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Season 2016/17 Preview: Men

Oestersund, Pokljuka, Nove Mesto, Oberhof, Ruhpolding, Antholz, PyeongChang, Tyumen and Olso! Are you ready? It’s almost time for the new biathlon season to begin! That means it must be time for a season preview too so here it is!

Looking back over previous previews they all read more or less like this. Martin Fourcade is the red hot favourite. If he stays fit and healthy all season he will win the Overall Title for the 6th year in a row. Potential challengers are Johannes Thingnes Boe, Tarjei Boe, Emil Hegle Svendsen, Simon Schempp and Anton Shipulin. They are all capable of beating Fourcade in a single race but don’t seem to have the consistency over a whole season to win the big Crystal globe.

Preview finished!

Only joking! As the top places are nearly always the same for the men I decided that this year’s preview should move away from the elite and see what’s happening a little bit behind them. Who are the up and coming biathletes to look out for? Who could get their first win or first podium? Who should be doing better? That’s what I am going to look at before season 2016/17 gets under way.

It’s sometimes hard to believe but there are some well established biathletes who have yet to win a race on the World Cup. The most famous is probably Simon Fourcade. He has achieved many podium results but never higher than second. Surely this season he will get to the top step. Fellow Frenchman Quentin Fillon Maillet has also come within a toenail of winning but again second place is his best result. Germany’s Benedikt Doll will be hoping to grab his first win. Tim Burke is another who will want to come first instead of second place as will Sergey Semenov and Benjamin Weger.

Expect a strong season from the Austrian team. Simon Eder was 5th last season in the overall title and Dominik Landertinger was 9th. With Julian Eberhard getting his first win and Sven Grossegger achieving a personal best of 5th they will be a dangerous squad this year.

Hoping to get their first taste of the podium are Andrejs Rastorgujevs who has a few 4th positions to his name already. Klemen Bauer also has a personal best of fourth as does Simon Desthieux and Krasimir Anev.

Scoring points on a more consistent basis will be the goal for biathletes like Mario Dolder, Leif Nordgren, Macx Davies, Kalev Ermits and Martin Otcenas.

Make sure you look out for some of the younger biathletes this season who will be trying their best to impress their coaches and the fans. Watch out for Sean Doherty to continue his rise to the top. The likes of Rene Zahkna, Rok Trsan and Fabien Claude will be pushing hard to do well. Keep an eye out too for Sebastian Samuelsson who has been picked for the Swedish team to make his debut in Oestersund and Felix Leitner who will start his first World Cup race for Austria.

On the other hand it’s about time Freddie Lindstrom had a better season. We haven’t seen him on the podium since 2013. Lukas Hofer didn’t have a great season individually either and it would be good to see him back on form. Jakov Fak will be hoping to improve as will Ondrej Moravec.

There are many more biathletes to watch out for but too many to mention here. The Germans are always dangerous with Peiffer and Lesser showing some good form in patches last time.

Last but not least expect new dad Ole Einar Bjoerndalen to pop up with a few podium finishes and don’t be surprised if he adds more World Championships medals to his vast collection in Hochfilzen. That’s if he can cope with the sleepless nights of course!

Hopefully it will a great season with some more first time winners and some great races. The title race might not be close but we can look forward to some great battles in individual races. Bring it on boys!!!

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Aiming for the Top! Season Preview Men 2015/16

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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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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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