give him confidence and is great experience for the youngster.

It will be very interesting to see what Johannes can achieve this season. He has the talent to get some Top 10 finishes on the World Cup tour and possibly even a podium but we have to remember it will be his first proper season and it’s a steep learning curve. Whatever he does I am sure he will be good to watch and I love it when a new biathlete comes up to the Senior tour and gives the big boys a run for their money. We may have to wait until the 2014 season to see him at his best with a year’s experience under his belt but I am really looking forward to seeing Bø versus Bø* and watching the progress of biathlon’s next big Thing!

*if anyone from NRK is reading this it would make a fantastic biathlon based gameshøw! Possibly presented by Emil Hegle Svendsen!;-)

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What happ-ARND last season?

peiffer

I think this is the question that Arnd Peiffer will be asking himself this year as well as the German coaching staff and the fans. Last season was pretty terrible for Arnd and not much better for the rest of the German men’s squad. After a great few seasons where did it all go wrong?

Arnd Peiffer(no relation to Michelle ;-)) was born on March 18th 1987 in Wolfenbüttel, Germany. He began competing on the World Cup in 2008 and attained his first victory by the end of that season. He has won a total of 8 World Championship medals. He enjoyed great success in 2011 in Khanty- Mansiysk winning an Individual gold in the Sprint and silver in the Mixed relay. He also has a gold from the Mixed relay in 2010 and a further 5 bronze medals from relay events in Pyeongchang,Ruhpolding and Nove Mesto.

This last medal in the Men’s Relay from 2013 was the highlight of a difficult season for Peiffer. He missed far too many targets on the shooting range and was nowhere near competing with the likes of Fourcade and Svendsen. This dip in form coincided with the retirement of Michael Greis and for me may have played a part in Peiffer’s loss of form.

Greis was the leader of the German team and had by far the most success and experience of their athletes. His absence meant that Peiffer was left,along with Andi Birnbacher, to fill the role left by Greis and probably put a lot of extra weight on his shoulders. Pressure can often cause people to under perform and I think this goes some way to explaining last season’s problems.

However having a bad season can sometimes do athletes a lot of good. It gives them a taste of failure which they do not want to ever repeat and can provide them with a greater understanding of themselves and extra motivation to do well. It can also allow them to assess themselves in a way they might not do when they are enjoying relative success and let them make improvements in areas they may have previously thought unnecessary.

I think Arnd Peiffer can use last season to help him become a better biathlete and he will show that he has great strength of character in doing so. He is already well into preparation for next season having spent time training in Oberhof, Davos and Bormio. He has the possibility to medal in Sochi if he can find some shooting form. In analysing what happ-ARND last season he will surely be able to improve his performances in the future.

Arnd’s Website: http://www.arndpeiffer.de

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Kaisa:So close to the Finnish!

kaisa

Will they ever let Kaisa Mäkäräinen retire from biathlon? She has been trying but with the Winter Olympics tantalisingly close and the World Championships in Finland next time round she is being tempted to continue again and again.

Born January 11, 1983 in Ristijärvi, Finland Kaisa-Leena Mäkäräinen has been competing internationally since 2005. She was a cross-country skier up until the age of 20 when she changed disciplines to biathlon. She has won 3 World Championship medals; gold and silver in 2011 and a bronze in 2012. In fact the 2010/11 season has been Kaisa’s best so far as she also won the Overall World Cup and Pursuit Chrystal Globes. This success led to her being named Finnish athlete of the year in 2011.

She currently has 5 World Cup wins to her name and as 3 of them came in the Pursuit it’s no wonder that she considers this her favourite event along with the Mass Start. With 8 years of experience competing at the top level Kaisa has to one of the favourites to medal in Sochi and after an unsuccessful Olympics in Vancouver ( her best result was 45th in the Pursuit) she will be more determined than ever to make this a reality.

Unusually for biathletes these days Kaisa can normally be found training alone rather than with her teammates. This summer she spent her time training between Italy, Austria and her home in Joensuu, Finland. However this doesn’t seem to have bothered her one bit as she has been training like this for many years and it has done her no harm. In fact it has resulted in her becoming one of Finland’s best ever biathletes and this summer she has already won the race up the Lysebotn Opp and the Mass Start event at the Blinkfestival in Norway.

Kaisa has always had a pretty good shooting record and her ski speed is also up there with the other top female biathletes. She finished inside the Top Ten in both events in this year’s World Cup round in Sochi and has generally performed well on her other visits to Russia in Khanty- Mansisk. Hopefully Kaisa can maintain her form throughout the coming season and the next and take home some medals from the Winter Olympics and the World Championships in Finland and go happily in to her retirement now that she is so close to the Finnish!

We will miss you when you go! Good luck Kaisa!

Kaisa’s website : http://www.kaisaleena.com/main/

Watch Kaisa at the Blinkfestival : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XAeoNCOEmZI

Update: This year Kaisa has said she will take each year as it comes and will retire when she is ready. Maybe she is not so close to the Finnish afterall!:-)

As of April 2015 Kaisa has decided to compete for 1 more season at least! Hurrah!

Mass Start: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d2azqxvxSCE

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