Tag Archives: Andrea Henkel

Baiba Bendika: The Interview!

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Baiba Bendika is a Latvian biathlete who was born on the 27th of June 1991 in Cesis. She made her international debut in 2008 and her World Cup debut in 2011. She has participated in three Junior World Championships and four World Championships. Last season she finished 49th in the Total Score and has a personal best finish of fifth.

You can follow Baiba on Twitter: @biathleteLV

Why did you decide to become a biathlete?

My father was a biathlete for a few years and his coach was looking for kids for a new biathlon group. He called his old biathletes and so I started to go to biathlon training with my brother!

Is biathlon popular in Latvia? Do you get any funding from your country or do you have to find it yourself?

There are many people who enjoy watching biathlon, but there are not too many biathletes competing in Latvian races. There is a little money from sport schools, but mainly all the money comes from parents until you get to the national team, then there is money from federation sponsors and the country’s sport committee.

Last season was your best ever with a top finish of 5th in the Canmore Sprint. Can you describe the race and how you felt?

The race was with a strong and changing wind, but I got lucky and when I shot it wasn’t so bad, so I did a fast shooting and felt really free and with a clear mind on the track. It was a perfect day for me when everything came together, only on the last loop I heard my result from the Ukraine coach and was really surprised and even thought for some seconds that this information was not for me. So it was a crazy feeling to change your best result from 41st place to 5th!

Why did you have such a good season last year? Did you change anything about your skiing, shooting or training?

Yes, I changed coaches and also my preparation was different. I had better skis from Madshus sponsored by Sportland and also good help from the wax team. I improved my shooting and skiing technique, but the big part I guess is that all the hard work that I had put in in those many years just finally paid off.

What are your plans for summer training?

This year I will have some camps without the team at high altitude, so this again will be something new for me and I’m already discovering new training places. There is the Summer World Championships in Estonia, Otepaa in August, so it’s almost home and I hope to be ready for this event too.

What are you goals for this season?

I want to be consistent all season and to be in the points as much as I can, so that at the end of the season I can be in the overall Top 30, but also I finally want to do well at the World Championships.

Do you like the Single Mixed Relay? Could you do well in it with Andrejs Rastorgujevs?

Yes, I really enjoy this race because it’s fast and dynamic and it’s also a good possibility for small nations like Latvia to get good results and I am sure that we can do even better than last season’s two 8th places.

Do you have a favourite biathlon track? Where is it and why?

First I would like to say that it’s Canmore, I would love to see this track every season. But from the regular stadiums I enjoy Antholz like almost every biathlete and also Hochfilzen, so I’m happy that the World Championships will be there. And from IBU tracks I’d like to mention Beitostolen.

Who is your favourite biathlete (past or present) and why?

For the men it’s the King Ole, because I grew up watching him and he is still so good and it’s incredible how you can stay motivated for so many years. For the women it’s Andrea Burke (Henkel) because she showed me that also small biathletes can be on top (she is 158 cm, I’m 155cm).

Does your rifle have a name?

No, it’s just a good friend of mine, but maybe I need to give it a name!

Describe yourself in three words.

Short, positive, motivated.

Quick fire Questions:

Favourite biathlon nation (not your own): Norway
Favourite teammate: Ilmars Bricis
Favourite rifle design (any biathlete): It’s hard to imagine now, but let’s say- Quentin Fillon Maillet.
Favourite ski suit design (from any nation): Latvia and Italy
Favourite shooting range: Oslo
Lucky bib number: 63
Funniest biathlete on the World/IBU Cup: Johannes Thingnes Boe
Nicest biathlete on the World/IBU Cup: Tiril Eckhoff
Best thing about being a biathlete: Biathletes are the best and it’s fun!

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Raubichi: Give Youth a Chance!

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For this year’s Youth/Junior World Championships all eyes will be turning to Belarus. The home of Darya Domracheva will be hosting this year’s Championships in Raubichi, a purpose built winter sports complex just 20km North East of Minsk. The Junior WC was first held in 1997 in Forni Avoltri Italy followed by the Youth WC in 2002 in Ridnaun also in Italy. You might recognise some of the former winners. If you are good enough to get a medal here you are joining some illustrious company.

