The IBU Cup: Stepping Stone to the BMW IBU World Cup
The IBU Cup, called the European Cup prior to the 2008-09 season, dates back to the 1980s with the women competitions starting a few years earlier than men’s. Over the years, the circuit has grown in prestige; today, with the IBU Cup Total Score Crystal Globe now a major award. For many years, the IBU Cup was considered a secondary circuit for athletes of lesser ability who struggled at the World Cup level. Today this is far from true. The competitive level in the IBU Cup is increasing every year and many of its participants can successfully battle with the biggest names in the sport.
IBU Cup to the World Cup Podium
Recently France’s Antonin Guigonnat proved this at the Annecy Le Grand Bornand World Cup, where he finished third in the men's sprint, taking his first-ever WC podium. In that competition, the only men in front of him were the top two men in the World Cup Total Score, teammate Martin Fourcade and Norwegian Johannes Thingnes Boe. Guigonnat got a chance to move to the World Cup after three podiums, including sprint and pursuit wins at the IBU Cup in Lenzerheide. Probably, not many believed that this French athlete would be able to finish in top 3 in Annecy, but Guigonnat’s result once again proved the strength and talent of the IBU Cup athletes. Interestingly, seventh place in that same sprint was taken by Norway’s Fredrik Gjesbakk also from the IBU Cup.
what a day for @antoguigo Coming strong of two @IBU_cup wins, he lived the dream in #ALGB17 and is looking for the first ever WC podium in his career! Watch the end of this sprint on https://t.co/Z1cUg23KzH pic.twitter.com/F4zCy5NE8x— IBU World Cup (@IBU_WC) December 15, 2017
Strength and Experience
Young Emilien Jacquelin, also from France had a successful move up to the World Cup this year, with his career first podium in the men’s relay at Hochfilzen. However, it is fair to say that many of today's World Cup winners began with IBU Cup competitions. It was there they learned tactics and strategy, gained strength and experience, and their path to stardom began.
Win in First Competition
Last season, the former cross-country skier, Denise Herrmann of Germany, in her first-ever international start won the IBU Cup sprint at Beitostolen despite six penalties! Naturally, Herrmann’s ski speed is the strength of the newly made biathlete, but during the last off-season, she worked hard on her shooting. This year’s results reflect this work. She opened the season with sprint wins at the Norwegian season-opener Sjusjøen and at IBU Cup 1, both at the same Norwegian venue. Those great results earned Herrmann a spot on the World Cup squad and once again, she delivered. She won the sprint/pursuit double at Östersund, has performed consistently since then and is the top-ranked German woman in the World Cup Total Score, sitting in fourth place.
After many IBU Cup podiums, another German Nadine Horchler earned her chance at the next level. Last year, with three times in top 3, she managed to take her first career win in Antholz, in one of the most elite competitions, the women’s mass start. Her younger sister Karolin has kept up with her sister, collecting multiple IBU Cup podiums and a few World Cup medals.
Anchor in Relay
Last year, after two wins in Italian Ridnaun, a young Anastasiya Merkushyna of Ukraine was called to the World Cup in Pokljuka, where she anchored the women's relay. Merkushyna thrived in the pressure-packed atmosphere, bringing her team across the finish line in third place. Later in the season, at the World Championships in Hochfilzen, she and her teammates won a relay Silver medal.
There are many such successful examples, especially in large and strong teams like Norway, France, Germany, and Russia. A lot of talented athletes passed through serious IBU Cup tests, including Dorothea Wierer, Gabriela Koukalová, Vanessa Hinz, Simon Schempp, Lars Helge Birkeland, Anton Babikov.
Sometimes athletes have to skip several Cups or even the whole season, often due to injuries or illness. They turn to the IBU Cup for a tune-up competition or two, where they can sharpen their skills and regain the necessary confidence. Norway’s Synnøve Solemdal and Tarjei Boe started their trip back to the World Cup level last season in Osrblie. Boe finished 6th in the sprint, moving up to the second place the very next day in the pursuit. After this first competition, with a fast track time but two penalties, the Norwegian admitted:
Johannes Kuehn of Germany missed last season with an injury, came back with quite strong performances this year. In his first competition at the Sjusjøen IBU Cup he finished second in the sprint, which gave him an opportunity to move to the national team.
There are reasons other than illness or injury that send top athletes to the IBU Cup, including happy life moments, like the birth of a child. Two-time Olympic champion Anastasiya Kuzmina of Slovakia successfully returned to the big sport with a sprint start at Martell in 2016, where she finished 10th with one penalty. At the end of the last season, at the IBU Cup in Otepää, IBU World Championships medalist Weronika Nowakowska of Poland and the Olympic champion Ukraine’s Vita Semerenko stepped on the track for the first time after becoming mothers. Semerenko at once celebrated her return to biathlon after an almost 3-year break that included the injuries and the birth of her son; in her first competition, she was part of the team that finished third in the mixed relay.
And recently, at the last IBU Cup before the Christmas break, in Obertilliach, Sochi Olympic Bronze medalist Karin Oberhofer returned to the sport, just months after the birth of her son Paul.
Many teams often use the first IBU Cup as a season-opener and a test before the World Cup competitions. There are always many famous faces in this first week of the season, making the battles on the tracks more intense and interesting. It also happens that well-known athletes, according to their training plans, frequently skip one or two World Cup stages to compete at the IBU Cup, as was the case last year in Kontiolahti.
The IBU Cup circuit has become something more than a place for less talented athletes; it is now a true stepping stone where the patience, hard work and dreams lead to medals and podiums at the World Cup and Championship level. It is definitely worth following!