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Aiming for the Top! Season Preview Men 2015/16

fourcade2015

Can you believe it! It’s that time of year again! With only 3 days until the first World Cup of the 2015/16 season in Oestersund it’s time to preview the chances of the male biathletes. I could make this very short and say four time Total Score winner Martin Fourcade will win again but that is not very fair on the other biathetes and you never know he might not win!

Chances are he will though! Fourcade is the red hot favourite to make it five in a row and it is going to be very difficult for the others to challenge him. His amazing speed on the skis and the mental strength he possesses to take his time on the shooting range to make sure he hits the targets are an irresistable combination. However there are some ways in which he could slip up this season.

Firstly he is a new dad and sleepless nights can take their toll on even the best! Also the fact he might find it more difficult to be away from home. His plans to compete in cross country which were ruined by last season’s mononucleosis have been resurrected and we don’t know how that could affect him physically. It might not do him any favours mentally either if he doesn’t perform well. Remember he is used to winning but that won’t come easily in cross country.

So who will be out to capitalise should Fourcade have any issues. Well we just have to look at last season’s Top 10 in the Total Score to find our main contenders. In second place was Russia’s Anton Shipulin. He had his best season ever finishing 64 points behind Fourcade. If he can make a few more podiums this time and crucially beat Fourcade in some more races it will boost his chances of winning. If he carries on as he did last season he will be a genuine threat.

In third last year with a late run of excellent results was Slovenia’s Jakov Fak. He commented himself that winning races does make a big difference to your chances! Now that he has discovered that is how racing in fact works hopefully he will be able to do just that. He can match Fourcade on skis but he needs to make sure his shooting is more consistent because if he hits all the targets he is very difficult to beat.

In fourth place was the real revelation of last season Germany’s Simon Schempp. After getting his first victory the season before he really improved getting more victories and more podiums to put him in contention for the title . A weak end of season however meant he lost out on third place to Fak. He will have learned a lot from that and will be dangerous again this time around.

Shockingly we have to wait until fifth position in the Total Score to find our first Norwegian – how times have changed! Johannes Bø took this position making him the strongest threat from Norway last season. His youth and inconsistency meant he couldn’t mount a credible challenge to win the Overall but that could change this time round. He is unbelievably fast on skis but at times he is reckless on the shooting range. His super confidence is great to see though and although he may not win the Overall I think he will move up on to the podium this time around.
Big brother Tarjei Bø will be looking to recapture his end of season form from last season and will hope to be challenging at the top again if he stays free of illness.

Rounding off the Top Ten were Czech pair Ondrej Moravec (6th) and Michal Slesingr(8th), Russia’s Evgeniy Garanichev in 7th, Emil Hegle Svendsen in 9th and Eril Lesser from Germany in 10th. Of these I don’t think any are capable of challenging Fourcade except for Svendsen. He normally finishes second to Fourcade so last year would have been a big shock to him finishing in 9th place. With the World Championships being held in Oslo though the Overall Title might not be a top priority for him.

There will be others out to add to their success from last season by getting more wins and podiums under their belts like Nathan Smith,Arnd Peiffer and Vladimir Iliev. Others will be trying to recover from a disappointing season like Lukas Hofer, Fredrik Lindstrom and Dominik Landertinger.

Away from the usual suspects look out for some newer faces to appear toward the front of the races. Slovakia’s Martin Otcenas will be aiming for some more points scoring finishes. Serafin Weistner of Swizerland will be hoping to follow in the footsteps of Benjamin Weger. Slovenia’s Rok Trsan showed a lot of potential last season too. French youngster Antonin Guigonnat will be trying to step up from the IBU Cup and America’s Sean Doherty will want to make good progress this season.

It should be an exciting season to come whatever happens in the race for the big Crystal Globe. We have been waiting all summer to see how the biathletes will do this season. With a couple of races in North America too it will be a different kind of World Cup and hopefully a memorable one. I hope to see a lot of the men Aiming for the TOP!