Medalists from the YJWC’s include Andrea Henkel, Olga Vilhukina, Darya Domracheva, Magdalena Neuner and Dorothea Wierer. Some former male champions include Simon Fourcade, Emil Hegle Svendsen, Anton Shipulin, Lukas Hofer, Simon Eder and Jean Guillaume Beatrix to name but a few! This year’s races start with the Youth Men and Women’s Individual on the 18th of February and end on the 24th with the Men’s and Women’s Junior Relays.

The Youth section of the championships is open to athletes who are under 18. To qualify as a Junior you must be between the ages of 19 and 21 by the 31st of December which is the cut-off date for the age ranges. Each country has their own selection criteria by which they select the eligible athletes. Last year’s competition took place in Presque Isle, USA and showcased some great young talent that is coming through in biathlon.

The two biathletes who stood out in the Youth category were American Sean Doherty and Italian Lisa Vittozzi. Curiously they both achieved exactly the same results with both winning gold in the Sprint and Pursuit and silver in the Individual. Other impressive performers were Julia Schwaiger of Austria who won the Individual and Germany’s Anna Weidel who was second in the Sprint and Pursuit behind Vittozzi. France sent a strong team and reaped the rewards with two individual medals, one each for Julia Simon (bronze in the Sprint) and Estelle Mougel (bronze in the Pursuit) and team gold in the Youth Relay. Stand outs among the young men were Germany’s Marco Gross and Russia’s Dmitrii Shamaev who were 2nd and 3rd respectively in both the Sprint and Pursuit. Another young Russian, Yaroslav Kostyukov, won the Individual and Russia also won the relay ahead of Canada and Finland.

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There were equally good performances from people just outside the medals who will be pushing to get on the podium this time around. America’s Maddie Phaneuf, Estonia’s Tuuli Tomingas and Russian pair Liliya Davletshina and Maria Ivanova will all be hoping to medal in the Women’s competition although some will be making the move to Junior level. The young Canadian guys will be looking for some individual medals to add to a very impressive Relay silver as will the young Finns who were third.

Last year’s Junior competitions were a little more evenly spread in terms of medalists. On the Womens side a Russian, Evgeniya Pavlova, won the Sprint, a Kazakh Galina Vishnevskaya won the Pursuit and Luise Kummer a German won the Individual. Austria and Canada also had success with Lisa Hauser and Sarah Beaudry. As for the junior men Russia’s Alexander Povarnitsyn won Sprint gold and Pursuit silver. The French team won gold with Fabien Claude in the Pursuit and silver and bronze in the Individual from Aristide Begue and Dany Chavoutier. Norway also turned up at this point with Tore Leren taking Individual gold and Sprint silver with Jarle Midthjell Gjoerven adding Pursuit bronze. The Junior Relays were dominated by the German Team who won both the men’s and women’s races.

Some of these biathletes will be competing again in Raubichi and some are now too old and will be hoping to move to the IBU Cup and hopefully the World Cup for their respective countries. One thing is for sure there is a lot of good young talent in biathlon at the moment and there will surely be new names that come to the fore in Raubichi especially in the Youth Category.

What is important to remember though is that it’s not all about medals and success. For the majority of the biathletes that take part it is great experience for them and hopefully a stepping stone to greater things. You don’t have to win at this level to be a great biathlete just ask Martin Fourcade. For many of the youngsters taking part it is not only a challenge to be selected but just to be able to get to the venue. Many are partly funded or not funded at all and have to raise their own money just to pay for flights, accomodation and food. They all deserve your support and so keep an eye out for all the results not just the TOP 3. So if you don’t normally pay much attention to the Youth and Junior biathletes now is your chance. You never know you could be watching future World and Olympic champions in the making. What are you waiting for – Give Youth a Chance!

