Here it Comes: Heart of the Season Starts in Oberhof
It is 2017; the heart of the BMW IBU World Cup season starts with the men’s sprint on Thursday in Oberhof and continues with the traditional January stops in Ruhpolding and Antholz.
Snow on the Tracks
Although there is a huge lack of natural snow throughout central Europe, this will not be a repeat of last year when the Oberhof competitions were moved to Ruhpolding. The Oberhof organizers have been making and spreading artificial snow; the DKB Arena is covered as are both the 2.5 and 3K loops. The weather forecast shows some snow on Monday and Thursday with temperatures staying below freezing all week. So Oberhof will go on as scheduled.
Heart of Biathlon
The Oberhof competitions kick off three weeks at three historic venues that have been the heart of biathlon since the early days of the sport. Every athlete loves the atmosphere and excitement that is always a part of January. There are the special places at every venue: Oberhof’s Birxsteig jammed with screaming fans, the “easiest shooting range” in Ruhpolding and flying past the Huberalm with the spectacular backdrop in Antholz.
Sprint, Pursuit, Mass Start
This week, the focus is on Oberhof, with a schedule that mirrors BMW IBU World Cup 3 in Nove Mesto na Morave just two weeks ago. The men’s sprint opens the week on Thursday, followed by the women’s sprint on Friday, pursuits on Saturday and mass starts on Sunday.
The German team will be center stage this week and in Ruhpolding; their loyal fans expect victories from their heroes. So far, those victories have been limited to the Yellow Bib Laura Dahlmeier and the women’s relay team. The big pressure is on the men to deliver.
Laura in the Mass Start
Dahlmeier has been the dominant woman this season with three wins, two seconds, two fourths and a seventh place; she leads the World Cup total Score with 410 points to second place Kaisa Mäkäräinen’s 312 points. Dahlmeier looked a bit tired by the end of Nove Mesto but that was to be expected with her three weeks of strong performances. She only shot clean once in December, but skied very well and simply, was consistently good when her rivals all were a bit inconsistent. On the advice of her coaches, Dahlmeier will only compete in the mass start, in order for her to have a longer break and stay healthy for the remainder of the season, especially the IBU World Championships next month.
Chance for the Challengers
With Dahlmeier out of the sprint and pursuit, the door is open for the women chasing her to claim a victory or two.Gabriela Koukalová currently third in the Total Score had two wins in December, but her usually impeccable shooting deserted her on several occasions, with seven, five and two times three penalties in four of the month’s eight competitions. Koukalová skied very well all month; if she regains her shooting touch, the Czech star will possibly be the biggest threat to Dahlmeier. Dorothea Wierer seemed to come out of her early season slump with two podiums and a seventh in Nove Mesto. Her quick accurate shooting and ski speed (and managing nerves and expectations in Antholz) are the keys to January success.
There will be a “wild card” this week in Oberhof and for the rest of the season: the much-anticipated return of three-time Olympic Gold medalist and 2015 World Cup Total Score winner Darya Domracheva. She sat out last season recovering from Mononucleosis, was married last summer and had a baby daughter on October 1. Domracheva trained carefully while pregnant and has been preparing for her return in Norway. Her last competition was in March 2015 in Khanty Mansiysk. However her well-known ski speed ability and solid shooting combined with a very strong mind could make her competitive after a few competitions. Regardless, Domracheva’s return will add to another level of excitement to the women’s competitions this week and the rest of the season.
Martin Fourcade: Total Domination
The Yellow Bib Martin Fourcade has taken a bit of the intrigue out of the men’s competitions. He has dominated, overwhelmed and just been on another level well above than any of his rivals so far. Fourcade won seven of the eight December competitions and was a part of two wining relays. He hit 123 of 130 shots in individual competitions, a 94.6% success rate. Fourcade’s skiing was impeccable. December for Martin Fourcade was something never seen before in biathlon. Fourcade is in total control; he leads the World Cup Total Score, with 468 points to second place Anton Shipulin with 310 points to 308 points for Johannes Thingnes; Ole Einar Björndalen is a distant fourth with 258 points. By comparison, last season Fourcade had 384 to Björndalen’s 337 at the same point.
Shipulin, Boe, Svendsen and Schempp
Fourcade’s rivals have a huge task this week and the rest of the month to try to figure out how to stop the Fourcade. Other than young Anton Babikov in Östersund, no one has topped the French star. Shipulin and Emil Hegle Svendsen got close to him in the Nove Mesto sprint, but the late starter Fourcade topped them by seconds with one of his brilliant last loops. Simon Schempp and Anton Babikov got within 9 seconds in the Nove Mesto mass start, but had no chance to top Fourcade. Boe, Svendsen, Schempp and Shipulin are the men who can challenge Fourcade. Boe has the ski speed; Shipulin and Schempp are the best on the shooting range and Svendsen is hat determined veteran who loves battling Fourcade. They all need perfect days to stop him this week and all month.
Starting on Thursday
After a couple of weeks to recover and prepare, the heart of the 2016-17 season is about to start. There is plenty of excitement ahead and…maybe even a few surprises starting on Thursday at 14:15 CET in Oberhof!