Getting Ready for the New Season: Sweden, Norway and Finland National Teams
It is mid-May and most teams are revving up for the new season, with some home training and a team camp or two. Not every team has posted their National Teams for the coming season, but looking at the three Scandinavian teams there are some not-so-surprising rookies, a grizzled veteran or two and with a recent announcement, one of the biggest stars is back for another season.
Finland: Kaisa and Mari Return
Starting at the top, Finland announced their training groups a couple of weeks ago, but missing from the list was the biggest star in the Finnish galaxy, Kaisa Mäkäräinen, as well as her cohort Mari Laukkanen. That list can now be updated as Mäkäräinen posted a video saying, “See you next season,” and Laukkanen is back training as of this weekend. So the future looks bright for new Finland Head Coach Jonne Kähkönen, the #1 woman in the world of biathlon will be chasing World Cup Total Score title number 4 and medals at one of her most favorite and successful venues, Östersund which hosts the 2019 IBU World Championships. Laukkanen will be along for the ride, with her quick skiing one more time. Throw into the mix, Laura Toivanen who scored some World Cup points last season and junior Heidi Kuuttinen with a couple of top 20’s at the IBU YJWCH and the women’s squad looks stronger.
Improving Men’s Team
The men have last year’s revelation 23-year-old Tero Seppälä who had some great mixed relay legs last season and finished 21st in the OWG Mass Start, his first-ever. The veteran Olli Hiidensalo is back after a clean-shooting personal best 19th place in the Pyeongchang sprint. These two are complimented by another junior Tuuka Invenius, who picked up two top six results at the IBU YJOECH and several top 20’s at the IBU YJWCH. These three plus the women give Finland a stronger team than in recent seasons and with an experienced motivated new coach…the sky is the limit.
Big Hopes in Sweden
Östersund 2019 has been the byword in Swedish Biathlon for years; they built a young team to win medals on home soil next season. However, the group matured and jelled earlier than expected, coming home from Pyeongchang with two Gold medals, a Silver and a Bronze; quite a showing.
Hanna and the Women
Now the team is getting ready for the encore. The women’s team is led by Olympic Gold medalist Hanna Oeberg, who went from IBU rookie of the Year in 2017 to clean-shooting Olympic Gold in the 15K individual. That Olympic Gold was her only individual podium of the year, but if you only get one…that was the one to snag! Of course she also anchored the Bronze medal women’s relay team. Oeberg’s three relay teammates are also pretty impressive. Mona Brorsson was 10th, 11th, 13th and 14th in the Pyeongchang individual competitions and had a 10-for-10 day for 14th in the Oslo sprint last year. Linn Persson had a personal best 11th in Oeberg’s Gold medal 15K and was the third Swedish woman in the mass start, in 22nd place. 23-year-old Anna Magnusson had an off-season compared to her 23rd in the Total Score in 2017, but still ran a solid third leg on the Pyeongchang relay.
Oeberg Number 2
The big addition for the Swedish women is Oeberg’s younger sister, the upstart 19-year-old Elvira, who won three youth titles at the IBU YJWCH last year in the sprint, individual and relay. Like her older sister, Elvira is very good at closing targets. Her addition plus a nice group of returnees gives the Swedish women more depth and medal-potential than ever.
The Men with Samuelsson and Lindström
Like Oeberg, Sebastian Samuelsson was the 2017 IBU Rookie of the Year. That season, he had a couple of top 20’s on some blazing skis. Last year, he jumped to the head of the class with an Olympic Pursuit Silver medal, just 12 seconds behind Martin Fourcade. Samuelsson then ran a spectacular third relay leg side-by-side with Johannes Thingnes Boe to set up Fredrik Lindström’s Gold medal anchor leg. The youngster became a star in his first OWG.
Lucky Gold for Lindström
Yet, the veteran Lindström is still the anchor of the Swedish men. 8th in the OWG 20K individual and 15th in the OWG mass start added to his second place in the Tyumen pursuit gave the veteran another strong season. At the end of the season, his shooting was outstanding. In the final five individual competitions, he hit 76-of-80 shots! Always the gentleman he commented about going up against Emil Hegle Svendsen for the Olympic Relay Gold medal. “It was a good battle. We wished each other luck before the start of the leg. It was a good fight as it was all equal until the final standing, but I think I am the lucky one today. I am so proud I managed the situation and brought Sweden the Gold.”
Beyond these two stars is a solid group of men. Jesper Nelin ran the second leg on the Golden relay team. This was after a series of personal bests in Korea: 18th in the pursuit followed by a huge 9th place in the mass start; improved shooting last season was crucial to his success. Teammate Pepe Femling had an up and down year, but his solid one-spare leadoff leg helped set up the relay team for success. Martin Ponsiluoma was on the winning Oberhof relay, but only had one start in Korea, 38th in the 20K. Still he adds depth to this basically young squad.
A year early, but no doubt, Sweden is the team to watch this season and in the coming years!
Norway without Ole and Emil
No reason to feel sorry for the Norwegians, even with the loss of the Ole Einar Björndalen and Emil Hegle Svendsen…they are simply still very good. The core men’s team of Johannes Thingnes Boe, Tarjei Boe, and Lars Helge Birkeland is still around. No need to expound on Johannes; he is fast, shooting better with each competition, gaining confidence and experience. He sets the tone and is the team leader. Brother Tarjei still has tools and desire; it is just that his body gets in the way at times. Last season, he got a sprint win in Östersund and two other individual podiums plus an Olympic Silver relay medal while 7th in the Total score. At 29, Tarjei can still challenge his younger brother. Birkeland is the steady one; 14th in the Total Score, a 91% prone shot with a lot of clean-shooting days and that OWG Relay medal.
Erlend, Henrik and Vetle
Add the now 27-year-old Erlend Bjoentegaard to this group, with his 88% shooting and personal best 2nd in the Tyumen mass start and that is a pretty solid four men. Yet, there is the true graybeard 32-year-old Henrik L’Abee Lund, he who won the Oslo sprint and ended the season with a personal best 17th in the Total Score. The sixth man on Norway’s team is Vetle Sjastad Christiansen; number 6 but much more. He won the IBU Cup Total Score last season with six victories in the IBU Cup last year, including the first super sprint. Christiansen is outstanding on the shooting range, dropping 97% of his prone targets last year. Again…there is no reason to feel sorry for the Norwegian men’s team as they prepare for next season.
Tiril and Marte
The Norwegian women have a good solid group led by Tiril Eckhoff and Marte Olsbu. Eckhoff got her annual World Cup win in the Antholz sprint and an amazing Olympic Mass start Bronze medal and Mixed Relay Silver medal. Otherwise, she struggled on the shooting range all season. Still, Eckhoff has the great track skills; a reboot with a new coach hopefully will help her and the rest of the women’s team.
Olsbu only had two individual podiums last season, but one was that surprising Olympic Sprint Silver medal. Add that to her Mixed Relay Silver, 4th and 9th in the OWG Pursuit and Mass Start, respectively and that is a good season. She needs to improve her standing shooting this summer to add to her podium potential.
Synnøve, Emilie and Ingrid
The women’s backups include Synnøve Solemdahl who got back on the podium after a long bout with illness. If she stays healthy, another summer of training will add to her effectiveness and better results. 20-year-old Emilie Kalkenberg moves to the National Team this year after an IBU YJWCH Relay Silver medal and an IBU OECH Mixed relay Bronze medal. She fits in with 21-year-old Ingrid Landmark Tandrevold as part of the youth movement.
The three Scandinavian teams are reloaded with a nice mix of experience and potential, now it is just a matter of that long summer of training!