Germany…Olympic Heroes Lead the Way
Going into the new season, the team at the top of the heap once again is undoubtedly, as usual…Germany. Both the men’s and women’s teams return untouched by post-Olympic retirements with rosters led by Olympic medalists.
Last season, the women once again won the Nations Cup while the men finished third. Those results reflect a single season, but also reflect the consistency that defines Germany’s biathlon success over the past 15 years. The numbers, especially for the women’s team are staggering. The German women have won the Nations Cup 10 times and finished second in the five other years. The men only won twice, but finished second or third 10 times; usually battling with Norway for the top spot.
The success of both teams has been driven by and continues to be their depth, with eight or ten athletes capable of competing at the World Cup level and winning championship medals each season. Five women finished in the top 16 in the World Cup Total Score last season, while four men were in the top 12. In the back-up category, the IBU Cup Women’s Total Score exemplifies the depth with Karolin Horchler winning the Crystal, her sister Nadine in third and Luise Kummer in sixth place. All three of these women have been on a World Cup podium at some point in their careers.
Laura and Co.
2018 Women’s World Cup Total Score: 4th Laura Dahlmeier, 9th Franziska Hildebrand, 10th Vanessa Hinz, 12th Denise Herrmann, 16th Maren Hammerschmidt, and 22nd Franziska Preuss.
Dahlmeier is unquestionably the team leader; at this point, when she will start the season is uncertain. Back in October, she was basically shut down, told to rest and just recently resumed moderate training. Her long-term history of illnesses and injuries probably means something less this season than her stellar 2016-17 season, when she won everything in sight: 10 victories, 5 Gold and a Silver IBU WCH Medals and the World Cup Total Score title.
Last season, after missing Östersund, Dahlmeier only won four times the rest of the season, Annecy and Antholz pursuits, OWG sprint/pursuit double. The focus was on Pyeongchang, but still this was not the 2016-17 Dahlmeier. The consolation was that her shooting kicked up a notch, from 88% to 90%, the biggest improvement coming in standing where she closed 91% of the targets she faced. For much of the season, her impeccable ski speed was missing in action.
All said, with the shutdown, the now 25-year-old is most likely to be at her best later in the season, think IBU WCH in March. She will surely be in the mix for medals if all goes well from this point forward. Illnesses aside, she is a tough competitor and glancing into the Crystal Ball, medals in the 4-stage competitions: 17 of her 21 career individual wins are there.
Hildebrand and Hinz
These two ladies were separated by just 17 World Cup points at the end of the season. Yet their trajectories are probably going in different directions. Hildebrand finished ninth in the Total Score for the second year running; Hinz jumped to tenth after 19th and 27th in the previous seasons. Hildebrand is 31, while Hinz is just 26. Hinz is just entering what should be the prime years of her career, while it will become increasingly hard for Hildebrand to improve further. Last season, each had a single podium, with Hinz gaining her first career win in the Kontiolahti mass start.
That said, they are quite similar: 85% shooting for Hinz and 86% for Hildebrand; reliable but not spectacular results. Success for the duo comes with good shooting. Hildebrand’s clean shooting days put her in the top 10; Hinz shot clean once and won, while when she had a single penalty, she was in the top 10 on five occasions. Neither of them will ever be the fastest woman on the tracks, but have solid skills and provide generally good relay legs. Just as important, they had “Ironman” status last season, not missing a single competition. These two veterans are part of the almost interchangeable depth that makes the German women so strong.
“Not-so-Secret Weapon” Denise Herrmann
Herrmann, just two seasons and 37 starts into her biathlon career is the “Not-so-Secret Weapon,” who has the talent to demolish just about any field, if she hits a reasonable amount of targets. She started last season with three wins: Sjusjøen IBU Cup Sprint and the Östersund sprint/pursuit double, 40 shots, 36 closed targets, well above her seasonal 80% shooting. All three were solid wins with penalties over clean-shooting rivals. The former cross-country skier simply has ski speed and several gears above almost all of her rivals. Another season of biathlon (shooting) training hopefully will add some consistency and could easily rocket her to multiple podiums and a top 5 in the World Cup Total Score.