I have to say a huge thank you and good luck to Maddie Phaneuf, Robert Sircus, Martin Femsteinivik, Brian Halligan and Mateusz Janik who were all kind enough to do interviews for me in the build up to these Championships! I know you will all do your best and I will be behind you all the way! Tom Lahaye-Goffart and Jarl Hengstmengel won’t make it but better luck for next time!

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Gunning for Glory Part 1: Women

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Intrigue, uncertainty, unpredictability ,mystery and suspense! No it’s not the latest thriller at the cinema- it’s the Women’s World Cup!!! This season is going to be one of the best yet. Who is going to finish with the Overall Title 2014/15? Your guess is as good as mine. Anybody could win it but there are some with a better chance than others.

There have been some big changes on the Women’s Tour this year which is why it is so exciting. Tora Berger, Andrea Henkel, Ann Kristin Flatland and Marie-Laure Brunet have retired, Selina Gasparin is pregnant and will miss the season, Marie-Dorin Habert has a new daughter and we are not sure when she will return. Olga Vilukhina has also decided to sit out the season to heal from some injuries. That means four of the Top 11 finishers in the Overall will not be on the start line this season. So we better take a look at the other eight!

Last year’s winner by 4 points was Kaisa Makarainen. An amazing end of season run saw her just pip Tora Berger and totally ruin her retirement! 😉 Can she defend her title this year? Well of course she is capable and she has more experience than her competitors but she also has a home World Championships in Kontiolahti to prepare for. It is likely to be her final year in the sport and the World Championships might mean her main focus is not on the World Cup.

In third place last season was Darya Domracheva. Her stunning performances in Sochi must make her one of the favourites to take the title this year. However I am not so sure. She can be fantastic over a race weekend but can she sustain that level over a whole season? In the last 3 years she has finished second twice, and third once in the Total Score but seems to lack just that little something to push her up to first. She seems to have sorted out her shooting issues but with all the attention she has received after her Olympic glory and all the extra engagements outside of biathlon it has brought her, will she be able to keep her focus all the way to Khanty?

This is an issue that will also affect Gabriela Soukalova who was fourth last year. She has become very popular over the last couple of seasons and that can bring it’s own pressure. The other biathletes will be watching out for her and like Domracheva she will have to try and maintain a good level throughout the season.

Sixth last time around was Anastasiya Kuzmina. She had a pretty average season but came good for the Olympics and brilliantly defended her Sprint gold. Actually sixth is her best ever position in the Total Score but her lack of consistency means to win it would be quite unlikely. Just behind her in seventh was Norway’s new sensation Tiril Echoff. Talk about pressure, taking on Berger’s mantle and the intense scrutiny of the Norwegian press will be a lot to handle for this young lady. They breed them tough in Norway though and she could be up in the Top 3 by the end of March.

In 8th and 9th places were Valj Semerenko and Veronika Vitkova. They had great seasons both finishing with their highest ever placings on the Total Score. They will be dangerous again this time round but may lack the number of podiums required to get to the very top. Outside the Top 11 are more dangers lurking to thwart the favourites. The experience of Teja Gregorin, Vita Semerenko and Olga Zaitseva could prove vital over the season. They may not win overall but they are capable of taking valuable points off the favourites by knocking them off the podium.

Then there is the raft of young talent coming on or back to the scene. Dorothea Wierer had a great season last time out and her double victory in Sjusjoen suggests she will be challenging for more podiums this time around. The young Germans like Dahlmeier, Hildebrand and Preuss will also be in the mix. Miriam Goessner is back from injury and if she has learned to shoot better in her absence she will be a real contender to win a lot of races. Elsewhere Nadezhda Skardino, Juliya Dzhyma and Susan Dunklee were really impressive last time and I am sure will take more points and get better results this season.

