AT LAST! Winter is here and the withdrawal symptoms have gone – biathlon is back! As usual we kicked off the season in Oestersund, Sweden and this year we started with the Single Mixed Relay.
This time around it was poor Simon who suffered from the “Oestersund Curse of the Fourcades” when he failed to fire all his bullets and missed a penalty loop which cost the French team a victory. Simon and Marie Dorin Habert were winning by a margin but after a 3 minute time penalty they ended up 21st. This left the way clear for Norway to win with a team of Kaia Nicolaisen and Lars Birkeland. In second and taking their first ever relay podium was the Canadian pair of Rosanna Crawford and Nathan Smith and third were the German team of Maren Hammerschmidt and Daniel Boehm.
Next came the Mixed Relay which Norway controlled and won by a margin big enough for Tarjei Boe to pose in front of a car advert pleasing the sponsors immensely. Second came Germany and in third was the Czech Republic. It wasn’t the most exciting relay apart from the first takeover where Franziska Hildebrand, Vanessa Hinz and Ekaterina Yurlova managed to play skittles with each other and Jean Guillaume Beatrix and Freddie Lindstrom treated us to a sprint finish for 4th place.
On Wednesday the first individual race of the season got underway and coincidentally it was the Men’s Individual 20km! It was won by Ole Einar Bjoerndalen who had a great race shooting 20/20 to win his 95th race. He profited slightly from calmer conditions on the shooting range but that doesn’t take anything away from his victory. In second was Overall Title contender Simon Schempp and third was Alexey Volkov who also shot clear. Windy and snowy conditions made it a difficult day on the range with Martin Fourcade missing 5 shots to finish in 21st, Tarjei Boe missing 4 in 22nd and Anton Shipulin missing 3 to finish 16th. Svendsen came joint 4th with Quentin Fillon Maillet who was France’s top finisher in the race.
In contrast to Bjoerndalen the winner of the Women’s race collected her first ever win on the World Cup. Italy’s Dorothea Wierer shot clear to stand on the top step of the podium for the first time. Marie Dorin Habert put in a great skiing performance to come second and Olena Pidhrushna was third after coming out of retirement. Overall title hopefuls Tiril Eckhoff and Gabriela Soukalova finished 4th and 5th. Also in the Top 10 was Lisa Hauser getting her best finish of 8th on the World Cup.
On Saturday came the Sprints and they were held in windy conditions which meant shooting was very difficult. Fortunately for winner Martin Fourcade he can miss some targets and still win. This time everyone missed targets except one.In second was Arnd Peiffer and third was Ole Einar Bjoerndalen. The wind threw some new names into the TOP 20 with Macx Davies of Canada finishing 10th shooting 10/10. Raman Yaliotnau from Belarus was 15th and Jesper Nelin of Sweden was 16th.
In the Women’s race Gabriela Soukalova hit 10/10 to take the win denying Italy’s Federica Sanfilippo her first World Cup victory. Second is still an amazing result for her finishing ahead of a resurgent Olena Pidhrushna who was third for the second race in succession.
The Sprint result meant that Martin Fourcade would start the Pursuit 52 seconds before Peiffer and it would be very difficult to beat him, and so it proved as he won comfortably. Peiffer maintained his second place and Quentin Fillon Maillet finally got on the podium in third after two 4th place finishes.
You might have noticed I haven’t mentioned Kaisa Makarainen yet. She got off to an inauspicious start by her standards with a 24th and 10th place finish. She showed her class in the Pursuit though with a stunning final shoot and last lap to claim victory. Second was Dorothea Wierer and third was Franziska Hildebrand who couldn’t hold off Kaisa and her amazing skiing.
Others who did well in the Pursuits were Tarjei Boe who went from 29th to 4th, Dmitry Malyshko 34th to 7th, Evgeniy Garanichev 27th to 8th, Simon Fourcade 49th to 14th and Lars Birkeland 58th to 25th. For the women Marte Olsbu went from 26th to 7th, Eva Tofalvi from 60th to 19th, Megan Tandy from 46th to 25th and Nadezhda Skardino from 26th to 7th.
All in all it was a great start to the new season and we now head to Austria and Hochfilzen for round 2 with Martin Fourcade in the yellow bib for the men and Gabriela Soukalova for the women. It promises to be a great World Cup round!
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