Karolin Horchler and Franziska Preuss
Horchler topped the IBU Cup last season, and then showed her best with 11th, 8th and 5th place finishes in Tyumen. This past fall, she dominated the German Summer Championships. Her presence should easily make up for the absence of Maren Hammerschmidt, who will be sidelined all season after surgery.
Preuss has been missing-in-action, due to illness and injuries on and off since the 2015-16 season. Yet she just missed the podium in Pyeongchang, with a clean-shooting 4th in the 15K individual. She had solid results in the German Summer Champs and seems poised for a full comeback. This lady can shoot prone; she hit 92.6% over the past three seasons.
These six women are the top of the depth chart and the reason Germany will be hard to knock out of the top spot, even if Dahlmeier has a slowed start to the season!
Arnd Leads the Big Four
2018 World Cup Total Score: 4th Arnd Peiffer, 9th Benedikt Doll, 11th Erik Lesser, 12th Simon Schempp, 28th Johannes Kuhn
Peiffer, Schempp, Lesser and Doll have been the face of the German men’s team for the past three seasons. They have combined for six individual WCH or OWG medals, three relay medals, three mixed relay medals and 29 World Cup individual podiums and 18 World Cup relay and mixed relay podiums. Not many teams can match those numbers. They are successful as individuals but mostly as the sum of their efforts.
10 Years on the Podium
Last February, Peiffer took the leadership role with his OWG Sprint Gold medal.The quiet, unassuming guy who gets a couple of podiums each season suddenly rocketed to the top of the list. At 31, he is the oldest of the group and most experienced, with at least one podium in each of the past 10 seasons. Peiffer only shot clean three times last year and was on the podium in two of them. His 91% prone shooting sets the stage in each competition; six times when he missed a single standing shot; he still was in the top 8. Add his powerful skiing to the mix and his success is obvious. With the Olympic Gold around his neck, Peiffer is a marked man this season; he may not win many titles but, will as usual be in the hunt for the podium.
Doll: Fast on the Tracks
Doll cannot match Peiffer on the range; the 28-year-old is a few steps behind, especially in standing where he struggles around 75%. Still, the ever-improving Doll has ski speed that helped him to IBU WCH Sprint Gold in 2017 and OWG Pursuit Bronze last winter. Doll may not be the prettiest sight on the tracks, but he gets around them quickly; that is all that counts sometimes. He paid his dues with 5 ½ years on the IBU Cup circuit before jumping permanently to the World Cup squad in January 2015…and never looked back. A few less missed shots and this biathlete/chef’s World Cup individual podium count could easily double this season.
Erik, Mr. Reliable
Lesser, like Peiffer is a Mr. Reliable, pretty much guaranteed to grab a podium or two each season; although he only has two career victories, one was an IBU WCH title at Kontiolahti. The 30-year-old like his teammate is a crack shot in prone, closing 92.3% of his prone targets in the past three seasons. His 11th place in the World Cup Total Score last year was consistent with recent years of 10th, 14th and 10th. Do not expect too much flash from Lesser unless he is asked a question; then he will give a humorous pointed answer, smile and get back to business. A big part of the Big Four’s success comes from his steady performances; every team needs a Mr. Reliable.
Schempp’s Glittering Resume
Schempp has the most glittering resume of any of the German men with 12 World Cup wins, 12 seconds and 2 third places, plus an IBU WCH Mass Start Gold medal and OWG Mass Start Silver medal. However, last season, just never took off for him, only shooting clean once in Annecy to finish 4th in the sprint. His shooting went from 88% the previous season to 81%. It was just not the affable Schempp’s year…until the Pyeongchang mass start. He battled with his good friend Martin Fourcade over the last 3K loop until the final finish line lunge where Fourcade claimed Gold, leaving Schempp with his first-ever individual OWG medal.
A broken shoulder in May hampered his summer training, but he is now back to full strength. Look for the shooting to return to return to the 2015-16 level when he shot clean six times, resulting in five victories and ten total podiums. At that level, this gang of four looks to take even more podiums and medals this season.
Look at the names, the history and the potential and it is obvious that the German women and men will probably once again be the top team on the BMW IBU World Cup circuit.
Photos: IBU/Christian Manzoni, Evgeny Tumashov, Jerry Kokesh