A wave of retirements since the 2018 Winter Games has left just a few athletes who will defend their Olympic titles in biathlon, and the battle for gold will include a host of talented runners who have shown promise throughout the season.
Hanna Öberg of Sweden won gold in the women’s 15 kilometer individual at the Olympics in Pyeongchang, while Norway’s Johannes Thingnes Boe won the men’s race, and both of them stood on the podium at the Cup circuit. world this season. But all the other 2018 gold medalists – Martin Fourcade from France, Laura Dahlmeier and Arnd Peiffer from Germany, and Slovakian Anastasiya Kuzmina – have moved on.
Boe won the World Cup overall in 2020 and again in 2021, but he has yet to find his best form this season and was in seventh place in the table in early January.
Anything could happen with a dozen races before everyone heads to China later this month, but Norway promise to be the team to beat in both women and men.
REVIEW OF SITUATION
No nation has dominated the 2021-22 World Cup biathlon season, but several have consistently secured podium spots.
On the women’s side, Norway, Sweden, Belarus and France took turns for the medals, and Norway’s Marte Olsbu Røiseland is on fire this season, topping the World Cup standings. She won silver in Pyeongchang and is aiming for gold this time.
Røiseland’s teammate Tiril Eckhoff won bronze in 2018 and won the World Cup last year. But, she has had a slow start to the 2021-22 season. The next races will reveal its form.
Sweden’s Öberg continues to be a person to watch, but her younger sister, Elvira Öberg, has caught the eye this season with impressive ski speed and impressive shooting accuracy. She won the gold medal in the pursuit and mass start races in France last month and finished second in the overall World Cup standings in early January.
Two Belarusians, Dzinara Alimbekava and Hanna Sola, have taken turns on the podium this season and promise great performances in Beijing.
Anaïs Bescond of France won three medals in Pyeongchang, two in relay, and with her teammates Julia Simon and Anais Chevalier-Bouchet, won a medal this season. They won the women’s relay in Oestersund, Sweden, with Belarus taking silver and Sweden bronze.
Susan Dunklee of Newport, Vermont, and Clare Egan of Cape Elizabeth, Maine, will be the mainstays of the US women’s biathlon team. Joanne Reid of Grand Junction, Colo., Who raced in Pyeongchang, and Deedra Irwin, of Pulaski, Wis., Joined the Olympic squad on Sunday.
FRANCE STILL STRONG
As Boe works to regain his fitness this season, his teammates have shown Norway’s strength and depth.
Boe’s older brother Tarjei, along with Vetle Sjaastad Christiansen and Sturla Holm Laegreid, have won medals in most World Cup races this season, including team gold in the relay.
Although Fourcade is no longer the ace of France, the men’s team have made their way to the top of the podium this season, making them a team to watch. Quentin Fillon Maillet and Emilien Jacquelin are one and two in the general classification of the World Cup.
Sweden’s Sebastian Samuelsson won silver in the Pyeongchang chase race and was part of the relay team that won gold. He finished last season in sixth place in the World Cup standings and was third in January of this season.
US biathletes Tim Burke and Lowell Bailey, who have both competed in four Winter Olympics, have retired and moved on to coaching positions, but Sean Doherty and Leif Nordgren, both of whom have competed in the last two Olympics, are back for another round.
They will be joined in Beijing by Jake Brown of St. Paul, Minnesota, and Paul Schommer of Appleton, Wisconsin. Neither has Olympic experience, but both are doing well in the World Cup this season.
COACHES FROM CHINA
Norwegian Ole Einar Bjørndalen has dominated the Olympic biathlon scene for years, earning the nickname ‘King of Biathlon’ and winning 13 Winter Olympic medals, second overall behind Norwegian cross-country skier Marit Bjørgen, who holds the record at 15.
Bjørndalen married Belarusian biathlete Darya Domracheva in 2016 and they became the most successful biathlon couple in history. Domracheva has competed in three Olympics, winning six medals.
They both retired after the 2018 Games and were later appointed head coaches of China’s biathlon teams – Bjørndalen overseeing the men and Domracheva the women. Their teams are the only ones training at the 2022 Olympic Biathlon Stadium.
The biathlon races will be held in the Zhangjiakou competition area. Chinese teams trained at the site, but no other nation has seen the slopes, meaning everyone will be skiing them for the first time at the end of January.
“What’s interesting about Beijing, which is different from every other Olympics, is due to COVID,” said Lowell Bailey, a retired U.S. Olympic biathlete and team U.S. high performance coach. Normally, preview races are held at Olympic venues the year before the event, but the pandemic has meant that no international races have taken place in Beijing in 2021.
“We, and really all the other teams except China, haven’t had a chance to preview the site,” he said. “I think it might work in our favor for Beijing, because the playing field is quite level for everyone there. Kind of an interesting little twist.
The elevation of the site adds to the challenge: 1,665 meters (5,462 feet). High altitude races can be more difficult due to less oxygen. Temperatures are expected to be particularly cold, but snow is unlikely.
“The biggest weather-related threats to the Games are cold waves and the associated wind and dust,” said Jim Steenburgh, professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Utah who provided weather assistance for the Games. the Winter Olympics.