#KON18: Post OWG Stability, Surprises, Sportsmanship
The post-Olympic Winter Games World Cup in Kontiolahti is over. Some stars are probably thrilled to leave the breezy, forested venue with the energy-sapping Wall on almost every loop. However a few, especially those who had a great or at least solid weekend, might have been game for a couple of more competitions.
The quick rundown looks like this. There were no changes in the Yellow Bibs, despite Martin Fourcade’s stomach bug that kept him out of the sprint, while Kaisa Mäkäräinen missed the podium, but had two solid competitions in front of her adoring fans. Italy won its first-ever mixed relay that carried them to a first-ever Crystal Globe. Vanessa Hinz had here firsts: podium, 20-for-20 day on the shooting range and victory in her 112th World Cup start. This was just hours after sprint specialist Julian Eberhard blew past Fourcade in the closing meters of the mass start for his first non-sprint victory.
Fourcade Ill; Johannes on the Penalty Loop
Nothing was really settled in the Total Score-points competitions, the sprint and mass start. Fourcade decided that he felt just too bad with a stomach virus to start the sprint, opening the door to his rival Johannes Thingnes Boe. Johannes finished fourth, with two penalties and failed to pick up some big points while Fourcade was sick in bed. Then after three days of total rest, the French star roared back (until the last few hundred meters) after two prone penalties for second place in the mass start while the visibly tired (and a bit lost on the shooting range) Norwegian toured the penalty loop 5 times to finish 19th. Fourcade retained the upper hand with another week checked off the calendar.
Mäkäräinen Holds On; Sterling in Mass Start
All week Mäkäräinen lived under the huge cloud of pressure, expectations, and OWG disappointment, competing at home and wearing Yellow. Yet she held up quite well; no podiums but 10th in the sprint and sterling 4th in the mass start, after an all-out last loop. Her closest pursuer in the World Cup Total Score, triple OWG Gold medalist Anastasiya Kuzmina missed 10 of 30 shots in the sprint/mass start, finishing 30th and 16th respectively. Laura Dahlmeier and Dorothea Wierer both missed the podium in both competitions. Dahlmeier skied well in both but a sprint penalty and three in the mass start kept her from gaining much ground in the season-long competition. She is still 100 points behind the Finn. However, the German Olympic Sprint/Pursuit Gold medalist is now just 20 points behind third place Wierer.
With Fourcade on the sidelines and Johannes on the penalty loop, Anton Shipulin looked like his old self, steady clean shooting, fast range times and quick enough on the tracks to claim his first win of the season. The always-fast but equally unpredictable on the shooting range Andrejs Rastorgujevs gave the Russian star a run for the money with a rare clean-shooting second place, while Quentin Fillon Maillet came back from a forgettable OWG for his first podium since the first week of the season.
Domracheva Wins; Drought Ends for Hildebrand
Darya Domracheva’s OWG form was on show in the women’s sprint. The now four-time OWG Gold medalist was the fastest on the tracks, extremely slow and careful on the shooting range, despite a standing penalty and won for the third time this season. Franziska Hildebrand shot clean, barely missing the victory, by .5 seconds. Still the German veteran finally broke a podium drought, commenting “finally on the podium again; that is good for self-confidence… Now, looking forward to Oslo!”
Lisa’s Big Weekend
Third went to the lady with who had a very memorable weekend in Kontiolahti, Lisa Vittozzi. The 23-year-old Italian was simply fit, mostly accurate and fast in her three competitions. After this third career podium, she ran the second leg in Italy’s mixed relay. Even with a standing penalty, she flew around the tracks to tag Dominik Windisch in 5th, just 6.8 seconds from the lead. That helped set up the Italian’s victory. Then yesterday, Vittozzi finally moved out of her frequent 3rd, 4th, or 5th place rut with second in the mass start, again with one penalty. Her star continues its rise!
The single mixed and mixed relays were simply lots of fun with nail-biting results. France, Austria and Norway were separated by just 4.4 seconds in the single mixed, while Italy crossed the finish line just 1.5 seconds faster than Ukraine in the mixed relay and Norway was just 9.1 seconds off the pace.
Lisa Theresa, Queen of the Single Mixed
Lisa Theresa Hauser teamed up with Julian Eberhard in the single mixed and came home with her fifth podium in all five single mixed relays of her career. Hauser now is the “Queen of the Single Mixed” with three second places and two first places in her five starts in that discipline. Another nice result for a medium sized team in the never-ending battle with the powerhouses like Norway, Germany and France.
Crystal Globe for Italy
Same for the mid-size Italian team, while still riding the crest of their second consecutive Olympic Mixed Relay Bronze medal won their first-ever mixed relay. Lukas Hofer’s powerful taming of the infamously steep and grinding Wall was just the impetus to take his team home in first place. That win gave Italy its first-ever relay Crystal Globe!
Ukraine: Three Spares, Near Miss
Kudos also to Ukraine, who bravely battled for the win, yet finished second, a strong comeback after a disappointing OWG. Their superior three-spares shooting and Dmytro Pidruchnyi’s gritty anchor leg, coming within 1.5 seconds of Italy were worthy of the win on any other day.
Mass Start Surprises
If a poll was taken before yesterday’s mass starts, few would have picked Julian Eberhard, a sprint specialist or Vanessa Hinz, never before on the podium as the victors. Yet, this sport is biathlon…and anything is possible.
Eberhard: Sportsmanship in Victory
Eberhard left the last standing stage solidly in third position, 17.2 seconds behind the leader Fourcade. Then as Eberhard explained, “…today I just wanted to keep third. But after half of the loop, I saw it was possible to connect to the leading group. Then in the last 200 meters, I knew it was possible to make the victory…” His accidental tangle with Anton Shipulin on the last bridge before the finish was a minor hiccup; Eberhard was a “man on a mission” as he flew past the surprised and tired Yellow Bib to claim his first four-stage win. Eberhard showed great sportsmanship, waiting at the finish to apologize to Shipulin, who just as graciously said, “I hold no grudge against Julian. This can happen in sports and is all fair.” This was a nice win and a nice day for the fellowship all biathletes share.
Self-talk and Finish Line Moment
Hinz made her way to the top of the podium a few hours later as the visibly-Mäkäräinen favoring crowds cheered for the lady in blue and white. Hinz, like Eberhard took a chance at her first win with a little self-talking. “I was so often close to the podium. I knew I could do it. Today, I said, ‘ok, let’s try it and if it works, it is ok…and if not there is another season waiting and other races.” It worked, when she confidently shot clean in the pressure packed last standing stage. Her bow to the crowd as she crossed the finish line was one of those sincere biathlon moments that can be watched over and over again.
That was #KON18. The stars in Yellow remain just as high as last week. The Italian team, Hinz, and Eberhard have some new scrapbook moments to savor, and there are two more weekends of biathlon excitement to go!