These athletes did not prepare for the competitions as they would during the winter, approaching them as training and fun. The results show training has gone well; all showed improvements in some way, raising the potential for strong or even breakthrough seasons, confirming, “Biathletes are made in the summer.”
Vetle Sjaastad Christiansen is a big summer star almost every year, winning the Blink super sprint the last three years and the mass start twice. He buried the field at the Martin Fourcade Nordic Festival, closing with another win. Christiansen, simply good on rollerskis loves the summer atmosphere. “I think the key (to my success) is the atmosphere. I love the tight duels with a lot of pressure from the audience. You get a lot of that in summer competitions.”
A solid 86% on the range last season, the Norwegian won Blink despite six penalties with a sterling track performance, 3.5 seconds ahead of Laegreid with three penalties. In Annecy, Christiansen’s clean standing stage with a single spare sealed victory, powering away on the flat course, leaving the speedy Emilien Jacquelin 22 seconds back.
Laegreid, before the competition, predicted Christiansen’s win, “Vetle is in the shape of his life. He set some personal records this summer including the 3000 meter run and won a camp time trial.” His key for the winter will be shooting in 90% range; that combined with his fitness level gives him shot at dethroning JT Boe in the Total Score.
Lisa Vittozzi’s impressed with her win at Wiesbaden City Biathlon, cleaning the standing stages and leaving the elite field floundering in her wake, over a minute back. Her 27-minute performance reconfirmed last winter’s comeback was no fluke. The Italian looked strong and confident, despite coming directly off a hard training camp week. Her fast, accurate shooting and power on the basically flat track say one thing: a good winter season looms with Vittozzi going after the big Crystal Globe.
Sturla Holm Laegreid was as impressive in Wiesbaden as Vittozzi. Always outstanding on the range, Laegreid added a new twist to his accuracy, speed. He cleaned each of the standing stages in an amazingly fast 15 seconds, leaving with a 45-second bulge on the field. Although he skied the last loop easily savoring the win, Laegreid was equally impressive on the tracks. His impressive standing demonstration reflected his summer focus, “ If there is one place I can improve, it is standing. I have been working on that.” Shooting clean and cutting several second puts the 26-year-old that much closer to JT Boe.
Laegreid feels no pressure in summer competitions seeing them as training, “It is a nice experience if you are first or last. Compared to the winter where everything counts, and determines if you race the next week or go to World Champs. This is like a bonus. You get experience with pressure shooting and can test your skiing technique and shape on the tracks.” Laegreid passed the tests, another good winter awaits.
Two German women were impressive in the summer “show competitions,” Hanna Kebinger and Vanessa Voigt. Kebinger won the Blinkfestivalen mass start, after finishing third in the super sprint while Voigt, second in that competition topped Julia Simon, Justine Braisaz-Bouchet, Dorothea Wierer and Vittozzi in a stunning MFNF victory. Both Kebinger and Voigt are sharpshooters, 88% and 91% last season, and were propelled to victory with brilliant standing stages. Of course, neither would have won if not for solid track performances. Voigt was unquestionably strong on the flat Annecy track, dueling much of the way with the speedy IBU Gala Mass Start Champion Marketa Davidova. She admitted that before the competition she “was a bit afraid” after seeing the start list, but decided “to just do my thing and see how it turned out.”
These teammates both seem to be heading to a good winter. Success at Blink and the MFNF mean little when the BMW IBU World Cup starts but are good confidence builders. Voigt is due for a breakthrough; ski speed has limited her to solid performances but a single podium so far. The MFNF win is a good step forward. Kebinger had 4th, 7th, and 8th place individual finishes in 16 BMW IBU World Cup starts last season, also winning IBU Silver Relay in Oberhof. Her description of that medal reflects the 2019 IBU Junior Cup Total Score winner’s potential. “I think we saw what is possible.”
Lou Jeanmonnot possibly raised her profile the most during “rollerski season.” The 24-year-old, 11th in the World Cup Total Score last season was impressively consistent, finishing third, 4.2 seconds behind Kebinger in the Blink super sprint, fourth in the mass start and third behind Vittozzi at City Biathlon. A last minute entry in the MFNF cross country race at her coach’s urging, Jeanmonnot raced through multiple elimination rounds, always near the front until sprinting to victory. Culminating a two-week altitude camp, she admitted, “…everything seems to be working well. So, this was good preparation for what is to come!”
Two weeks later she dominated the first round of French summer championships, flashing that same ski speed in her sprint win, following up with 19-of-20 shooting to take the pursuit the next day.
“If I keep this shape…I will be happy”
Regarding summer success translating into winter, Jeanmonnot told Nordic Magazine, “There is no point in drawing hasty conclusions. Still, it is good for my confidence; we play to win so I am happy. If I keep this shape until the start of the winter, I will be happy.” As will all of the other summer stars.
Photos: IBU/Nordic Focus/ Christian Manzoni and Leo Authamayou, Jerry Kokesh