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Season Review 2013/14: Women

globe

Well the season is over and for me the women provided the best competition this season. Last year was dominated by Tora Berger but this time around it was much more competitive. The Overall title was won at the last round in Holmenkollen by Kaisa Makarainen .The individual Crystal Globes went to Kaisa Makarainen in the Sprint and the Pursuit, Darya Domracheva in the Mass Start and Gabriela Soukalova in the Individual 15km.

At the start of each race it was virtually impossible to pick who would win. That’s why it has been such a great season for the women. The level of competition is fantastic with many of the women on great form and others making big improvements throughout the season. If you cast your mind back to Oestersund Soukalova won the Individual and Ann-Kristin Flatland won the Sprint. Then in Hochfilzen Selina Gasparin was amazing as she took her first ever win and then Synnoeve Solemdal won the Pursuit. Gasparin followed up her success in Annecy again taking the Sprint and Valj Semerenko got the Pursuit. That made 5 different winners in the 6 races before Christmas as apposed to 3 in the men’s races.

In Hochfilzen we had another 2 winners with Darya Domracheva taking 2 wins and Tora Berger 1 in the Mass Start.In Ruhpolding it was Soukalova’s turn to do the double and in Antholz we saw another first time winner in Anais Bescond in the Sprint and a legend secure another career win when Andrea Henkel took the Pursuit.

The Olympics of course was dominated by Darya Domracheva who took home 3 gold medals and Anastasiya Kuzima came from nowhere to make it an Olympic Sprint double gold having shown little form on the World Cup. In the Women’s Relay the Ukraine women’s team won an emotional and well deserved gold.

Back on World Cup duty in Pokljuka we had yet another first time winner in Austria’s Katherina Innerhofer but then the big guns took over as Domracheva claimed another victory and Kaisa Makarainen won the Pursuit to kick off her amazing end of season form. She took all 3 victories in her home race in Kontiolahti and set us up for a tense finale in Holmenkollen. Neither Makarainen nor Berger won any races but Kaisa did enough to win the Overall even though Tora took 2 second places. I think she deserved it as she won more races than Tora and was very consistent in scoring points. I bet Tora wishes that she had last season’s form this year as she was almost unbeatable in 2012/13. The races were won by Domracheva who took the Sprint and Kuzmina who won the Pursuit and Mass Start to take her only 2 wins of the whole season apart from the Olympic Sprint!

So the more experienced ladies took all the spoils this year but we were also treated to some fantastic new talent. The young German team look like they will do well next year. Laura Dalmeier, Franziska Preuss and Franziska Hildebrand have all shown they have what it takes to do well on the World Cup. The Canadian ladies have also stepped up a level taking 4th place in Annecy in the relay and Rosanna Crawford had some great races individually too. Susan Dunklee likewise has had a fantastic season which ended in her first ever podium.

The Italians Dorothea Wierer and Karin Oberhofer had a great Olympics and have both done really well this season and won bronze at the Olympics too. Tiril Eckhoff’s amazing form this season has softened the blow of Tora Berger’s retirement for the Norwegian team. Nadezdha Skardino has come out of Domracheva’s shadow for Belarus and achieved some great results. Teja Gregorin has also had a really good season culminating in her Olympic bronze medal.If she can improve her standing shoot by a few percent and get a little bit of luck she will surely win her first World Cup race next season.

The season wasn’t great for everyone however as the Swedish women’s team didn’t even get to go to the Olympics. Marie Dorin Habert got injured at the start of the year and so ruined most of her season and fellow French star Marie-Laure Brunet seemed to loose her amazing shooting skills a bit and didn’t get the results she was hoping for. Synnoeve Solemdal started well but the end of her season was wrecked by illness. The Russian women’s team didn’t perform as well as expected, with the exception of Olga Zaitseva and Olga Vilukhina, and will be looking to win some races next season.

All in all it has been a stellar year for Women’s biathlon. They have had the closest and most competitive racing and the titles all went down to the final weekend. We have seen fantastic individual displays and also some amazing team performances. I hope that it will be equally unpredictable and exciting next season. Enjoy your rest and your summer ladies as you have certainly deserved it! Thanks for all the entertainment, see you in November!

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Sochi Individually and Collectively!

dashasochi

Well I asked in my last post if anyone could beat Fourcade and Domracheva in the Individual races and the answer was a pretty emphatic NO!Both of them performed magnificently and even managed to win by clear margins while hitting 19/20 and while others around them shot clear. Their ski speed is a huge factor for both but for Dasha in particular her shooting has come good at exactly the right time.

Germany finally showed up and Erik Lesser took silver in the Individual going someway to make up for his grandfather losing out on an Olympic medal when he crashed into a spectator. In third was birthday boy Evgeniy Garanichev who turned 26, won a bronze medal and did it all from bib 1! A great display as you have no idea how any of the field are doing behind you and no time references. Other men who did well were Lowell Bailey who finished 8th the highest an American has achieved in this event and also Alex Almoukov who did the same for Australia finishing 45th.