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Global Success!2014/15 Season Review:Men

fourcade2015

Season 2014/15 has come to an end and there is no surprise about who came out on top in the Men’s field. Yes for the fourth time in a row France’s Martin Fourcade has won the overall title and gets another big Crystal Globe to put on his already overcrowded mantlepiece. It didn’t start out that way though. We all got a bit excited in the first race of the season way back in Oestersund in the Individual 20km.

It was won by Fourcade’s main rival at the start of the season Emil Hegle Svendsen and with Martin having a total nightmare and finishing in 81st place we thought we might see the title go elsewhere. Of course we we entirely wrong because Fourcade popped up and won the very next race, the Sprint, by 28 seconds and went on to win the Pursuit too. After the first World Cup round it was business as usual with Fourcade and Svendsen setting the pace.

That didn’t last long though as two new contenders appeared to chase Fourcade. Germany’s Simon Schempp started putting in some fantastic performances with two second places in Hochfilzen. In Pokljuka Russia’s Anton Shipulin emerged as a real challenger for the overall with 2 wins and a second place. At this point Svendsen was still going along nicely picking up wins and podiums to stay in the hunt.

After Christmas we had the two German races in Oberhof and Ruhpolding. Oberhof went well for Fourcade where he won both races but in Ruhpolding he started to have some problems. Both Schempp and Shipulin gained points there with Schempp getting a win and a second place. Antholz was next and that’s where Schempp did even more damage. With Fourcade under the weather he won both races just as he did the year before to make a big dent in Fourcade’s lead in the yellow bib. It was around this time that Svendsen’s title challenge faded away as he failed to get on the podium or even into the Top 10. Schempp again beat Fourcade in Nove Mesto but not by much as he was second twice while Fourcade was third and fourth.

By now Shipulin’s charge was slowing and while he still made the podium and TOP 10 in Holmenkollen Fourcade’s win and second place gave him the advantage. Schempp didn’t have a great round in Norway either which left Fourcade with a lead of 78 points going into the World Championships where the results also counted towards the overall title. His rivals didn’t fare too well in the points department but Shipulin and Schempp did medal. Martin won the Individual and was competitive enough in all the other races to give him a lead of 111 points to take into the final round.

We found ourselves in Khanty-Mansiysk for round 9 and in the first race, the Sprint, Martin won convincingly and also won the small Crystal globe. Shipulin was second but it left a deficit of 117 points going into the final 2 races. He was also second in the Sprint standings ahead of Simon Schempp in third. In the Pursuit race Martin did enough to win the Overall Title finishing fourth just one place behind Shipulin. This means he has won the total score for 4 years in a row the first person to do so. The final race saw Shipulin claiming the small Crystal Globe for the Mass Start.

Outside of these guys there have been other impressive performances. Ukraine’s Sergey Semenov won the Individual 20km competition with some great shooting and consistent results and did enough in Kontiolahti to hang on to beat Fourcade and Svendsen to the title. Jakov Fak put up a late charge coming into great ski form towards the end of the year winning World Championship gold as well as 3 other races. This put him into third place in the overall standings.

Johannes Thingnes Boe didn’t get as many World Cup wins as last year but he is the World Champion in the Sprint. He is also relatively inexperienced on the World Cup which is obviously a worry for all the other biathletes! His big brother Tarjei made up for a slow start to the season troubled by illness to win 5 medals in Kontiolahti. The German team were stronger than they have been in a while with Schempp but Arnd Peiffer also got back to winning ways in Holmenkollen and with Lesser becoming Pursuit World Champion and Andi Birnbacher getting back to his old form they are a formidable team. They also have Daniel Boehm and Benedikt Doll who collected his first 2 podiums in Khanty Mansiysk.

