Swedish Sweep: Rookie Awards to Hanna Öberg and Sebastian Samuelsson
Swedish athletes claimed two prestigious awards last weekend in Oslo when Hanna Öberg and Sebastian Samuelsson walked away with the IBU Rookie of the Year awards. These awards go to the top ranked first-year athletes in the World Cup Total Score where Öberg finished 43rd and Samuelsson 47th.
The success of these two youngsters is indicative of the rising fortunes of the Sweden team; a group dominated by youth with just a single true World Cup veteran Fredrik Lindström. A couple of years ago, the Swedish women’s team finished 14th in the Nations Cup; this season they finished 8th. In the 2015-16 season, they had a relay best of 6th, this year it was 4th in Pyeongchang! The men were 15th in the Nations Cup a couple of years back and this year finished 12th. In the relay, their best last season was 7th, this year 6th. The team as a whole moved up, with 11 top 10 results this year, compared to just three in the previous season.
First World Cup Sprint: Clean Shooting
Samuelsson, still a junior by age who just turns 20 next week, was 6th in the sprint and 5th in the pursuit at the 2016 IBU YJWCH. This year, under the guidance of Coach Wolfgang Pichler, he stepped up with four top 20 results in the always-tough men’s World Cup competitions. He opened the season at home in the Östersund sprint, shooting clean for 19th place! That was one of his many highlights. “It was really cool to shoot clean in my first ever World Cup race and especially since it was home in Sweden.” A few weeks later, he qualified for his first-ever World Cup mass start in Nove Mesto na Moravě, with a personal-best 13th in the sprint and 18th in the pursuit, a season highlight. “My results and the atmosphere in Nove Mesto were unbelievable!”
Results like this he attributes to hard work with Pichler. “I consider myself to still just be a good junior, but since I started to train with Wolfgang Pichler last year I have improved my training a lot, both in intensity and volume. It's nice to see all the hard work paying off!”
Motivation: Olympic Winter Games
Although still a junior, Samuelsson has big but realistic goals. “I feel really motivated to have a good training year now. I hopefully will come back even stronger next year which will be a fun year with the Olympics as the main goal of course.
Öberg: Promise and Expectations
If Samuelsson’s season was excellent, then Öberg had one that was excellent plus. She came to the senior ranks, full of promise and expectations. The 21-year-old Östersund resident won the sprint/pursuit double at the 2016 IBU YJWCH, both with clean shooting and then anchored the Silver medal relay team.
“Playing with the Big Girls”
Oberg admitted that the move from successful junior to the World Cup was easier than some might have imagined. “To go from junior to senior was actually quite smooth for me. In biathlon you are junior for quite a while; I had been looking forward to finally get to play with the big girls for real!”
“Play” is what Öberg did. Like her teammate, she stepped up to the plate and hit a “home run” in her World Cup debut. After a solid 6th place and Flower Ceremony in the mixed relay, she finished 8th in the women’s 15K individual. “When I made such good progress (and results), it was as I imagined.”
“Three Great Races” in Ruhpolding"
Yet his sterling debut was not the highlight; the best would come in the New Year. After skipping Oberhof, the World Cup circuit moved to the Swedish team’s second home Ruhpolding. Öberg surprised the experts and many World Cup veterans with first a strong one-spare relay leg, then a spectacular clean-shooting 7th place in the sprint, just behind familiar names like Wierer, Dahlmeier, Koukalová and Mäkäräinen. Just 24 hours later, she stepped it up again. Her personal-best fifth place in the pursuit put the upcoming Swedish star in the Flower Ceremony, 16.3 seconds and one penalty from the podium. The potential and expectations had been fulfilled.
“I was most satisfied with my weekend in Ruhpolding. I did three great races there. I am happy with how I implemented the races by focusing on doing my best without caring what the others around me did.”
This all added up to multiple Top Ten finishes, an achievement that many World Cup veterans never achieve in a career and the IBU award. “This award means a lot to me…I did know that I had taken a big step physically in my training last year. However, that I would end this season with three Top Ten results was something I did not expect.” Now there is another goal out there for this talented young lady. “My goal for next year is to qualify for the Olympic Winter Games. It would be great for me to go there.”
In the Footsteps of Boe, Preuss
These 2017 IBU Rookies of the Year have big shoes to fill; considering recent winners of this award; Johannes Thingnes Boe, Franziska Preuss, Tatiana Akimova, and Anton Babikov. The success of these previous Rookies indicates a potentially exciting future for Sweden, Samuelsson, and Öberg; they could be future crystal globe winners. Samuelsson summed up the importance of this award for Öberg and himself. “This is a prize that gives you a lot of motivation, I think it shows that I'm on the right way and I think many of the athletes winning this prize before have done good later in the World Cup.”