Five Men to Watch in Pyeongchang: Martin, Johannes, Jakov, Arnd and Tarjei
In thirteen days, the battle for medals in the men’s competitions at the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in Pyeongchang will begin with the men’s sprint. The men’s field is so competitive that any one of the top 30 in the World Cup Total Score could win one or more medals in the four individual competitions. However, it is likely that the two names at the top will win a good share of them and those closest in the rankings will not be far behind.
In the Driver’s Seat: Martin Fourcade
Regardless of what has happened in terms of wins and losses up to this point, Fourcade is the man in the driver’s seat. He is at the top of the World Cup Total Score, leads in every discipline and has not missed the podium this season. Fourcade’s “worst” day of the season was five penalties in the Hochfilzen pursuit, but yet he managed to finish third; he has won or been second every other time he stepped on the tracks. That alone gives him a mental advantage, a big boost before he ever leaves the starting gate.
Model of Consistency
The man in the Yellow Bib (although there is no Yellow Bib in the OWG) has been and is the model of consistency, a quality that he developed over the years. In the 2016-17 and the current season, he has only been outside of the top five once; eighth in the 2017 Oberhof sprint! On the shooting range, Fourcade may not be the best, but he is consistently superior. Several years ago, he adopted “the hit-the-target, maybe a bit slower if necessary and gain time on the tracks” attitude. That has served him well. Yet at the same time, he can shoot fast and aggressively when necessary. This season, he has hit 91% of his shots.
His success and consistency on the tracks comes from obviously talent but from a deep training base. As with shooting, he can follow and save energy or he can push the pace, pretty much at will. Even on the rare day when he has less-than-great material, he is a threat on the tracks.
Finally, the French star is a master tactician. He has so much experience that he can handle almost any situation. There is always a plan; Fourcade leaves nothing to chance. The plan may not always play out as he imagines, but he then moves on, adjusting as necessary to get the best result.
The Bottom line: Martin Fourcade is at the top of the list, the number one man to watch. It is very likely that in Pyeongchang, he will add more Olympic Gold medals to his collection.
Johannes, a Real Rival
This season Joahnnes has truly become a real rival for Fourcade. The now 24-year-old Norwegian as won eight times to Fourcade’s six times. They have traded victories on several occasions. Johannes was hot from the outset of the season, winning five times in December. Then Fourcade won four consecutive times, and then Johannes did the same. The Norwegian’s last two wins in Antholz left the Yellow Bib a bit bewildered, admitting about Johannes, “Today he was perfect; nothing more to add…Johannes was really stronger than I was.”
Maturity and Clean Shooting
That has been the situation many times this year. Johannes has matured from the brash young star who claimed his first-ever World Cup victories at le Grand Bornand back in 2014. Back then, just out of junior competitions, he was the “run and gun” guy; run as fast as possible, shoot as fast and pray the targets fall. After shooting clean in the sprint and with one penalty in the pursuit resulting in two wins that year, he had three and four penalties respectively in the next sprint/pursuit at Oberhof. He never shot clean again until his next victory later that season in Kontiolahti. With each passing season, Johannes has matured. He still possesses blazing ski speed, and uses it to his advantage. However, he has matured the most on the shooting range, most likely from the lessons learned from Coach Siegfried Mazet (formerly Fourcade’s man behind the scope). Mazet has taught Johannes to be patient and not always try to shoot as fast as possible; hit the targets. Still, when the sight picture is perfect, he can shoot blazingly fast…and hit the targets. Johannes hit a career-high 88% of his shots last season. This season, he is at about the same level, but has five clean-shooting days so far; three in four stage competitions.
Johannes’ has multiple strengths: youth, talent, ski speed with the unique ability to outrun a penalty or two, and confidence. He knows that if he has a good day, he can beat the World Number One. On the down side, Johannes still can be inconsistent; note the two and three penalties in Oberhof and the five in the Antholz mass start. His Olympic success will be dependent on being as fast as possible and as consistent as Fourcade.
The Return of Jakov Fak
After missing much of the past two seasons with various health issues, Jakov Fak finds himself in third place in the World Cup Total Score going into Pyeongchang. For those with a short memory, this might be a shock. However, he finished third in the 2014-15 season and fourth in the 2012-13. At the same time, the Slovenian does own an Olympic Bronze medal in the sprint, two World Championship titles and eight World Cup victories in his career.
Consistently Good ShootingFak is in third place based on his consistency and shooting. He has two second places and a third so far and only one time has been out of the top 15, 33rd in the Antholz sprint. His successful return is due to as he stated earlier, “a full summer of training without missing one day,” and also likely to reuniting with Coach Uros Velepec, the man behind Fak’s earlier successes. Previously a good shot, Fak’s shooting has been outstanding this year. 93% of his prone targets and 92% of his standing targets have closed so far. Ski speed remains his soft spot this season. It has not fully shown up this season. An uptick of 1 or 2% in ski speed will put him on the Olympic podium.
The Top German: Arnd Peiffer
Arnd Peiffer, number five in the Total Score is the top man on the German team heading into Pyeongchang. Like Fak, he is high on the list due to his consistency. Although on the podium for the first time in the Antholz sprint, followed by 4th in the pursuit, Peiffer has outperformed his teammates all season. He shot clean in that sprint, and had one penalty the next day. Prone shooting has been his strong point, dropping 93% of his targets at this point. The 30-year-old has improved all season; starting with places in the high twenties in Östersund, then up into the 10th to 15th range and most recently into the single digits. He seems to be peaking at just the right time. Peiffer is a former Sprint World Champion, with 26 individual career podiums and a long list of relay podiums. Pyeongchang will be his third Olympic Winter Games; he won relay Silver medal in 2014. With all of his experience and perfect peaking, Peiffer could be on the podium, most likely in the sprint, where he has 17 of his 26 podium results.
Tarjei Boe is Back
Tarjei Boe finally seems to be over the illness bug. For the first time since the 2011-12 season, he has not missed a competition so far. Tarjei started the season with an IBU Cup Sprint win at Sjusjøen, quickly following that up with a surprising .7 second Östersund sprint win over Fourcade. The veteran Norwegian cooled a bit after that, but January was good to him with two more podiums and two fifth places. His second place in the Antholz was particularly impressive: two penalties but a fast course time and just enough power to claim second place over teammate Erlend Bjoentegaard. Like Peiffer, he is peaking at just the right time. Tarjei is shooting close to his career average, at 85%. He is strong enough on the tracks, but has to hit the targets, if he expects to win an individual medal.
That is a quick look at the top men in the World Cup Total Score. Winning an Olympic medal is a huge mountain to climb; beyond this group, there will be others on the podium, but these six men have a very good chance to leave Korea with some very precious metal around their necks.