Simon Fourcade enjoyed a better season than last year finishing 4th in every race!!;-) The French team also have a new star in Quentin Fillon Maillet. He has finished in the TOP 10 nine times with his best result of second place coming in the Ruhpolding Mass Start in a photo finish. Benjamin Weger has shown more consistency this season and has had 4 Top 10 finishes. The Czech team had a good season too with Michal Slesingr in great form and Ondrej Moravec performing well at the World Championships. Evgeniy Garanichev did well too for Russia and finished 6th in the total score.

The Canadians have done really well with Nathan Smith winning silver in the World Championship Sprint, taking 6 TOP 10 finishes and his first ever win in Khanty Mansiysk to finish the season on a high. Brendan Green got a personal best result of 5th too. For the Americans Leif Nordgren outshone his better known colleagues Burke and Bailey with 4 TOP 30 results and a personal best of 16th in the Nove Mesto Sprint. The Bulgarians Krasimir Anev and Vladimir Iliev have been a breath of fresh air this season both shooting really well and getting 14 Top 20 finishes between them, 9 for Iliev and 5 for Anev. Anev achieved a PB of 4th and Iliev 6th.

It has been a very enjoyable season watching the men’s races. I would like to have seen a closer challenge to Fourcade but it sets up next season very nicely. It’s not a two horse race anymore between Fourcade and Svendsen. There are other opponents who can stop Fourcade achieving 5 in a row! However they will find it very tough. It was nice to see the small globes shared around too with Semenov taking the Individual title, Shipulin the Mass Start and the Sprint and Pursuit going to Fourcade. The Nation’s Cup went to Norway. Well we have a long summer ahead of us to digest this season and look forward to the next one. One thing is certain for Monsieur Fourcade season 2014/15 has been a Global Success!

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Ruh-pold on for the win!

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Typical isn’t it! You wait years for a victory and then you get two in row. The Czech Republic Women’s Relay team are doing an excellent impression of a bus! Seriously though it shows just how remarkable this small country is when it comes to biathlon. They are now reaping the reward for years of hard work and planning. Germany seems to be a happy hunting ground for the Czech ladies who took victory in Ruhpoling to add to that of Oberhof. It was a race that took place in pretty miserable conditions. Sleet and rain meant it was a wet and slow race with deteriorating tracks. That won’t bother the Czechs though who were on the top step of the podium followed by Belarus also for the second race in succession. Germany delighted the home crowd by coming in third.

The conditions for the Men’s relay were much improved and so in turn was the racing. A close finish saw the wily fox that is Emil Svendsen pick his moment perfectly to move past Simon Schempp and deny Germany a home victory. In third place came Russia. It was Norway’s first Men’s relay win since December 2013. Some of the other teams got involved for a while with Lowell Bailey putting USA in first after the first leg. Then it was Slovenia’s turn in the second leg with Jakov Fak. In the end though the big nations rose to the top. There were some good performances from some of the younger athletes like Rok Trsan of Slovenia, Sean Doherty from the USA and Great Britain’s Scott Dixon.

The Women’s Sprint came on Friday and threw up a surprise in the form of Fanny Welle-Strand Horn of Norway. She shot clear and out skied Darya Domracheva to take her first World Cup win. In third was fellow Norwegian Tiril Eckhoff. It was another tough day on the range for overall leader Kaisa Makarainen who missed 2 shots. Canada’s Megan Heinicke got her top World Cup finish to date coming in 11th and France’s Marie Dorin Habert was 15th and considering she had a baby 4 months ago that is quite a remarkable feat.

In the Men’s Sprint there was a very unusual occurence. This strange white stuff fell down from the sky. Some have speculated that it may be the illusive substance known as snow but reports could neither confirm or deny this! Anyway it didn’t stop Johannes Boe winning the race. When that boy is on form there are very few biathletes who can beat him. He is the epitome of ‘go hard or go home’ because he has only come first or off the podium in all the races he has done. He has never had a second or third place to date. Simon Schempp was second and Arnd Peiffer third keeping the home crowd happy. Canada did well again with Brendan Green in 16th and Scott Gow getting his best finish so far in 27th.