So basically I am saying that I have absolutely no idea who is going to win this year’s big Crystal Globe! That is why it is going to be such a great season to watch the women. The favourites have to be Makarainen, Domracheva and Soukalova but only one of these has won it before. I am really looking forward to this season to see whether one of these ladies can win it or if someone will take us by surprise and come from nowhere to claim victory. Anything could happen! I advise you to put all bets on each way because it’s going to be one hell of a season with all these outstanding women Gunning for Glory!!!

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Kuzmina: A fast Slo Russian?

kuzmina

Confused? You should be! Anastasiya Vladimirovna Kuzmina is a complicated lady. She was born in and competed for Russia. She is Anton Shipulin’s big sister. She is married to an Israeli cross country skier. She now lives in and competes for Slovakia. Have you got all that? Good! I would never say that Kuzmina is lazy but she does like a short race! She is double Olympic gold medallist in the Sprint event. She produced a remarkable defence of her title in Sochi and to do it in what was her home games, even though she doesn’t compete for Russia anymore, must have been an amazing feeling for her.

It was pretty amazing for us too as she hadn’t really shown much form on the World Cup leading up to the games but like the wily competitor that she is, she timed her form beautifully. However she couldn’t repeat her double medal winning performance from Vancouver where she followed up Sprint gold with Pursuit silver. She finished 6th in the Sochi Pursuit but she was up against Darya Domracheva who went on to win the 3 remaining golds.

Anastasiya was born on the 28th of August 1984 in Tyumen, Russia. She originally competed for Russia and had a pretty successful Junior career in the team. She won 7 medals in the Junior World Championships, 2 gold, 4 silver and 1 bronze. After getting married and having a son she changed allegiance to compete for Slovakia in 2008 so that her son could go to training camps with her. As her husband is also her skiing coach it made sense for them to be together as a family and meant she could continue to compete.

It proved a good decision for her as she has made history for her new country. She was the first ever woman representing Slovakia to win an Olympic gold medal. This led to her rightly winning the 2010 Slovak Athlete of the Year and for the last 5 years she has been named Queen of the Slovak Biathlon Track! A rhyming award is always the best one to win!

Kuzmina turns 30 this summer and so is now one of the most experienced athletes on the World Cup after the retirements of the likes of Henkel and Berger. She will be looking to improve on her World Cup results from last season and get back on the podium on a more regular basis. In Kontiolahti she will surely want to add to her 2 World Championship medals. Don’t bet against her winning the Sprint again as she is a fast, Slo Russian!

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An Ex’Sche(m)pp’tional talent!

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As one who has been diagnosed with under training for many years (well actually my whole life!) it can be hard to understand how someone can over train. It is something that does occur and especially with biathletes who spend a ridiculous amount of time training anyway for such a hard sport. Recent retiree Marie-Laure Brunet had problems with this in the past and so did Simon Schempp.

Athletes have to put their bodies under stress to increase their physical capabilities. Where the stress loads are appropriate then the athlete’s performance will improve but if the stress loads are inappropriate then over-training or burnout can occur. In Simon’s case he did burnout in the 2010/11 season and he suffered fatigue and a loss of form which cut short that season for him.

Thankfully that is all in the past now and last season was Simon’s best ever on the World Cup. Born in Mutlangen on the 14th of November 1988 Schempp came up through the biathlon ranks at the same time as the likes of Tarjei Boe and Lukas Hofer. Fitting then that his first ever win was a shared victory with Hofer in Antholz in the Sprint race. He followed it up by a superbly calm and collected performance to win the Pursuit and went into the Winter Olympics in Sochi with a lot of confidence.

His great form coupled with this confidence meant that he came away with a silver medal in the Men’s Relay and a 6th place finish in the Pursuit. In fact all of Simon’s medals so far have come in relay events. He won gold in the Mixed Relay in the 2010 World Championships in Khanty Mansiysk and 2 bronze medals in the Men’s Relay in Ruhpolding 2012 and Nove Mesto 2013.

Like a lot of biathletes Simon started out in another Winter Sport. He was an alpine skier until the age of 13 when he sensibly decided that biathlon was much better and changed disciplines. A good decision that was borne out by last season’s good results. Apart from his two victories he had a pretty consistent season finishing 10th in the Total Score with 6th in the Pursuit standing being his best individual event. He was also an important member of the German Relay team and he is really good in this format as his medal haul shows.

