Who is charged for the winter?

A long Summer of training has drawn to its end, including the last test competitions on roller skis before the return on snow. Most athletes and coaches have started to evaluate their work so far. Most countries have already archived their national championships, awarded their summer medals, and fans have had a first glimpse of the form of their favorite athletes as the season is less than two months away. As usual, lots of factors influence the outcome of summer competitions. It is therefore nearly impossible to find a direct correlation between results on wheels and what will happen on skis throughout the winter. This year, especially, with most teams opting for longer blocks of training in altitude ahead of the Olympics in Beijing, many top athletes reached their national champs with heavy legs and tired minds. However, after two months and numerous international competitions, some left a stronger impression more than others.

Reigning champions looking hot

Tiril Eckhoff and JT Boe gave similar signals during their appearances this summer and they mean they will not easily let the title defense go. The shooting seemed a little up and down, but both exhibited great skiing performances and several big wins against fierce competitors, always bouncing back from below-expectations results. JT Boe claimed success in Wiesbaden after a disappointing Blinkfestivalen appearance, while still struggling on home ground for the nationals in Lillehammer. Eckhoff took a victory in the mass start of Sandness, a second place at the Martin Fourcade Nordic Festival in Annecy, and then left no space to her rivals in Lillehammer with a 20/20 that feels like an admonishment to all her rivals.

More and more Norway

Vetle Sjaastad Christiansen closed his summer undefeated on wheels: three wins in Sandness and two national titles in Lillehammer confirmed once again that he is one of the best on biathlon on the tarmac. Fighting for a spot in the Olympic team, the 29-year-old from Geilo will be trying to bring his form to winter, knowing that also last season’s revelation, Sturla Holm Laegreid, left a good impression with a victory in Annecy. Ingrid Landmark Tandrevold won the Lillehammer sprint, while Karoline Knotten kept showing her steady improvement with solid performances both at Blink and the nationals.

France as Norway's main rival

In the past couple of years, France proved to be the fiercest rival for the Norwegian powerhouse. The results of this summer proved just that: Julia Simon confirmed to be as fearsome in summer as in winter, storming past the rest of the field at Plan d'Hotonnes for a sprint and pursuit double (only the sprint was worth the nationals titles, though), following a great showing in Wiesbaden, where she closed second, and a win in the super sprint of Blink. Anais Chevalier-Bouchet won in Annecy in front of Eckhoff, proving that she is more than an outsider when it comes down to podium finishes. With Emilien Jacquelin’s summer troubled by a serious wrist injury just before Blink, the French men team still showed to be ready for a fight. Quentin Fillon Maillet was stepping up his form while signals from his teammates were just as encouraging, even if their results in international competitions did not leave a mark.

Wierer went undefeated

Despite some sleeping issues in the last weeks, Dorothea Wierer looked as good as ever by winning all competitions she entered: in Wiesbaden, Austrian nationals in sprint and pursuit, and Italian sprint championships. Wierer's form on wheels looked on point, and when it felt like it could let her down in Antholz, she compensated it with a double 0 at the range. Overall, Italian coaches are satisfied with their athletes. Lisa Vittozzi seems to be recovering from a difficult couple of seasons at the shooting range, while Lukas Hofer and Dominik Windisch showed some of their best conditions ahead of the Olympic season. Youngster Tommaso Giacomel was even capable of upsetting his experienced teammates and the Austrian rivals in Hochfilzen.

Nilsson, Khalili, and a promising summer

Apart from the favorites, this summer left hinted that some athletes might be ready to take their chances on the winter tour. The first and obvious call is on former cross-country star Stina Nilsson. The Swede took a national sprint title thanks to a rapid and precise standing routine, a clear sign that all the hard work she has been putting on since deciding to switch to biathlon is finally paying off. Said Karimulla Khalili closed runner-up both in Wiesbaden and in Annecy. He backed up the encouraging signs from the past winters this summer. Even though he did not participate in the national championships, coaches confirmed his place in the World Cup team at the start of the new season.

Mixed feelings and TBC

Athletes competed on too few occasions or only in front of national crowds to have an opinion on their form, while others obtained mixed feedback from their performances. Under this label certainly fall Benedikt Doll and Franziska Preuss. They did well in Annecy but not quite as much in Arber, where Germany saw six different champions in as many competitions over the weekend. Monika Hojnisz-Starega dominated the Polish nationals and was fascinated with her speed at the IBU Summer Biathlon World Championships in Nove Mesto na Morave, but she was not equally incisive in the other appearances. A similar situation can be seen with Marketa Davidova and Mari Eder, who trained with the Belarussian squad.

Lisa Theresa Hauser was among the most improved women in the past winter, but looked far from her best form in the national and international competitions she took part in. For her and all the other athletes who did not meet the expectations in the past months, the next eight weeks will be fundamental to arrive in Oestersund ready for the start of the new season.

Wheels are slowly leaving the lockers, making space for the skis. Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022 will be the main goal for most athletes. With a long winter of biathlon ahead, lots can happen between November and March. And only then we will know if what we saw this summer was to be a real indicator of what was then to come.

Photo: IBU photo pool

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