Selina Gasparin won silver in the women’s race to add to the amazing season she has already been having with a clear shoot and pipped Nadezhda Skardino into bronze. The Belarus biathlete made it a great day for her country by getting on the podium along with Domracheva. Other biathletes who had a good race were Anais Bescond who finished 5th and Veronika Vitkova who was 6th.

So after the Individual race we went on to the collective races with the Men’s and Women’s Mass Starts. Well we tried anyway. The Men’s race was postponed about a million times because of fog but the Women’s went off without any problems. Well one big problem actually for all the biathletes who aren’t Darya Domracheva! She took her third gold in a row in imperious style beating Gabriela Soukalova into second. Bronze was won by Tiril Eckhoff who just pipped Evi Sachenbacher-Stehle in the final straight. Others like Anais Bescond 5th, Monika Hojnisz 6th, Susuan Dunklee 12th and Karin Oberhofer 14th continued their excellent form so far in these Games.

The Men’s race finally got underway on Tuesday instead of Sunday! Luckily we got what we have all been waiting for since the Games started, another titanic battle between Svendsen and Fourcade like last year in Nove Mesto. The outcome was the same too with Svendsen winning by centimetres! It was a gutsy performance from Emil who hasn’t had quite the Olympics he was hoping for but I am sure today made up for it. For Martin it’s an historic three medals and in third another outstanding race from Ondrej Moravec gave him his second medal this time bronze. Brendan Green and JP Le Guellec did Canada proud finishing 9th and 10th and Matej Kazar did an amazing job to qualify for the Mass Start and finished a highly creditable 15th.

So it’s on to the real collective races tomorrow with the Mixed Relay, then the Women on Friday and the Men on Saturday, weather permitting of course! All the medals have been won strong>individually and it’s now down to the teams to see who can take them collectively!

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Sochi so far: Biathlon Royalty!

sprintsochi

Phew! A rest day for biathlon today and just in time for me to calm down a bit from my ridiculous over excitement and keep you up to date with what’s been happening. We have had 4 races so far – 2 Sprints and 2 Pursuits. Unless you have been on a trip to the moon or deep under the ocean you will have heard by now that the King of Biathlon Ole Einar Bjoerndalen won the Men’s Sprint race on Saturday. His highness claimed his 12th Olympic medal and equalled the record of his fellow countryman Bjorn Daehlie. The Women’s Sprint was won by Queen Kuzmina who successfully defended her Olympic title from Vancouver.

The Prince and Princess of Pursuit were Martin Fourcade and Darya Domracheva who both showed amazing ski speed and backed it up with highly accurate marksmanship to take their first ever gold medals. The other medallists so far have been Dominik Landertinger and Jaroslav Soukup who took silver and bronze in the Sprint. Soukup’s achievement was all the more amazing after recovering from an arm injury that doctor’s thought might mean he would never ski competitively again. Well he showed them!

In the Women’s Sprint silver and bronze went to Olga Vilukhina, who pleased the home crowd, and Vita Semerenko. The other Pursuit medals went to Ondrej Moravec and Jean Guilliame Beatrix and for the women Tora Berger and Teja Gregorin who won Slovenia’s first ever medal in Olympic biathlon.

The Czech Republic are having a great games so far with 2 medals for the men in 2 races and are looking very good to win more in the relays. Gabriela Soukalova looks back on form in the Pursuit coming from 29th to finish 4th. France have also done well again with 2 medals from 2 races and a very good Pursuit performance from young Simon Destheiux who went from 46th to 21st. They will be difficult to beat in the Men’s Relay.

On the other hand Norway’s Crown Princes, Svendsen and the Boe brothers, have been a little bit off the pace. They haven’t raced competitively since Ruhpolding but will no doubt come in to form for the latter races. The German team haven’t performed very well either with the exception of Schempp but will still be in with a chance especially in the relays.

The Olympics can bring out the best in people. Even thought they might not win a medal for it some of the biathletes have been performing really well. JP Le Guellec finished 5th in the Sprint an improvement on 6th place in Vancouver and he was leading the Pursuit race up until his unfortunate fall on that treacherous corner. Tobias Arwidson of Sweden outperformed his much more experienced countrymen Ferry and Bergman by being one of only two men to shoot clear in the Pursuit – the other being silver medallist Moravec. You also have to feel for Anton Shipulin who came so close to a medal in the Sprint at his home games. Hopefully he will get something from the remaining races.

For the women Karin Oberhofer and Dorothea Weirer of Italy did exceptionally well in the Sprint finishing 4th and 6th. Anais Bescond had a great race finishing in 5th and Switzerland’s Elisa Gasparin finished 8th beating her big sister Selina. In the Pursuit Ann Kristin Flatland made up a lot of places finishing 9th from a start bib of 24 and Olga Zaitseva showed some encouraging form coming from 28th to finish 11th. Sunsan Dunklee has also been breaking all kinds of US records finishing 14th in the Sprint and 18th in the Pursuit.

Tomorrow is the Men’s Individual and then it’s the Women’s turn on Friday. I am not even going to try and predict any medallists as it’s a difficult one to call with the 1 minute penalty per missed target. The gold medals in Sochi so far have been dominated by biathlon’s royalty but can anyone beat them in the next races? You will just have to watch and see!

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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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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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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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