The German biathletes are under a lot of pressure as biathlon is a big and very well supported sport in Germany (well done Germans!). After the recent retirement of the likes of Michael Greis and now Andrea Henkel they have a younger and less experienced team than in the past. However that doesn’t mean they are not super talented. After a few lean years the German fans will be looking to Simon to provide them with a bit more to cheer.

If he maintains last year’s great form and pushes on a bit more without overdoing it he can be a real threat to the main contenders in men’s biathlon. He might not be able to beat Martin Fourcade over the whole season but he can beat him in individual races. If he can do this in Kontiolahti at the World Champs it will bring him the individual medals that are missing from his CV. I am sure he will win many more races on the World Cup and prove to everyone that he is an Ex’Sche(m)pp’tional talent!

 

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Check out his website: http://www.simon.com.de/ (it could use an update Simon!)

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Season Review 2013/14: Women

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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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“Going Holm”-enkollen!

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Well that’s it! The end of the World Cup season. Not only is it sad that there are no more World Cup races this season but for some biathletes there are no World Cup races ever again. This weekend saw Tora Berger,Ann Kristin Flatland, Andrea Henkel, Sara Studebaker, Bjorn Ferry,Carl Johan Bergman and Christoph Sumann hang up their rifles for good 😦

On a happier note we had a great last round of racing which began on Thursday with the Women’s Sprint. Darya Domracheva glided over the tricky snow conditions to take first place with home favourite Tora Berger in second. In third place was a mightily impressive Susan Dunklee who reached the podium for the first time ever emulating her American teammate Lowell Bailey from last week. Other top results came from Rosanna Crawford who came home in 11th and Andreja Mali who finished 8th. Kaisa Makarainen needed to finish no worse than 23rd to secure the Sprint title and she did just that! She finished 23rd (who says it’s not lucky!) to finish ahead of Tora Berger.

In the Men’s Sprint Jakov Fak won the race quite easily with an outstanding ski. He had a little scare late on from Evgeniy Garanichev but he couldn’t match the ski speed of Fak and was second.In third came Bjorn Ferry again, putting together one of the best runs of his career just before he retires. Others who performed well were basically all the French team having 4 men in the Top 15. Simon Desthieux was 7th beating Martin Fourcade 11th, Quentin Fillon Maillet 13th and Jean-Guilliame Beatrix 14th. Their World Cup debutant Antonin Guigonnat also did well finishing 44th and qualifying for the Pursuit. Another man who got his best ever result by some margin was David Komatz who was 16th.

The Pursuit races on Saturday saw Martin and Kaisa wrap up the Crystal globes in that event. Kaisa finished 4th in bib 23(YEAH!) and Martin came home in 5th. The winner of the Women’s race was Anastasiya Kuzmina who won her first World Cup race of the season and she was joined on the podium by Tora Berger and Olga Vilukhina. The big movers in the race were Marie Dorin Habert who went from 33rd to 7th,Vita Semerenko 34th to 8th,Andrea Henkel 31st to 12th and Jana Gerekova 36th to 13th.

Simon Eder won the Men’s race and achieved his second career win after taking the Mass Start in Khanty in the 2008/09 season! It’s been a long wait to get back on the top step but he shot clear and it was a well deserved victory. In second place was Alexander Loginov and in third Bjorn Ferry. More good performances came from Carl Johan Bergman who moved from 17th to 4th,Alexey Volkov 24th to 6th,Arnd Peiffer 20th to 7th,Fredrik Lindstroem 32nd to 13th,Lars Helge Birkeland 34th to 15th and Julian Eberhard 39th to 17th.

