Unlike last year when there was no snow-berhof this time we were lucky enough to have the first real snow of the season in Germany. The races got underway on Wednesday with the Women’s Relay. It was a great race which saw the Czech Republic win for the first time in 17 years. Well worth the wait though as Veronika Vitkova beat a determined Anais Bescond and the French team into second. Darya Domracheva made sure that Belarus would come third holding off valiant attempts from Norway, Italy and the Ukraine to snatch the last place on the podium. Unfortunately for the hosts they had a penalty loop on the very first shoot which put them out of contention immediately. Maybe I shouldn’t mention it but they were also beaten at home by rivals Austria!
The Men’s Relay on Thursday was horrible! Not the race but the weather. It was delayed due to fog and when it did start it was wet,windy and foggy – no fun for biathletes or spectators. The racing itself was good although marred by a large number of falls the worst coming from the Czech Republic’s Michal Krcmar who couldn’t finish his leg. In the end Russia came through to win their third relay in a row. In a close finish Anton Shipulin continued his great pre-Christmas form by sprinting away from Bjoernadalen leaving Norway in second. France took the last place on the podium showing they don’t even need Martin Fourcade as Quentin Fillon Maillet was an excellent replacement. Home team Germany were fourth and Finland were exceptional coming in 9th from a start position of 24th. Sweden were disqualified when Tobias Arwidson only shot 9 times instead of 10!
On Friday we had the Women’s Sprint. After a great race in tough conditions the Czech Republic’s Veronika Vitkova crossed the line first for the second race in a row and took her first ever World Cup win. She had to ski really well to secure the victory over Italian pair Dorothea Wierer and Nicole Gontier who were second and third respectively. In fact the Italians had five finishers inside the TOP 60. The Ukraine’s Natalya Burdyga is also worthy of a mention as the only other women apart from Gontier to shoot clean. On the other hand favourites Makarainen and Domracheva had days to forget on the range.
The Men’s race suffered again from difficult conditions with heavy overnight rain making most of the snow disappear and windy conditions affecting the shooting. In fact the race was delayed until the afternoon so they could work on the tracks and the loop was also shortened. This didn’t stop Martin Fourcade however who took the win after an extended Christmas break. Ole Einar Bjoerndalen was second getting his 170th podium and Timofey Lapshin was third making it three times on the podium for him! Benedikt Doll gave the crowd something to shout about by being the best German in 8th. Benjamin Weger was 5th and Estonia’s Roland Lessing was excellent in 7th. Switzerland’s Serafin Weistner got his best career finish coming in 28th.
On Sunday we managed to get two races in one day – hurrah! They were of course the total chaos that is the Mass Start! People missing targets, others falling, great recoveries and total meltdowns! Out of the madness however emerged Martin Fourcade and Darya Domracheva to claim victory. Fourcade was followed home by Russian pair Shipulin and Malyshko and Vitkova capped of a fantastic week with second place beating Tiril Eckhoff in third. The wind played a big part in the Men’s race and Martin kept very calm especially on the final shoot and went clear. Jana Gerekova did the same in the Women’s race but didn’t have the ski speed to compete at the front. She eventually finished fifth but if there was any justice in the world she would have come first!! Krasimir Anev of Bulgaria also had the best race of his career in fourth place and Franziska Preuss 6th, Benedikt Doll 8th and Simon Schempp 10th finally gave the huge crowdd something to cheer about.
There has been a lot of criticism about Oberhof this week from the biathletes. However you can’t predict the snow conditions and all the venues have been struggling this season. The wind is always a big factor in Oberhof and they have known that for many years so they just need to get on with it. I understand that sometimes it’s just a matter of luck there who wins and loses but that’s the nature of the place. The fans love to see how the conditions can turn races on their head and give others a chance to do well. It makes it all the more exciting and as paying customers they are the most important people in biathlon. If it wasn’t for fantastic fans turning up in big numbers and in horrible weather there wouldn’t be any biathlon! So that’s all from the first installment of the German races. It’s straight off to Ruhpolding for the next World Cup round. Biathlon 23 Ober and out!
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