The last day of Ruhpolding was definitely the best! The Women’s Mass Start was very entertaining with Darya Domracheva yo-yoing back and forward up the field to eventually secure the win. Second went to Germany’s Franziska Preuss who got on the podium for the first time on the World Cup with her best career performance so far. Third came down to a sprint which was won by Veronika Vitkova ahead of Valj Semerenko and Anais Bescond. Speaking of close finishes the Men’s Mass Start was even better. A three way photo finish gave Simon Schempp the victory that has so far eluded him this season as he just edged out Quentin Fillon Maillet and Michal Slesingr. It was Fillon Maillet’s best result on the World Cup. Johannes Boe would have been in with a chance of winning again as he shot clear like the Top 3 but a bad fall along with Jakov Fak put him out of contention.

Elsewhere it was a bad weekend by his standards for Martin Fourcade who came in 26th in the Sprint and 21st in the Mass Start allowing both Shipulin and Schempp to eat into his overall lead. Makarainen also lost some of her lead to Domracheva put still maintains a healthy margin in the yellow bib. We go uphill next to the altitude race in Antholz and hopefully we will be treated to more of the same. I have to say I was pleased to see Simon Schempp finally getting the victory all his great form has deserved and he managed by a toenail to Ruh-pold on to the win!!!

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Östersund: Swede Emotions!

swede emotions

It’s back! Biathlon came back with a bang in Östersund! Wow and what a Mixed Relay they delivered for us to get the new season underway. They kept us guessing right until the end but as usual “the shark” Martin Fourcade waited until the last moment to seize his prey(you can almost hear the music from Jaws as he sneaks up behind people!!!). Norway came in second despite a penalty loop and the German team were third. A great win for France and a great opening race. Well OK so it wasn’t great for everyone just ask Ondrej Moravec and Jakov Fak among others but everyone has their bad days even the best.

Which is exactly what happened to Fourcade himself in the Individual Race! Another Östersund meltdown on the shooting range to add to his collection. It’s how he likes to start the season! At the opposite end of the scale was Emil! Wow one of the best shooting performances I have seen from Svendsen and he was the only man to shoot 0. Second was a surprising yet brilliant display from Serhiy Semenov and it was great to see Michal Slesingr back on the podium after a rough year last season. Italian youngster Thomas Bormolini made a rather impressive World Cup debut finishing 19th.

Unfortunately for the other women in the Individual race star of last year’s Olympics Darya Domracheva seems to be continuing her amazing form into this season. Her ski speed is great as usual but she is shooting really well too. She took the win and was followed by Kaisa Makarainen who is also in great form and this race will probably set the tone for an ongoing battle between these two over the season. Valj Semerenko produced a clear shoot to come in third. Home girl Elisabeth Hoegberg gave the crowd something to cheer about finishing 9th and two World Cup debutants made it look easy by finishing in the TOP 20, France’s Enora Latuilliere in 13th and Luise Kummer of Germany in 18th.

Everyone had Friday off for good behaviour and so we had to wait until Saturday to see the first Sprints of the season. The men started things off and the real Martin Fourcade showed up again after his 81st place in the Individual and won easily with 28 seconds to spare! I was also happy to see Moravec and Fak recovering from their Relay nightmare on the range to both shoot clean and come home second and third. The women’s Sprint saw Norway’s Tiril Eckhoff storm home to win her first ever World Cup race. I am sure her brother and coach Stian will be trying to take all the credit – you know what brother’s are like! The Czech Republic’s Veronika Vitkova took second further adding to the her teams fantastic start to the season and third was Kaisa Makarainen. Latuilliere again showed what a great young talent she is by coming 10th.