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Finally on Sunday we had the last races of the season. The Women’s Mass Start was a tense affair as it was the showdown for the Overall title between Makarainen and Berger. The first shoot didn’t go well for Kaisa but she came through in the end and won the Crystal Globe. Kuzmina took her second race in a row and Teja Gregorin got second with Marie Dorin Habert in third. It was a remarkable race from Marie as she has just announced she is 3 months pregnant.Rosanna Crawford also deserves a mention as 8th place was her best ever result. In the Men’s race Martin Fourcade finished the season where he started – first! He was followed home by Dominik Landertinger and Jakov Fak. In 4th was Simon Desthieux who recorded his best career result too. David Komatz also managed to improve his result from the Sprint by finishing 12th.

So after all the excitement it’s time to hang up the skis and the rifles. Actually it’s not as there are some National Championships and the Moscow City biathlon left but for the World Cup everything is finished. Congratulations to Martin and Kaisa and all the biathletes who made this a great season. It’s been long and hard but amazing to watch. They all deserve a rest and I’m sure they are glad to be Going “Holm”enkollen!

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Surprising Slovenia!

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SLOVEnia is a LOVEly country. It has beautiful countryside, really nice people and one of my Top 3 desserts!(The amazing krema rezina of Bled is just behind cheesecake and pavlova!) It has also provided some really nice surprises in the biathlon competition this year.

Firstly in the Men’s Sprint on Thursday morning we saw Bjorn Ferry back on top of the podium after too long away from the top spots. He put in a great performance to beat Anton Shipulin and Arnd Peiffer. The real surprises came later in the day however in the Women’s Sprint. Austria’s Katherina Innerhofer shot clear and put in a great ski to win her first ever race and achieve her best result by miles. Her previous best finish was 22nd in the Ruhpolding Individual.In second place was the athlete who started second last in the race Daria Viloraynen of Russia who also got a career best finish in her first ever World Cup race. Nadezhda Skardina of Belarus took third making it her third appearance on the podium this season.

Beyond the ladies on the podium we saw personal bests for Finland’s Mari Laukkanen 9th, Norway’s Marte Olsbu 10th, Switzerland’s Irene Cadurisch 19th and Spain’s Victoria Padial 20th. It is so nice to see these girls doing so well. After all that excitement we moved on to the Pursuit races on Saturday.

The men started us off again and Anton Shipulin was sublime in his standing shoots to take the win.Bjorn Ferry came second and someone called Ole Einar Bjoerndalen came third. I have never heard of him before, have you? Ha ha of course you have and he celebrated his non-retirement by claiming yet another podium place. I certainly hope he can stay at this level until Oslo 2016 as I would hate to see his career fizzle out. Other displays of note came from Jakov Fak who went from 15th to 6th, Simon Eder 20th to 8th, Emil Svendsen 33rd to 20th and Simon Desthieux 52nd to 33rd.

For the women Kaisa Makarainen took the win followed by Tora Berger and a hugely impressive Dorothea Wierer in third. She has been having an amazing season and just seems to be getting better and better. Could she take a victory in the final races? I would love to see it but it’s not going to be easy. Great performances also came from most of the women who had a bad day at the office in the Sprint. Darya Domracheva moved from 28th to 4th, Andrea Henkel 25th to 6th,Selina Gasparin 33rd to 10th and Valj Semerenko 46th to 11th.

Finally on Sunday we had 2 Mass Starts which are always a great way to end the weekend. Bjorn Ferry shot clear and skied away from Martin Fourcade to win and Evgeny Ustyugov was impressive in third. Somewhat surprisingly Emil Svendsen missed a chance to get on the podium by missing in the final shoot. I hope this isn’t going to become a habit!!! Olympic champion Darya Domracheva won the women’s race in front of Makarainen and a quality race from Olga Zaitseva saw her fill the last spot on the podium.

So now it’s off to Finland and we start all over again on Thursday in Kontiolahti with a slightly strange program of 2 Sprints and a Pursuit. Pokljuka was as entertaining as ever and saw the return of wind to the range which we have been missing for a while. The racing was great and it is always good to see personal best performances and new people on the podium so all in all not only was it a lot of fun to watch but also quite surprising, Slovenia!

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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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