Italian Women’s Team…Looking to the New Season
The Italian women’s team for years hovered from 8th to 10th place in the Nations Cup standings, but in the last two seasons have jumped in the top five, 4th in 2015-16 and 5th last season. The rise of Dorothea Wierer was a big driver in this, yet last season, with Wierer in a bit of a slump, the team barely missed 4th place again (by 66 points) with Lisa Vittozzi and Alexia Runggaldier stepping up like never before.
Medalists; in Their Prime
With the Olympic season just over the horizon, this small but talented group could challenge for the top three and maybe bring home a medal or two from Pyeongchang. Wierer, Vittozzi, Runggaldier, Federica Sanfilippo established themselves as a powerhouse last season in both individual and relay competitions. This group mostly followed the old adage of “medals at the IBU YJWCH usually translate into podiums at the World Cup level.” Wierer and Vittozzi are multi-YJWCH champions while Runggaldier has several relay medals in her trophy case. All of them have been on the podium individually and in the relay on the BMW IBU World Cup circuit. Wierer has both Olympic and IBU WCH medals to her credit while, Runggaldier claimed a Bronze medal this past season in Hochfilzen. Wierer, Runggaldier and Sanfilippo at 27, 26, and 27 are in their prime biathlon years while Vittozzi is the talented “kid” at 22.
Team Leader Doro; Keeping it Light
These statistics all point to what could be a season like the Italian women have never seen before. Yet, any success begins at the top with Wierer. According to Dominik Windisch, speaking for both the men and women, “The most pressure is on Dorothea (Wierer) because she is the best. She is our team leader and we try to copy her. I am happy to be on the team with her, because she is a strong character and you need someone like this. She helps to keep it light and funny.” Besides her character, it is the always-happy Italian’s biathlon skills that help propel this team. Last season was a bit of a blip for her; starting well with three individual and a relay podium in December. Unfortunately after that, she struggled with just a single relay podium the rest of the season; shooting and fatigue dogged her until the end in Oslo. Her comment about last year was simple, “I just wanted to get it over.”
Shooting; Range Times
Wierer is known as a fast accurate shooter. Getting that back on track will take her back into weekly and medal contention; her prone shooting dropped from 91% in the 2015-16 season to 85% last year. At the same time, she generally has some of the fastest range times, which keep her in contention. Wierer is a battler on the tracks; generally in the top dozen in course times. The combination of shooting skill, range times and solid skiing are what will get her back to the podium. She is optimistic, recently commenting that “training is going well.”
The “team leader’s” success can pull the rest of the group to new heights this season. Runggaldier had the big breakthrough last season, with her WCH Bronze and her first career podium at home in Antholz. A home podium is always hard, but having a first-ever is harder. She claimed that bit award in the 15K, and then repeated at the IBU WCH in the same event. Her success was based in strong shooting; she either shot clean or had a single penalty in 14 of the 26 individual competitions last season. Despite this success, her shooting actually dropped last year from 91% the previous year to 85%. Still two podiums and two other career bests show she had a great year.
Near Miss for Vittozzi
Vittozzi had her second solid season in a row, capped by the Kontiolahti pursuit third place plus her near miss fourth place in the IBU WCH sprint. That sprint may have been her best performance of the year, clean shooting and just .2 seconds behind Bronze medalist Anais Chevalier. The youthful Vittozzi shot clean seven times last season, so that is her ticket to success this year. However, it is equally as important that she is a year older, will be stronger and faster on the tracks, and will possibly make more podium appearances.
Podium Potential for Sanfilippo
Sanfilippo is the solid performer who paid her dues on the IBU Cup circuit, got that first World Cup podium at Östersund 2015 and cracked the World Cup Total Score Top 30 with 29th place last season. She finished fifth; just 6.3 seconds behind Vittozzi in that IBU WCH sprint, also shooting clean. More days like that could lead three or four Italian women on or near the podium in any given competition.
Yet the potential of this group lies in the relay. This group will not top the German women, but stacks up favorably with almost every other team. Still, they led for the first two legs in Hochfilzen with brilliant legs by Vittozzi and Sanfilippo, before slipping to fifth, 36.5 seconds out of first place. They recorded just six spare rounds. Their combined shooing potential and a resurgent Wierer could easily see them on the podium and in the medals in Pyeongchang.
Karin, the “Wild Card”
The “wild card” that may play into the success of the Italian women is: 31-year-old Karin Oberhofer. The Sochi mixed relay Bronze medalist was out most of last season, pregnant with her son Paul. She trained as long as possible before his birth has been quietly training focused on a comeback since his birth in late summer. Regarding her comeback, she recently told Italy’s OA sport, “Marie and Darya did it; hats off to them. It will be very difficult, but I will try to come back also thanks to the support I receive from all my family (plus Coach Alex Inderst and others) Today, however, my little Paul comes to me first, and then everything else ... I will see day by day and I will surprise you from what will come. I am passionate about every workout because I like it. If they bring good results I'll be happy, but even if they do not get there, I'll still be happy to be the mother of a child like Paul.”
Season of Superlatives
This talented group plus the potential return of the veteran Oberhofer could add up to a season of superlatives for the Italian ladies! Stay tuned…