So that left us with just the Pursuit races to go and the men’s looked like it was going to be an easy win for Fourcade. Bless him though he missed his first two shots to make it exciting for us to watch but inevitably he still won. Anton Shipulin produced a very calm and collected race to get second and Emil Svendsen came home third to keep the yellow bib on his back. Canada’s Nathan Smith ran a great race until the final shoot when I think the exertions of keeping up with Svendsen caused him to miss 3 shots and he ended up 16th. Back down the field a little there were some tremendous performances from Dominik Landertinger 30th-5th, Andi Birnbacher 22nd-7th, Klemen Bauer 26th-12th, Freddie Lindstrom 36th-13th and Vetle Christiansen 45th -15th!

The women’s race was won in great style by Kaisa Makarainen. On the third shoot when everyone around her was missing targets she took her time and used all her valuable experience to shoot clear and ski to victory. Valj Semerenko continued her good form by beating Dorothea Wierer into second although the Italian is just coming back from illness. Other impressive moves came from Ekaterina Glazyrina 20th-9th, Franziska Preuss 22nd-9th, Susan Dunklee 41st-19th and Elise Ringen 55th-23rd!

Östersund proved to be a bit of a roller coaster ride throughout the week with people performing well one day and terribly the next but that’s the first races of the season for you! We are now off to Hochfilzen where there is currently no snow but luckily in Austria you can just go up a mountain and get some! Kaisa and Emil have come out best from the weekend and will wear the yellow bibs but it’s still very early in the season. After all the ups and downs in Sweden the others will be hoping for a bit more consistency. It has been quite the week in Östersund and with all the drama on the range it has been full of Swede Emotions!

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Going for Gold!

,men 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!

I know what you are thinking – what an amazing poem about the Olympics! You would be right it’s just that I didn’t write it, I stole it from popular 90’s British game show “Going for Gold”! Either way it’s still works when talking about the Olympic Games which begin on Friday with the Opening Ceremony. We are getting very close to the end of the “Road to Sochi” and all the hard training and preparation is almost finished. It’s down to pure competition athlete vs. athlete to see who is the strongest both mentally and physically.

As regular readers of my blog may have noticed I end all my articles by wishing that those I have written about win some colour of medal in Sochi. Unfortunately that is not possible as there are only 12 individual medals on offer and another 9 for the relays. So here I want to take a closer look at the favourites for gold and also some outside chances who may surprise us come crunch time. (These are merely my views and have no basis in statistical fact or indeed any expert knowledge of any kind and should under no circumstances be used to bet on the races!!!)

This article will deal with the men’s prospects and the women will be in Part 2. I don’t think I am going out on a limb by saying that Norway have the best chance of winning the men’s relay. They have the strength in depth just now that no other country has and all of the relay team are capable of winning a gold medal in the individual events and you can’t say that about any of the other countries. Only some bad shooting can stop them winning. There are others who will run them close of course. France has a decent squad and with Martin Fourcade on the last leg anything is possible. Russia also have a good team but the pressure of a home Olympics will be hard to deal with. The Germans are returning to form and will be in with a shout for a medal.Others with a shot at the podium include Austria, Sweden,Slovenia and maybe Canada too.

Moving on to the individual events which are the Sprint,Pursuit,Mass Start and Individual. These are much harder to predict but again there are the favourites which have to be Martin Fourcade and Emil Hegle Svendsen. They shared most of the medals in last season’s World Championships and barring any major disasters will probably do so again. However it won’t be easy with a resurgent Ole Einar Bjoerndalen desperate to get more medals in his final Olympics and Tarjei Boe looking to add to his relay gold from Vancouver the competition is strong.

Others in contention for medals are of course the Russian team and I think Anton Shipulin is probably their best shot at getting them. He can perform under pressure and the pressure will be immense in Sochi. Simon Schempp is going into Sochi in great form after 2 wins in Antholz and could be a contender especially in the Sprint.If Jakov Fak has recovered fully from his illness he is also a candidate for a medal as he usually turns up on the big occasions. Please don’t be foolish enough to write off the young guys because of their age. Johannes Boe, Simon Desthieux and Alexander Loginov could all get on the podium too.

There is a good chance that the Sprint and Pursuit medals will go to the same people but the Individual is the best chance to spring a surprise. Guys to watch out for here are the likes of Dominik Landertinger, Michal Slesingr, Tim Burke,Fredrik Lindstrom,Lukas Hofer and the rest of the Russian team. Andrejs Rastorgujevs has been having a great season has the possibility of winning a medal to add to his recent European Championship gold in the Individual.

Even though I would like all these guys to do well what I really want is for whoever is wearing bib 23 to get gold! It has been great just supporting the man in 23 this year!Whatever happens I know that whoever wins will definitely deserve it and I want to wish all of them good luck! The Olympics only comes round every 4 years so make the most of it and remember to be the best that you can when you are going for,GOING FOR GOLD!

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Is it a bird?Is it a plane?No,it’s Michal Šlesingr!!!

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If you look up an see something hurtling towards you out of the sky it’s probably this guy!Full time adrenaline junkie,skydiver,and biathlete Michal Šlesingr is one of the Czech Republic’s best known winter sports stars. Born on the 3rd of February 1983 in Ústí nad Orlicí he started training in biathlon at the age of ten. He graduated in 2004 by which time he had already won medals at Junior World and European level.

He has taken part in the World Cup since 2002/03 where he finished 78th overall in his first season and his highest overall position came in the 2010/11 season where he finished 9th. His only World Cup victory came in 2007 in Holmenkollen in the Mass Start and is one of eight podium finishes in his career so far. He enjoyed a successful World Championships in Antholz, Italy in 2007 winning a silver medal in the 10 km Sprint and bronze medal in the 20 km Individual. He didn’t have the best individual performances at his home World Championships in Nove Mesto. The mixed relay team won bronze but unfortunately he wasn’t in it.

This season has been disrupted by illness for Michal. He got the flu and then a bacterial infection which meant he only just came back to the World Cup in Oberhof.It was a great return though as he took 12th place in the Sprint, 5th in the Pursuit and 19th in the Mass Start. Some training in Pokljuka and Obertilliach probably helped with the first 2 results and lack of competition would account for the third. Coming back to race 3 hard races in 3 days is not easy for anyone let alone someone who is just back from illness.

As a baby Michal was described as “a little hyperactive”. A huge understatement if ever there was one! He has continued this hyperactivity into adulthood and includes among his many passions skydiving, scuba diving, climbing, white water kayaking and base jumping. Some quiet little sports there to fill in the time when he isn’t doing biathlon or looking after his daughter! In fact I think biathlon may be a bit tame and boring for Mr.Šlesingr.

What he needs to do is start a bit of extreme biathlon! Skydive out of a plane, land on the top of a ski slope, ski down to a river, kayak down over the rapids, get out at the biathlon track,hit the targets and head for the finish line!!! That would liven up his weekend a bit! Actually biathlonworld tv missed a trick not using him as a stuntman in their “Bond adventure”. Remember that scene from “The Spy Who Loved Me” when Bond skies of the cliff and parachutes down. See the clip here : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gvv2lv2s_gM
Michal could have done that easily! He might have used a Czech flag though!

So after his biathlon career he has plenty of things to keep him busy but we are a long way from that I hope. With another Olympics coming up Michal will be hoping the Czech team can reproduce their form from Nove Mesto and hopefully he will be able to beat his best Olympic performance of 16th in the Mass Start in Vancouver and 6th and 7th place in the relays. Having missed the start of the season he may be fresher than the others and has a good shot at an individual medal in one of the events at least. I really hope he can do it but he always has his adrenaline fuelled sports to keep him busy. So next time you see something in the sky and it’s not a bird or a plane,it’s probably Michal Šlesingr!!!

You can like Michal’s Facebook page or get more info on him from his website in Czech and English:

http://www.slesingr.com

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